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Phone interviews

I recently re-read Joel's article on interviewing: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000073.html

While I'm always amazed at how much it focuses my approach to interviews, one thing that I'm curious about is how people adapt this to phone interviews.

For out-of-town candidates, we usually do a phone interview before bringing them in for a face to face interview. The one thing I hate about a phone interview is its very difficult to do meaningful code questions - you can't put them up on the whiteboard and have them write a function.

I don't even try to do a lot of detailed code questions in a phone interview, because in the past it hasn't given me useful information - I've had candidates who gave impressive answers on the phone not be able to write simple functions on the whiteboard.

Then if they come in for a face-to-face I generally give them a couple code questions similar to the ones Joel lists (I'm only one of many people who will see that candidate in the day).

What do you do on phone interviews?

vince
Thursday, June 26, 2003


Call me a heretic but I'm usually less interested in a prospective employee's technical skills than their social skills.

Don't get me wrong, I want to make sure they can do the job. However, I want to get the sense that I'm hiring a problem solver rather than a "programmer" and I can do that without asking specific, code related questions. I can also do this over the phone if need be.

Finally, a person with poor technical skills can often be trained. Hell, most of the time they can be trained. Most developers want to improve their skills.

On the other hand, someone who is a poor fit for the team's "philosophy" (bad term, but let it go) is going to do a lot of damage and is unlikely to change. I'd rather avoid this if at all possible.

Just my $0.02

DingBat
Thursday, June 26, 2003

For phone interviews I tend to ask higher level algorithm/design questions that can be discussed in English without getting down to code.

Joel Spolsky
Thursday, June 26, 2003

The purpose of a phone interview, as I have done them, is not the same as face to face interview.  Face to face, the question is: "Hire or not?".  On the phone, the question is, "Worth bringing in for a face to face interview?". 

The questions on the phone are more like, is this person bright?  Are the skills he/she talked about on the resume for real?  The way to do that is, rather than asking 'audition' type coding questions, ask technical details about the things they say they can do.  You'll quickly discover their true understanding, and in the process you'll find out if they seem like they might be a good fit, in terms of attitude.

andrewm
Thursday, June 26, 2003

Why not follow this Microsoft interviewers example:
http://www.sellsbrothers.com/fun/msiview/default.aspx?content=phone.htm

=)

John Rosenberg
Thursday, June 26, 2003

After reading this forum, I'm thinking of not showering for a few days before an interview just so I don't accidently end up working at a company that's less concerned about employees' technical skills than their social skills. 

SomeBody
Thursday, June 26, 2003

[After reading this forum, I'm thinking of not showering for a few days before an interview just so I don't accidently end up working at a company that's less concerned about employees' technical skills than their social skills. ]

Somehow, I doubt that's a problem.

DingBat
Thursday, June 26, 2003

The degree of social skills required is going to vary on the role.

If you're working alone on a highly technical project, social skills don't matter. You'd be a fool to hire anyone but the best technical person for such a role.

Where as if someone is more of a team leader/customer liason sort of person, then they can get away with not having great technical skills, so long as they have social skills. They probably do need some level of technical knowledge, but it need not be indepth (so long as they know what they dont know and defer to those more knowledgable).

People advocating one focus over the other are probably thinking with different roles in mind. Hiring someone with no programming aptitude to write a compiler is not going to work, not matter how good their social skills. Likewise, you'd be a moron to hire Richard Stallman to be VP of marketting. ;)

And the horse you rode in on
Friday, June 27, 2003

"The degree of social skills required is going to vary on the role..."

Great response!

This is one reason why great coders (i.e. very good technical skills but not much else) don't always receive a job offer everytime they go through the interview process.

One Programmer's Opinion
Friday, June 27, 2003

I've found a worrying number of places care neither for the social skills NOR the technical skills.

I hate phone interviews. I communicate by sketching, waving my hands around and smiling a lot. None of those things work over the phone.

I usually don't get second interviews after phone interviews, but first-time face-to-face interviews turn into eventual job offers >50% of the time.

Don't know what use that datapoint is, mind you.

Katie Lucas
Friday, June 27, 2003

Why not give them a small project to code up and have them e-mail you the result?

Foolish Jordan
Friday, June 27, 2003

I personally hate phone interviews, and I have been on both sides of them. Naturally the ones where I have been a candidate were the worst.

Ultimately the purpose of a phone interview is screening. Is it worth investing several people's time in this interview? Does their resume match up with what they are saying? You get asked a lot of simple straight questions.

My boss quizzed an otherwise promising candidate on his Linux experience, the guy couldn't even name a distribution. They poke at areas where the resume could be faked. They also want to get a feel for you.

Personally I find the fact that you can't see the person, judge their facial expressions, a real barrier to effective communication.

I just try to survive the damn things. And always use a proper phone, I have used cell phones before, and swore I would never use them again - *twice*. I would even spring for a headset as a candidate (would double for roger wilco/counterstrike afterwards). If you are conducting them in a conference room, bear in mind how poor the sound quality will be to your candidate.

Richard
Friday, June 27, 2003

>> My boss quizzed an otherwise promising candidate on his Linux experience, the guy couldn't even name a distribution

Playing devil's advocate: this may have been a good thing.
I used to *build* everything I ran on my Linux box (until I got lazy in about 1995 :-)

Employed Russian
Saturday, June 28, 2003

I remember when building everything was the only way to do it, and then the first Slackware distro came out. But hey, even I can name Red Hat. :)

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Saturday, June 28, 2003

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