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. By Harlan Kellaway.

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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.

If you’re looking for a job in the tech industry, “Hack Your Job Search: An Authoritative Guide to Landing Your First Dev Interview” offers insider tips and advice you won’t find anywhere else. Be sure to check it out.

Read Hack Your Job Search Today!

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.

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

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: