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Effective Phone Screen Interview Tactics for Mobile Developers

Learn how to handle a phone screen interview like a pro including how to prepare based on your interviewer, which questions to expect and how to follow up.

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Ready to advance your career in mobile development? Knowing how to write apps is just part of the deal. Before you land your first or next role, you’ll have to pass many rounds of interviews. Each type of interview calls for different expertise and involves interviewers of varying roles. In this article, you’ll focus on the very first type of interview you’ll encounter: the phone screen.

What You’ll Learn

  • What to expect in a phone screen interview.
  • Who your interviewers will be and which questions to expect.
  • When and how to follow up after the interview.

If you’re new to phone screens, make sure you have a few things: First, a phone number where your interviewers can reach you! If possible, have a computer system ready with common video chat services such as Google Meet and Zoom. Lastly, have your own resume on hand.

What Is a Phone Screen Interview?

A phone screen is a brief conversation that kicks off the whole interview process. The terms “phone” and “screen” sum it up well: It takes place via a phone or video chat and is meant to sift out both unfit and promising candidates, much like a miner’s screen sifts gold from dirt.

Why do companies bother to screen if they thought your resume was suitable? Interviewing is a costly process; the earlier a company can weed out unsuitable candidates, the less time and cost they expend. Accordingly, you’ll find screens are:

  • Conducted over the phone to spare the effort of bringing you on-site.
  • Short to spare the company’s time.
  • Often conducted by nontechnical staff to preserve expertise for when it’s required.

That last condition may surprise you. Isn’t your technical prowess the most important thing to evaluate? And shouldn’t a screener be well-versed in mobile development in order to assess you?

For many reasons, this might not be the case! Depending on company size, process constraints or availability, you might have a phone screen with someone who is not technical at all.

Regardless of the reason, a nontechnical screener makes a great tuning fork for how you will perform on a cross-functional team. Can you explain your experience and technical concepts clearly?

Even worse than a lack of skill with technical communication is taking an air of superiority with folks who are not software engineers. Be mindful of how you come across to interviewers who are not technical or who don’t look like folks generally associated with mobile development. Nontechnical staff know to look for certain responses, so they are able to screen unqualified candidates; be sure to treat them with respect.

Younger woman interviews older man over Zoom

Make no assumptions about your interviewer’s technical chops. Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash.

Whether your interviewer is technical or not, the phone screen might include a technical portion. There are three main types of technical phone screens:

  • All Coding: Sometimes you are thrown straight into live coding. Companies use this approach when there’s an inflexible bar that a candidate must clear for the role or level.
  • Some Coding: In other cases, the technical portion is just a fraction of the overall interview, preceded by getting to know your background and motivations. Instead of live coding, you could be asked general questions that any mobile developer should know.
  • No Coding: Finally, your initial screen may not be technical at all! Instead, you could have a second, more specialized screen, conducted by someone closer to the work.

Preparing for the Phone Screen Interview

You’ve received an invite to interview. Now what?!

First, congratulate yourself: Your experience, resume and application spoke well enough that a company wants to meet you! :]

Next, take the following steps:

Schedule Your Interview

Once you receive an invitation to a phone screen, you’ll want to respond quickly. Now that the company has engaged, every interaction reflects on you as a potential employee and team member.

Provide your scheduler with several time slots to choose from, keeping in mind you’ll need time to prepare and avoid times when you’re likely to have conflicts crop up. Await a response that confirms the exact date and time and record the event in a reminder system immediately.

calendar page

Once that’s done, be sure to confirm the details. If it’s not clear who the screener will be or whether the screen is technical, reach out to the scheduler to clarify. Additionally, if a number of days pass without confirmation — at most, one business week — reach out and kindly request a confirmation.

Anticipating Phone Screen Interview Questions

Now that you have your interview booked, it’s time to determine who will conduct the interview. Be sure to ask, because that knowledge will give you a clue about what kind of phone screen questions to anticipate. Here are common functions that conduct screens, from least to most specialized:

  • People Ops/Human Resources
  • (Technical) Recruiting
  • (Technical) Management
  • Software Engineering

Of course, anomalies exist. If you’re interviewing to be the founding engineer at a budding startup, you might find yourself speaking directly to the C-suite. Regardless, every role has different expertise and motivations.

