Fog Creek

3. Phone Interviews


This video covers the key aspects of a phone interview and the kinds of questions that work well in phone interviews.


A phone interview consists of a developer calling you up, we’ll schedule a time, usually after work, and asking you some programming problems that are conducive to telephone conversations. So, not quite as much detail, a little bit more about like maybe a conversation about algorithms, conversations about data structures, just like how would you build this thing in code. And the developer will tend to, the person conducting the interview, will tend to drill down a lot in certain areas just to see if the person, if the candidate, is really highly technical.

The best way to do a phone screen is to pick a very, very technical topic to talk about. A very programming related topic, that doesn’t require writing code, that doesn’t require specific knowledge. You don’t want to ask people to remember the order to the arguments for a function in the function library. You really just want to say something like ‘what would be a good data structure to use for a spreadsheet, what would be a good data structure to use for a word processor, how would you write a program that would generate a sudoku puzzle’. That kind of thing. You want to have a conversation which involves, which can be done, strictly an English conversation, to get an idea.

You’re trying to judge if a person is smart. That’s your goal, to judge if a person is smart. And the interview questions you provide are not to see if they know the answer. And it’s not to see if they get the right answer, or the same answer that you would have gotten or to see if they are brilliant and it’s an even smarter answer than you would have gotten. None of that. The whole point of the interview question is it is an excuse to have a conversation on a highly technical topic about code, which is going to give you the most opportunity to judge if you’re having a conversation with a smart person or not.