7 Things I Wish I Knew Before a Phone Interview

Do you know that 90% candidates failed their phone interviews?

The phone interview is where you make your first impression. Although in most cases phone interviews are easier than onsite interviews, majority people didn’t make it.

Before we talk about tips for phone interview, I’d like to briefly summarize the basic process of a phone interview.

Basic process of a phone interview

For companies like Google, Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter etc., phone interviews are used to as the second step after resume filtering to eliminate majority of candidates, so that there will be far less candidates qualified for onsite interviews.

A common mistake is that many people think phone interview is all about behavior questions and won’t test your technical skills.

However it’s only true when the interviewer is HR. In most cases phone interviews are all about coding.

The most common process is that during a technical phone interview, you will be asked about two coding questions and you are required to write solid code for both. So the process is quite similar to an onsite interview except it’s via phone call.

There are various things you’d better keep in mind before and during a phone interview.

I won’t talk about how to prepare the coding interview in general as my previous post How To Ace Your Code Interview In One Month has covered this topic in detail.

Here I’ll give you some tips for phone interview that will boost your chance of hired.

#1 Find a great environment

A lot of people didn’t pay enough attention to this point, they had their phone interviews in a noisy place with terrible signals or network.

From the interviewer’s perspective, it seems that the candidate didn’t take it seriously and the whole process was annoying.

Few things you should keep in mind when finding the best place for a phone interview:

  • Make sure the place is quiet and you won’t be disturbed for the next one hour.
  • Make sure your phone has best signal. As you know, AT&T doesn’t always have good signal in many locations.
  • Make sure you have a good network as you will share code with your interviewer.
  • Earphone is highly recommended as it’ll be clearer for both sides.

As a result, having a phone interview at Starbucks or your school’s library is not a good idea. Many people choose to do it at home, which is recommended.


#2 Practice with online code sharing tools

In a phone interview, you will share your code with your interviewer. If you never used them before, it’s highly recommended to practice with them before the interview.

Different companies may use different tools, it’s better to do some research or just ask HR about it. Google doc and collabedit are quite common.

Try to practice with some questions with the tool and be familiar with it as it won’t be as convenient as your favorite text editor or IDE.

The point is that you don’t want to be slow just due to the code sharing tool.


#3 Think out loud

It’s always recommended to think out loud in a technical interview for both onsite and phone interview, but it’s even more important when the interview is conducted via phone call.

In an in-person interview, it’s possible for the interviewer to guess what you are doing even if you are in silence.

He can tell from your expression or things you draw on the whiteboard whether you get stuck or you are just thinking.

However all of these benefits don’t exist in a phone interview. You should be proactive to communicate what’s in your mind and what you are trying to do so that the interviewer knows the current situation and he may offer help when needed.

Also it’s quite awkward when you are in silence for 1min via the phone.


#4 Clean code

Many people don’t know that your code will be submitted to the hiring committee as an important factor to make hiring decision. As a result, everything you write on the code sharing tool is evaluated.

We covered this topic in detail at 7 Simple Ways to Improve Your Code In Interviews and in a nutshell, you’d better be very careful about your code style, input validation and no pseudo code is allowed.


#5 Speak clearly

Communication is extremely important during a phone interview as the interviewer is evaluating various kinds of skills like analysis ability by what you say.

Also clear communication can save tons of time because it’s easier for the interviewer to understand your intent and won’t need to ask you to further explain.

As you know phone calls are less clear comparing to face-to-face communication, it’s very important to make sure you can speak clearly and the interviewer has no difficulty understanding your words.

This is even more important for non-native speakers or the interviewer is not native (actually more than 60% software engineers are not from US in silicon valley). Try to speak slowly and be calm.


#6 Never cheat

Some people like to “cheat” during a phone interview by having more than one person in the room or asking help via IM.

However I would tell you that it’s not that hard to detect this.

For experienced interviewers who have conducted countless phone screens before, it’s quite obvious when someone behaves in an abnormal way.

Long time mute, some talking and discussion in the background or keyboard typing sound are all clear sign that the candidate is doing something weird.

Once being caught, the candidate got no chance for sure. So don’t even consider this option as it won’t do any good to you.



The number one tip is always to prepare well for basic knowledge like data structure and algorithm. Phone interview is even more focused on the foundation as it’s just used to eliminate candidates who are clearly not good fit.

Don’t be afraid of phone interviews as they are much easier than onsite interviews. The key is really to spend enough effort and time on preparation and take it very seriously.

Any other tips for acing a phone interview?


About Gainlo

Gainlo (gainlo.co) is a platform that allows you to have mock interview with experienced interviewers from Google, Amazon, Linkedin etc. and get real feedback to improve.

We first match you with an interviewer based on your preference, target company etc.. Then mock interview will be conducted in exactly the same way as a real interview. Finally you will receive authentic feedbacks from our interviewers about your performance and you are free to ask any questions. Check FAQ section for more questions.

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The post is written by Gainlo - a platform that allows you to have mock interviews with employees from Google, Amazon etc..

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2 thoughts on “7 Things I Wish I Knew Before a Phone Interview

  1. In the inverted triangle picture, looks like positions of “Pass phone interviews” and “Pass resume screening” need to be swapped.

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