Interviewing With People Ops and Human Resources

The field of People Ops (short for People Operations) addresses the experience of the people working for a company, including performance reviews, company celebrations, office management and more. While it might not seem relevant, a member of the People Ops team could very well be your screener because these folks are talented in evaluating people concerns, such as ability to communicate and how well a candidate aligns with company values.

Note: People Ops and Human Resources are related. Some companies have both, with People Ops falling under Human Resources. Some companies have either or use the two interchangeably. In this article, the difference is irrelevant: if you find yourself speaking with a professional “People” or “Human”, this is the section for you. :]

Expect this session to be brief and less technical, delving more into your motivation for your next role and your previous experience on teams. There may be a cursory technical portion covering mobile basics, to ensure you aren’t charading as a developer. Expect phone screen questions like:

  • Name a few ways to persist data to the device.
  • What HTTP verbs are commonly used in RESTful APIs?
  • What is the lifecycle of an Activity, a Widget or a ViewController?

Notice that the responses to these questions have well-known keywords that any interviewer can tick off a checklist (clue: Room, GET, viewDidLoad).

To prepare for this screen, you’ll want to think about scenarios from your experience that illustrate your ability with mobile development, how you work with others and your investment in personal growth. This will come in handy when you’re asked a behavioral question.

Additionally, brush up on the fundamentals for your platform. Here are some interview questions for the major platforms:

Interviewing With Recruiters and Sourcers

The field of recruiting deals with finding, vetting, interviewing and hiring prospective candidates. Two prominent roles within recruiting are Recruiter and Sourcer. Sourcers are responsible for finding candidates, whereas recruiters are responsible for engaging with active candidates and resolving the best prospects into hiring offers. The same person might wear both these hats, especially if the company is small.

It’s worth noting the difference if you find yourself talking to a sourcer; they will connect you with a dedicated recruiter or recruiting coordinator to truly kick off the interview cycle.

Interviewing With Technical Managers

You may encounter a screener with the word “manager” or “director” in their title. It could be a hiring manager responsible for filling the opening, an Engineering Manager seeking the next member of their team, or the Director of Engineering or Head of Engineering building out the department and its mobile capabilities. What unites these roles is expertise in software engineering and in people management.

Try to understand the manager’s investment in the role. If it’s an engineering manager looking to enrich their own team, listen for what they’re interested in, whether technical (for example, willingness to work on iOS as well as Android) or behavioral (for example, a desire to mentor). For the Director interested in a long-term vision for cross-platform, respond by discussing why you think Flutter is a good option and how you can help build the team.

To prepare for phone screen questions from a manager, go over your platform fundamentals, but also consider ways to highlight your expertise and collaboration skills. Furthermore, take some time before the phone screen to reflect deeply on what you bring to the future of an engineering department.

Interviewing With Software Engineers

Your screener could very well be a peer! You may find yourself talking to a fellow mobile developer or an experienced developer in another discipline. What sets them apart from a technical manager is that this screener doesn’t manage people (though they may manage projects or platforms).

Expect this session to be highly technical, asking questions that gauge your mobile development, computer science, practical decision-making and industry knowledge. Prepare anecdotes of working with other software engineers and writing quality code — and be able to communicate exactly what your technical contribution was. If you haven’t worked with others, call up your experience of shipping an app, contributing to an open-source project or collaborating with classmates or in bootcamp.

OK, now that you have an idea of who might interview and what their goals are likely to be, it’s time to think about some general prep before the big call.

What to Study Before the Phone Screen Interview

To show up prepared for your phone screen, you’ll need to know the details of the job opening. Make sure you review the following:

  • The company: Focus on its sector (for example, healthcare), mission and values. What’s on their About page, in their Press Kit, on their social media?
  • The exact job description: What level of experience are they seeking? What other functions do they mention?
  • The tech stack: What technologies are mentioned on the site or in the job description?
  • The developer relations (DevRel) presence: Do they have an engineering blog, host meetups, present at conferences or contribute to open source?

