Main image of article Phone Interviews: What Tech Hiring Managers Want to Hear

If you’re on the job hunt, and having a hard time making it past the phone interviews, you may be wondering what hiring managers are looking for. What are their goals? What do they want to hear from candidates? Why aren’t you getting through?

To make sure you advance to the next stage of the hiring process, we went straight to the source. Here’s what experienced tech hiring managers want from tech candidates during phone interviews.

“360 View” of Work Experience

Like many hiring managers, Karl Hughes uses phone interviews to see if a candidate possesses the top five or six technical skills required to do a job.

Hughes, the CTO for The Graide Network, is also evaluating much more than a candidate’s experience with tools and programs when he asks a “tell me about a time when” question. “I want to understand how much experience a candidate has with the stages in the development life cycle,” he explained.

Amit Ojha, VP of Technology for Diamond Foundry, is looking for a go-getter, someone with a positive attitude who will fit in with the team.

How can you structure a great answer that will address both technical and soft skills, while also giving hiring managers what they’re looking for in a candidate?

Describe your skills and expertise through a story. Providing context helps the interviewer understand the difficulty of the project and how you’ve applied many different types of skills that can help you succeed in another position.

“Start with the big picture, by describing the problem you were trying to solve,” Hughes recommended. “Then walk me though the architecture and the tools you chose and why. Help me understand what you can contribute by calling attention to your strengths.”

During phone interviews, Ojha gauges a person’s attitude by the way they talk about a problem and how they went about solving it. For instance, he’s looking for examples of times when you took the initiative to get things done, as well as how you interact with team members. To impress a hiring manager, expose how you think, the logic behind your decisions, and how you engage with others.

Word choices and phrases say a lot about a candidate’s skillset and work style, too. For example, Ojha notices whether a candidate says “we” instead of “I” when describing a previous project.

“If a candidate doesn’t meet all the requirements, I want to know if he is willing to learn and whether he can learn quickly,” Hughes said.

For example, if you don’t have experience with Webpack, talk about how you’ve used a comparable tool such as Grunt or Gulp. Show flexibility and a desire to grow and improve by divulging whether you would choose a different platform or tool to perform a similar task the next time around.

Phone Interviews Mean 'Realistic' Dialogue

When crafting your project descriptions (which is definitely something you should do before your phone interviews), choose simplicity over complication. Don’t over-engineer the solution or try to be too flashy when describing your experience. Just be yourself.

If you created an issue or problem when working on a project, admit it, Ojha advised. Being honest and realistic about previous successes and failures not only builds trust, but shows the depth of your experience.

Interest and Enthusiasm

If you consistently find yourself rejected after a phone interview, it could be because you haven't done your homework. Taking the time to research the company, hiring manager and position before any interview shows a strong desire for the role; plus, it helps you engage in a meaningful discussion.

To show interest and enthusiasm (and impress the hiring manager), always ask insightful questions at the close of your phone interviews.

What You Want in Your Next Job

There’s no point in moving forward if your career and compensation goals don’t align with the company’s culture, professional development model, and budget.

Hiring managers want to know what you’re looking for a new position, what motivates you, and if the salary range you have in mind fits with their budget. During your phone interviews, be ready to discuss your short and long-term career goals, ideal tech and learning environment, and a general salary range that you would be willing to consider (without revealing a hard number).

Acing the Phone or Video Interview

Here are some additional tips if you’re facing a phone or video interview:

  • Quiet Any Distractions: Locate a quiet, distraction-free zone for your phone interview. A private room with a closed door is ideal. Inform housemates or family members about your call and request silence during that time (no crashing from the kitchen!).

  • Test Your Equipment: Ensure your phone is fully charged and has good reception. If the interview is being conducted via video, make sure the software is compatible with your machine and fully updated (a test call can prove useful!).

  • Dress for the Interview… Even Off-Screen: Dressing professionally sets the right tone and boosts your confidence, even if the interviewer can’t actually see you (or only sees a portion of you).

  • Be Early: Aim to be a few minutes early for the call, which shows respect for the interviewer's time.
  • Active Listening is Key: Pay close attention to the interviewer's questions and avoid interrupting. Show genuine interest by asking clarifying questions when needed; saying "Yes, I understand" can also signal active listening over the phone. Project a positive and enthusiastic tone throughout the conversation (smile, even if the interviewer can't see it, because that lifts your voice.)

It’s always helpful to have a “cheat sheet” with quick takeaways about your career, skills, and accomplishments. Yes, you (hopefully) remember everything you’ve done professionally—but it’s also easy to forget crucial details in the heat of the moment.

  • Have an Elevator Pitch Ready: Craft a concise yet compelling summary of your skills and experience that aligns with the job description. This will really help at the start of your conversation.

  • Quantify Your Past Achievements: Have your resume in front of you, or a short list of your previous experiences, complete with numbers demonstrating your tangible results.

  • Prep Some Stories: Always have some good examples of how you applied your skills in real-world situations to help companies succeed.

What are Some Typical Phone Interview Questions?

Before the interviewer plunges into the specifics of your career, the role, and necessary tech skills, they’ll likely ask some “softball” questions designed to draw you out. Use this opportunity to show the arc of your career and why you’re a great fit for the role.

  • “Tell me about yourself.” Deliver your prepped elevator pitch, highlighting relevant skills and experience for the position.

  • “Why are you interested in this job?” Research the company and position beforehand. Express genuine interest in their mission and connect your skills with their needs.

  • “Walk me through your experience with [specific skill].” Choose a relevant accomplishment and explain your role, the challenges faced, and the successful outcome.

Every phone or video interview is an opportunity to showcase your value and build rapport with the interviewer. Come prepared, and you have a solid chance of landing the job of your dreams.