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Phone Interview Questions for Software Developers

January 17, 2017

phone screening questions

Phone interviews are a great way to meet and qualify candidates, without the logistical and time commitments that come with in-person interviews. Whether the person you’re interviewing is in your city or outside your state, they are sure to appreciate the trip you’re saving them as they participate in your remote interview.

Phone and video interviews are also becoming more of an established practice in the tech industry. They may be expected by software developer candidates, but using phone interviews is sure to be appreciated by candidates who have busy schedules.

Meeting and Evaluating Developers with Phone interviews

The phone interview is a good time to ask technical questions, but only if they aren’t eating up a huge part of your interview time. Hearing candidates walk you through their problem-solving process on the phone can be valuable, but waiting on the line as they solve complex problems puts artificial pressure on them. It also wastes your time if they hit a road-block, need time to think or become flustered.

Instead, consider assigning your most technical questions to candidates in a follow-up email. This way, you can devote the initial phone interview to meeting and evaluating candidates through a smooth, revealing dialogue. Candidates will also appreciate not having to do complex problems under pressure. 

Here are some of the most important questions to ask software developer candidates and functions these questions serve. If they get off topic, gently guide them back to a line of conversation that demonstrates their experience and comfort level with the work you need done.

How are you today?

FUNCTION: Starting off with a friendly, soft-ball question helps the candidate to relax and warm up their communication skills for the interview.

Starting the interview by reading them a word problem or asking them to answer in form of numbers gets things off to a slower start. Retaining the interest of skilled candidates will be easier with a friendly first impression, so don’t forget to ease into each phone interview before getting down to business.

What do you know about our company and the software that we develop?

  • What about the software that we develop appeals to you?

FUNCTION: This question reveals the interest level of candidates and is a great launch point into discussing:

  • Candidate direct experience with the work your company does.
  • Candidate knowledge on your company.
  • The work the candidate is currently doing/ what they like about it.
  • How candidate skills would support the work your company does.
  • Key company/brand information.
  • Industry/ technology trends.
  • Technical aspects of the software you develop.

This question is a great launch point for discussing the work your company does and the work your candidate does. It is also great for testing how invested the candidate is in the idea of working for your company.

Tell me about the largest scale development process problem that you or your team have faced and worked through.   

  • How did the problem relate to advancing in the dev process and the final product?
  • What role did you play in the solution?
  • Was this the most challenging dev obstacle you’ve worked on?
  • Where you and your team-mates able to solve the problem?

FUNCTION: This question tests candidates for their ability to explain bugs, errors and catastrophic failures in the software development process.

From here, you can explore their systematic problem-solving skills, their approach to work on ongoing pieces of software, and their record for finding bypasses to roadblocks in the development process.

There will always be obstacles in the development process, for individual workers and product development as a whole. You want candidates who have experience moving the dev process forward and who are comfortable working around large scale problems when creating software.

What method of collaboration has been most successful for you?

  • What method has been the least successful for you?

FUNCTION: Having your new software developer fit seamlessly into your team’s workflow is the ideal, and these questions reveal how your developer candidate works with others.

Knowing the way that candidates are used to working, shows you how much they will have to adjust to life in your company. Their answer will also show you the ways that other software companies are managing workflow and collaboration.

Knowing what collaboration practices don’t work for your candidate is also crucial information. Even if your team uses their least favorite method, hearing their perspective is valuable and shows you if they will enjoy working for your company. The fit has to be right on both sides, and it’s better for employer and candidate to know about “deal-breaker” procedures/details early on in the interview process.

What levels of programming and/or functionality have you been responsible for designing/developing during the software development process?

  • Which portions of the completed software were your responsibility to develop/design?
  • How did your work contribute to the final product?

FUNCTION: These questions reveal the scope of your candidate’s software development experience and where this experience is concentrated.

These questions will help you uncover candidate experience at different stages and areas of the development process. By focusing on the scale and effect of the work entrusted to this candidate in the past, you will be able to determine if they’re up for your open job.

Narrow in on the portions of the dev process that the hire will be working on:

  • Front end development/design
  • Back end development/design
  • User interface development/design
  • Functional development/design
  • Software Update development/design
  • Online interface development/design
  • Mobile development/design

Learning the scale at which the developer is used to working will be crucial in qualifying them for your job. They will have a specific role to play in your software development cycle, and you must be sure that they are comfortable playing this role.

Why is ______ the best language for building ______functionality in a piece of software?

FUNCTION: This question tests the candidate’s independent thinking ability, as well as their knowledge on specific computer languages.

There may be an established language for the software functionality you want them to build, but engaged engineers will not be able to take blanket statements without talking about alternatives.

If they disagree on which language is best, this is a great time to discuss this point and/or explain that it’s the language that’s being used for ongoing development. This question reveals candidate comfort level with the languages that your developer must understand, as well as their ability to think of alternatives to real world problems faced by your company.

What are you looking for in your next job?

FUNCTION: This question shows candidates that you care about their career ambitions and want to know if your open job is a good match for these ambitions.

This is one of the most important questions you will ask during the interview process. If your open job aligns with their career aspirations, candidates are more likely to remain engaged in their work, maintain productivity and work longer at their job. If your open job doesn’t match the ambitions of a top candidate, then this information is much better learned sooner than later.

Don’t be afraid to help candidates as they discuss their experience. They want to perform well in the interview, so let them know what you’re looking for if they sound uncertain. Phone interviews are a great way to qualify engineer candidates and get to know your candidates before they every step foot in your office.

VP of Marketing at Digital Astronauts Ronny Cheng is one of the Co-Founder's of Digital Astronauts and has helped drive lead generation in the software industry for organizations of all sizes -- from start-ups to Fortune 500's. He helped build one of the first online software review websites, specializing in CRM, ERP, and HR software. He's a nationally published author with extensive experience working with the HR/Recruiting industries largest brands. In his spare time, you can catch him on Instagram doing his best food blogger impersonation.
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