Reviewing these details prepares you to present well to your screener, showing them you care about the company, role and engineering culture. Familiarizing yourself with their DevRel serves a dual purpose: It will get you excited about the team you might join, thus unlocking your ability to be genuine with your interest. Try to pick out something that you think is great about the company — a post, a talk, a library — and bring it up in conversation.

Alongside studying the role, you’ll need to do some self-reflection specific to the interview. Make sure to review:

  • Your own resume: Study the exact version of the resume you sent if you have variations. Be sure to highlight anything relevant to the specific opening.
  • Behavioral anecdotes: When applying for jobs, you’ll want to have a variety of stories ready to tell to illustrate how you rise to workplace challenges. Consider which ones relate best to what this company does and the specific role you’re applying for, as defined in the job description.
  • Salary range: What would you consider to be a good offer and does it suit your financial aspirations?
  • Your own goals: What truly interests you about the opening?

If your answer to that last question is, you just want any mobile development role or you want a higher-paying position — that’s OK! Experience and compensation are important to any applicant, so no need to harp on that. Rather, set yourself apart by highlighting what really piques your interest and suits your skills.

Finally, prepare yourself to answer common operational questions such as:

  • Are you interviewing with any other companies?
  • What are your visa needs?
  • What is your preferred salary range?
  • When can you get started on that take home? :]

If you’re uncomfortable talking about salary, remember that not every country requires you to disclose. So, if you’d rather not, practice letting the screener know that you’re happy to talk to the hiring manager later in the process.

Turning the Questions Around on the Interviewer

Before it’s time to do your phone screen, take some time to think about what you want out of the job. Your screener should give you a bit of time to ask questions. Take advantage of this! It’s both your first opportunity to gauge whether this is the role for you, and it shows the screener you’re engaged. Don’t say you don’t have any questions or ask a question alluding to industry gossip.

As you go through screens, compile a general list of questions you’d like to know about any company. In approaching a particular screen, note down specifics about that role. Order your questions by those you feel you most need to know, as it’s likely during the brief screen you won’t be able to cover them all. Consider topics like:

  • Team: What team will I be on? What are they working on right now?
  • Growth: What growth paths are available? Will I work solo?
  • Tech: How much coding is done in Java? Are there opportunities to learn about backend development?
  • Process: What will my day-to-day look like? Do developers get to influence the road map?
  • Management: Who will I report to? What is the management philosophy?
  • Culture: What does the org do to ensure diversity? How do senior engineers relate to junior engineers?
Note: Be sure to ask: “What session types are covered in the rest of the interview process?” so you can calibrate your study.

If you run out of time to ask questions or the screener never offers, make sure to find out how you can get your questions answered. They could be willing to schedule a follow-up, correspond via email or connect you with a hiring manager.

Getting Ready on the Big Day

Finally, the day has come. You studied the night before and your call is an hour away. First, find the call-in details: Is it over the phone? Is it a video chat at a specific link? If the latter, make sure you have access to the video chat service and that it works with your camera and microphone. Also make sure that the lighting is good enough that the interviewer can see you clearly.

Next, pull out your notes and skim them. Being nervous makes it easy to forget what you wrote down even a minute ago. The key here is, you shouldn’t be caught off guard when your phone rings and you most definitely should not be late.

Given that screens are brief, you may find your screener rushes along and hops between behavioral, technical and conversational content. Don’t let this ruffle you, your preparation has you ready to respond to any of it.

On the flip side, you might find that your screener isn’t in a rush and there is time to make conversation. You’ve got it covered! Pull out that list of questions you have about the role and use their responses to highlight relevant aspects of your experience.

