How to Get Past the Phone Screening – Guidelines for the Technical Interview

The holidays happen to be a time when lots of working adults are looking for new job opportunities. As if we needed more pressure from family members pushing us to get married, have kids, or change careers, right? The good news is that some of you may receive, or have recently received, exciting news about securing an phone interview during this season. If you’re looking for a technical position, you’re likely white boarding algorithms and solving logic puzzles. That's awesome! Bu the truth is even getting to the in-person interview is hard, and this first screen is an important step in moving forward. From someone who recently went through several first round screenings, here are some tips for getting to the next round!

1.    Research the company's interview process. Try to get an understanding of the interview structure of the company you're looking at. Some companies have one phone screening and an in-person interview, others have a phone screening, a Google hangout and then an in-person, others have two in-person and that's it. The point is, every company is different, and it’s worth it to get an understanding of what kind of hurdles you’ll need to get over. Knowing what's ahead of you can help with your understanding of what to focus on in the first round. Also being on the phone vs. being in a google hangout are incredibly different, so you'll want to be prepared for those distinct experiences. 

2.     Adjust your resume. Not just brush up, adjust. Companies want to see a set of experiences specifically catered to the company, department, and position you are applying for. That means your internship working with kids in 2011 probably shouldn't make an appearance on this resume. So what if you’re a career changer? You've probably never worked as a Front End Developer, but you can find the applicable skills in your past experience. To make those appropriate adjustments start with the job description. Make sure you get a deep understanding of what the company is looking for and determine whether you have the qualities that match those skills. Perhaps they are looking for someone with managerial experience in software testing. Maybe you didn’t manage in QA but you did actually manage in Operations. Those skills are applicable and important to highlight. Another key thing to note here is that if you don’t know what something means in a job description, don’t assume you’re not qualified. Look it up and see if that skill exists in your experience.

3.     LinkedIn Matters. People often ask does my LinkedIn profile really matter? The answer is yes. You may not receive a notification of a recruiter viewing your profile, but trust me they are looking. If you’ve applied to a job and worked on your resume but forgot to improve your LinkedIn profile, it may suggest to employers that there are inconsistencies in your experiences. LinkedIn is a great place to add those experiences you couldn’t fit onto your resume. However, you want to provide enough consistency that it demonstrates your ability to work in the industry you are applying. What if I’m applying to many different roles? If you are open to different kinds of jobs, you can still include your range of experiences, so long as they aren’t so widespread that it comes across as feeling “lost.” Make sure to highlight skills that are applicable to highly technical roles – communication, collaboration, management, being a self-starter, curiosity, being detail-oriented etc. 

4.     Consider your public image. Freedom of speech is a beautiful privilege of this country. But we all know that prejudice and conflict of interest exists. Protect your speech by keeping some of your profiles private. If that’s not of interest to you (all my profiles are public), then be conscious of how you present yourself online. For example, maybe don’t get into a caps lock argument with a former coworker online. If you're applying for a high profile role for a company with a children's product, you want to avoid inappropriate content as much as possible. Though you should always be conscious of how you represent yourself, you should always, always be yourself. Being weeded out of a job application process based on who you are and what you post will help you find a company that shares your values.


So you got the phone call!  You’ll likely be set up for a call from anywhere between 20 and 45 minutes. If your call is on the shorter side, you want to make sure you have enough time to demonstrate experiences that match the job requirements to your interviewer.  If it’s on the longer side, you want to make sure you fill the time. 45 min is not that long, but your interviewer may leave you 15+ minutes to ask questions.  Here are some tips specifically catered to the call:

5.     Know yourself. “Tell me about yourself” is one of the most dreaded questions of the job search. But it’s also one of the greatest opportunities to anticipate and answer inevitable questions from your interviewer.  If you’re a career changer, make sure you know your why for leaving your past career and diving into tech.  Regardless of where you’re coming from, the most important thing for you to do is to make sure who you are in real life and who you’ve written about in your resume and in your cover letter are the same person. Remember those skills you highlighted? Well, you need to actually have them and demonstrate them as much as you can in this interview. Sounds obvious but I've seen experienced deception first hand as an interviewer. Remember that an interviewer is welcome to ask you about any role, and experience, any skill-set you included on your resume, so make sure you are prepared.

6.     Know the company. “Why us?” is another popular question asked in interviews. Having a unique, personal interest in the company is important. For every company you apply to, you should have a demonstrated passion behind your why. This is not only important for your interview, but for you as a future employee. Finding a new job is often an opportunity to reinvent ourselves and to find a career that makes us happy. So why would this company make you happy? If you're not totally sure, you can also take this opportunity to ask some probing questions. 

7.     Be prepared for some technical questions. While most initial calls are a screening against your experiences, some companies also want to see your demonstrated skill-set for the role you’re applying to. While I wouldn’t necessarily focus on the white boarding algorithms, you should be prepared to demonstrate your knowledge of the department. For iOS developers that means you should brush up on your understanding of git and github, terminal, Xcode, the most updated version of your programming language, dealing with merge conflicts, bugs etc. Basically, study up because answering intuitive questions is more challenging than it seems.

8.     Come prepared with questions. You, too, are an interviewer in some ways. After doing your research, gather up a list of questions you have ranging from the company to the role itself. Remember that different companies use the same concepts in different ways (this is true across industries). Try to get an understanding of the way this specific company works. Make sure you ask smart questions. By that I mean don’t ask questions you can find by logging on to their home page or by simply using the product itself.  Ask the kinds of questions that demonstrate you’ve done your homework and have a deep understanding of your field.  

9.     But also ask questions along the way. Curiosity is one of the most important skills, in my opinion, for a technical role. Don’t be afraid to stop your interviewer and ask questions along the way. You can ask clarifying questions, you can probe deeper into topics, and you can ask connecting questions to transition. Don’t be afraid to not know something. How you work through what you don’t know is more important than knowing everything ahead of time.


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