When you are hiring a developer and start looking at resumes or LinkedIn profiles it is very common to find people with a great resume or professional profile – but be careful because having a great looking resume or awesome LinkedIn profile doesn’t always translates into greatness – this guy must be great, it has tons of LinkedIn recommendations and many connections!

A phone screen interview is a very common filter used when hiring for a tech position. As a software developer myself I’ve participated in a fair amount of phone screen interviews both as the candidate and as the interviewer. The phone screen interview is what the name implies, it is a relatively quick way to screen candidates and filter out the best candidates from the group of people who look good on paper (or LinkedIn). A phone screen interview can be very useful to determine if a candidate is truly a great candidate that you want to invite to a face-to-face interview with your team or just someone with a good resume.

When done right, the phone screen can save you and your team from spending hours interviewing the wrong person for the job.

The first rule of thumb is to try to talk as little as possible, just ask a few key questions and let the candidate do the talking. Listen carefully and notice how they respond to questions they know and pay special attention to how they answer and elaborate on things they are not too familiar with. This will tell you a lot about their personality and how they behave when they are under a bit of pressure. The phone screen interview should not take more than 30 minutes and ideally, it should be split into two basic sections: personality and technical skills. Remember that the goal is to decide if you want to invite this person to a face-to-face interview and not making a hiring decision over the phone.

Here are some tips that can help you get started.

The agenda

  • The phone screen interview should be kept at about 30 minutes.
  • Ask questions, listen and thank the candidate for their time.

The personality part

  • Communication skills and story telling. Ask about their decision to be in the technical field. This usually helps to tell how good are they at story telling and it also helps to know how much they love (or not) what they do.
  • Ask about their opinion about a certain framework. Most technical people, specifically developers are very opinionated and passionate about their craft and the tools and frameworks they use.
  • Ask about the reasons they want to join your company, and if they are open to it ask them if they want to share the reason they are leaving their current employer.

The technical part

  • Ask about what technology stack they have more experience with and let them go into details.
  • Once they tell you what technology stack they prefer ask a few more in-depth questions about it, this will help you figure out how much experience they really have about it.
  • Ask if they can explain how the architecture of a website or application like yours work (if applicable).
  • Ask a plain technical question such as how to reverse items in a list or characters in a string. You can also ask something more generic, for example how to handle errors in a web application.

The above has worked very well for me, I have used it more than a few times in the past with really good results. If you are the one being interviewed, my suggestion is to offer to answer some of these questions even if the interviewer does not ask you this; unfortunately many times the one person doing the phone screen interview is someone from an HR department and it might be beneficial to you if you drive the interview by offering to talk about the things mentioned above. If you are hiring for a technical position other than a web developer then you might want to change the technical questions around, just keep in mind that the goal here is to get the best candidates for a face-to-face interview that will and should contain more in-depth technical and personality questions.

Cheers.