While each screen will be different, you can anticipate a format something like:

  • Greetings: Is now still a good time? How are you?
  • Company and role summary: Company X has been around for Y years. Our mobile team is working on Z.
  • Your experience: Tell me about your last role. I see you’ve done Android development for Y years, how much of that was hands-on coding?
  • Technical proficiency: How familiar are you with SwiftUI? How does Flutter communicate with native APIs?
  • Behavioral: Tell me about a time you…
  • Operational: Are you interviewing with any other companies?
  • Wrap-up and next steps: Any questions for me?

Again, make sure to ask which interview sessions are to come. If they mention “technical” sessions, clarify what kind.

You did it! You got through your screen. Hopefully, you’ll get an email soon enough asking you to start on a take home project or to schedule the next interview.

After the Phone Screen Interview

After you finish your phone screen, be sure to follow up with a brief thank-you message to your interviewer. After that, it’s a waiting game.

How quickly a company gets back to you with the result of a screen can vary widely. At one extreme, they may mention during the screen itself that you’ve passed and they’d like to rush you to the next step. At the other extreme, you never hear back.

Be patient if you don’t hear back immediately. When a company is hiring for a lot of roles or has few resources, it’s difficult for them to process interviews quickly. Give it one week and reach out to your point of contact. If you don’t hear back, try again. If you are juggling multiple interviews and excited to keep this one moving, make sure to mention that. Knowing other companies are moving forward with your interviews should encourage them to do the same.

If you do encounter the unfortunate scenario of never hearing back, this is implicitly a rejection. Just think, it may be for the best: The way a company treats the people who apply is one reflection of how they treat the people who work there.

If you do receive a rejection message, take the opportunity to improve your interview skills by responding to ask what you could have done better.

Where to Go From Here?

Now that you know what to expect in a phone screen interview, practice putting that knowledge to work. Imagine the company you most want to work for has set a date for a phone screen for a role you’d really enjoy.

  1. Review your own resume and LinkedIn and note what areas you can highlight that make you a great fit for this role.
  2. Start or continue a journal of interview-ready anecdotes that clearly illustrate your workplace strengths. Choose a couple for this opportunity.
  3. Assume your interviewer will be a nontechnical team member. Think about what they might ask and be ready with your answers.
  4. Research the company and jot down at least three questions for your interviewer that you really want to know the answers to and that also show you’ve done your homework.

Phew, that was a lot of work! It may seem overboard for a short conversation — but it’s worth it. While you’re waiting for a response, don’t take your foot off the gas. Reflect on how that screen went and apply those learnings to the next. If there was an aspect you stumbled over, make sure to practice. Consider running a mock interview with a loved one. Finally, don’t forget to do something kind for yourself: Screens can be emotionally trying.

Soon you’ll be able to juggle many phone screens at once, and one will resolve into an invitation to advance.

Key Takeaways

  • The phone screen is your first chance to make an impression on a company. Make sure you’re on time, your system is ready and you’ve studied.
  • There are several common roles that handle phone screens, depending on the company. These include, but aren’t limited to: People Ops, Recruiting, Management and Engineering. Gear your prep to the screener’s function.
  • Prep also includes studying the company, the role, your own resume and your motivations.
  • Always thank your interviewer.
  • If you don’t hear back within one business week, follow up. Seek an explicit response, whether a rejection or next steps.

Resources

To get a sense of domain-specific questions that could be asked, check out our question-and-answer articles for:

If the computer science aspect has you fretting, consider checking out our books on Data Structures & Algorithms in:

If you’re more of a visual learner, there’s even a great video course on Acing the iOS Interview. While the examples are about iOS, there are many similiarities between interview cycles for mobile developers in any platform, so there’s plenty to learn — including what a remote interview looks like.

If you’d like to improve your overall interviewing skills, read our article on Mock Interview Techniques for Developers.

About the Author

Harlan Kellaway prepared for many phone screens and received multiple offers before joining Lyft as a senior iOS engineer. Prior to his current role, Harlan regularly found himself on the other side of the phone as a senior engineering manager and staff software engineer at Maven Clinic.

Do you have a great tip on phone screens, a success story or a good what-not-to-do? Please join in the forum discussion below!

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