Last Minute Prep Guide to Phone Tech Interviews

A solid first step towards getting a job!

October is the peak of tech recruiting season! For underclassmen who are applying for their first tech internship, this is a whole new experience. Before my first ever phone tech interview, I really had no idea what to expect, so the interview was quite a surprise.To help my fellow friends pick up an interview call feeling confident and comfortable, I am writing this post to introduce what phone tech interviews are like and how to better prepare yourself at last minute. These preparations seem small, but definitely helped me perform better at phone interviews.

Before we dive into phone tech interviews, I want to announce that I will write about how to schedule onsite interviews next week so stay tuned!

Seattle night, while on an interview trip

What is a phone tech interview like?

A phone tech interview is basically a tech interview on phone / Skype / Hangout / any audio conferencing tool. It is conducted by a software engineer and lasts anywhere between 30 minutes and 1 hour. Usually, you will get two tech questions, the first easier and the second more complex. Most likely you will code in a shared document, such as Google Docs, so there will be no auto completion and no compiler.

If you have extra time, the interviewer might ask some questions about your resume. For example, they could ask what you found most challenging in a past project or during a summer internship, how you handled a conflict and how you dealt with a difficult teammate. At the end, you will get 5 minutes or so to ask the interviewer questions.

What could I do 1 week before my phone interview?

If you have more time than 1 week before your phone interview, see this previous post on what you could do in the previous summer to better prepare yourself in the fall recruiting season.

During the week before your phone interview, I highly recommend practicing mock interviews with friends. Make sure you practice these two very important points:

  1. You need to talk about your thinking process. Otherwise if you just code quietly in the shared documents, it will be very hard for the interviewer to understand your thinking process. Plus, you will be on the phone and the interviewer won’t be able to see your facial expression or body language, which makes it harder to get your message across.
  2. There is no auto completion, nor can you look up functions online! I found this a real struggle. I was so used to IDE filling up the rest of the function name that I never bothered to memorize them. However, during a phone interview you won’t have any extra resources than just simple text editor, so memorizing the common functions definitely help. People say that you are allowed to use pseudo code when you don’t remember. I agree and have done that, but I think using the correct functions shows your understanding of the language.

Another helpful thing to do 1 week before your interview is to review your resume, preferably with the career service staff or with a friend. For each of your past work experience and personal projects, ask yourself these questions: what was the biggest challenge in this experience? What was the technical difficulty? How did you solve the problem? What are your strengths? Do you have stories to back that up? It might be helpful to write down your answers and discuss with career service staff to see if your answer truly let your strengths shine through.

What could I do 2 days before my phone interview?

When was the last time you looked at your algorithms and data structures notebook? Probably one summer ago, before you started practicing coding questions. 2 days before the phone tech interview is a good time to brush up on your Computer Science knowledge. Phone tech interviews involve mostly algorithms and data structures, so it will most likely be safe to just quickly go over your class notes or the summary in Cracking the Coding Interview book. However, this is not the time to read the details. You just want to refresh your memories so you know which algorithm to use during the interview.

I would also want to make sure my laptop is working alright. If not, I still have 2 days to find a replacement.

What could I do 1 day before my phone interview?

You want to do a last minute check the day before your phone interview. Find a comfortable spot (I usually do phone interviews in my room), lay out your headphone and chargers for both cell phone and for laptop, charge your phone and laptop. Check your email with your HR to make sure you get your interview time right. Set up an alarm (or multiple alarms) for the interview.

Other than that, get a good night’s sleep. You will need a lot of energy to concentrate in a phone tech interview.

What could I do day of my phone interview?

Make sure you go to a quiet place to take the interview alone. I would not want any distraction. I also always use headphones during interviews to hear more clearly.

Prepare a writing pad and a pen(cil) in case you need to jot down some details or draw a graph to help you understand the question. In fact, I once drew a tree on my writing pad and held it in front of the camera to show the interviewer, which helped my interviewer understand my solution.

I usually get ready and sit down at my laptop a few minutes early, so when I pick up my phone I will (hopefully) be confident and calm.

Additionally, when they ask questions, I would ask them clarifying questions to make sure I am understanding the question correctly. If you have extra time, you can share with them why you want to join their company and ask them how they like their company. Ask questions that are not already on their website.

Last but not least, during your interview, be passionate and energetic, especially if you are on phone. Since the interviewer will not see you when you are on phone, you need to convey your passion in their company through your voice, which is harder than facial expressions.

What could I do after my phone interview?

Think your phone interview experience ended there? Not yet! I think it is a good habit to email the HR afterwards to let them know that you have accomplished your interview and they should be expecting a report soon from the interviewer. Also tell them to pass on your gratitude for the interviewer’s time. Ask when you will hear back and what the next step is. If you have any competing offers, let them know as soon as possible and they might be able to expedite your application.

Interviews are always nerve-wracking. However, it is a learning process: the more interviews you do, the better you will get at being interviewed. Good luck with the fall recruiting season!

Thank you for reading! I tried to incorporate experience of my own and still keep it concise. If you enjoyed reading, please Like this post, Follow me, or Recommend it to a friend who might find it helpful (or a good pastime in the bathroom).

If you have specific questions about applying for a tech position, or have experience to share, or have feedback for me, feel free to comment! I’ll try to address them in upcoming posts. Any feedback is much appreciated!

Again, hope you enjoyed reading!