Phone Screening Candidates

Not too long ago I posted an entry titled How to Interview a Programmer. At the time, I wasn't interviewing anyone. Now, 3 interviews later, I'm forced to think about the interview process again. I'm not leading the interviews so my input is somewhat limited, but of course that doesn't prevent me from making suggestions here and there.

My first suggestion was to phone screen. It's a huge time saver for both the interviewee and interviewer since it eliminates obviously incompatible people. The trick to phone screening is asking the really important questions that can make or break the hiring decision. Failing to do this, I believe, is often overlooked and is the trap my team has fallen in to. Several candidates have passed the phone screen only to be almost unanimously rejected by the interviewers (including me).

So I suggested to my team that we should evaluate the current phone screen questions and perhaps throw in a few more technical questions to give a more realistic preview of the candidate. The ideas were well received so now I'm curious to see how it goes.

Update: Since revising our phone screen questions, we've been able to eliminate 50% of the candidates that we thought “looked good” on paper. Which isn't to say that the people we talked to were not intelligent, but our questions gave us enough information to decide that they weren't good fits for the position we were trying to fill.

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  1. i absolutely agree with kyle... it is quite ridiculous to ask the 'fresh grad' tech questions to experienced professionals ... .

    i think interviews who are stuck up on such questions reveal that their appreciation of technlogy as limited to the language tools rather than concepts and ideas that are implemented by the language...

  2. I have been working as a database programmer for 6 years. I have been working in the technical field of computers for another 6 years. I have two (computer and electrical) engineering degrees. I feel that I can say I am an experienced candidate for a programming position. Fortunately I have a job so I am not desperate.

    Now I have interviewed a few times recently. I'll admit I don't like technical questions straight off. One reason is that they could ask you anything about any part of your resume from ten years ago even technical questions that are not pertinent to the position you are applying for... I've seen that happen before too.

    Honestly I feel my work should speak for itself and technical questions just make me nervous. I don't see the value of asking those sort questions to someone who has a large body of work to offer an employer as an example. The technical questions that employers are asking today are really geared towards new graduates straight out of college not towards a job seeker who has been in the job market for several years and to be honest most of the time are not pertinent to the job anyway.

    The technical questions found in the interviews of today, in my opinion are the sort of questions you ask someone straight out of college who has nothing else to offer except their wits and what they just learned in a recent course.

    I really feel today's employers rely on technical questions way too much, surely there ought to be a better way to judge a more seasoned candidate?

    With a seasoned candidate, there is a work record and possibly letters of recommendation. In my eyes an employer would consider these sorts of things very favorably, yet I have never been asked about these types of things in all the interviews I've ever had ... and I've had a lot of interviews over the years.

  3. I don't have a set list of questions that I ask when phone screening candidates. One of the reasons for this is that I don't want the questions to be predictable. Just about every candidate that I've screened recently has come through a recruiter. One of my larger clients has a short list of preferred vendors and so each recruiter is submitting multiple people. I have to assume that after the interview, the candidate reports back to the recruiter with the questions that I've asked. Hence my desire to keep the question list varied.

    One source for inspiration is the candidate's resume. Having spent a lot of time working on my own resume and reading others, I've developed a bit of a knack for finding inconsistencies. For instance, recently one candidate had the acronyms OOP, OOA, and OOD in an odd place. So I asked this person for what those terms meant to her. Her response was something to the effect that a recruiter told her to put them on her resume. She got points for being honest, but lost more for putting something on her resume that shouldn't have been there. In my opinion a resume is a marketing tool. You can put anything you want on it that isn't an outright lie, but you better be prepared to explain in detail every single acronym and bullet point.

  4. Can you post some of your questions? Answers that were acceptable and not acceptable?

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