Phone interviews.

Sage
Posts: 1,482
Joined: 2002.09
Post: #1
So I had a phone interview for a software engineering position today. I was expecting a lot of phone friendly questions, like general algorithmic knowledge or time efficiency questions. While there was some of that, the guy wanted me to code over the phone (C and pseudo). I was definitely not expecting that.

It was really awkward. I started out by trying to write just enough of it down on paper to explain it, but that ended up being really frustrating for us both. Ultimately I just asked if I could type it up and email it to him. That was awkward too as I felt that I was just making him wait as he stayed on the line.

Has anyone else had an experience like this?

Scott Lembcke - Howling Moon Software
Author of Chipmunk Physics - A fast and simple rigid body physics library in C.
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Moderator
Posts: 437
Joined: 2002.09
Post: #2
If he's smart he'll realize that he made it awkward and will separate that from whether you knew your stuff or not.

Was it a small company? Before bringing people all the way in to interview at my firm, one of us techies is often asked by our HR director (who basically IS the HR department) to screen them over the phone first. We've started to formalize it a little now, but as a pre-interview filter it's generally been left up to the screener to decide what to ask. So I'm sure the quality of the interview has varied.

On the other hand, the purpose is just to screen out the obvious liars/exaggeraters/beginners. It's amazing how many people put buzzwords on their resume and just don't know what they are doing. But the in-house interviews are the really picky ones. There's a pretty good chance if you know your stuff that you'll get past the phone interview, I think.

Good luck.

Measure twice, cut once, curse three or four times.
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Sage
Posts: 1,482
Joined: 2002.09
Post: #3
Well the company in question was Google. I've heard that they deal with so many hopefuls that pretty much everybody is involved in the hiring process. The interviewer I talked to was actually an engineer on the "Ads by Google" project.

On the one hand, I'm guessing that they realize that such things are awkward. On the other hand, it makes me wonder if they are expecting the kind of people who can communicate well enough to write memcpy() over the phone.

Is getting a phone interview even a big deal? I figured that it meant I had at least a 1/1000 chance instead of the 1/1,000,000 chance from submitting my resume.

Scott Lembcke - Howling Moon Software
Author of Chipmunk Physics - A fast and simple rigid body physics library in C.
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Member
Posts: 49
Joined: 2002.05
Post: #4
I had a phone interview recently where we used LiveMeeting in addition to the phone to communicate. The interviewer first asked several tech type questions which could be answered without writing anything down. Then he asked me to log into a LiveMeeting session. He explained a problem over the phone and by drawing pictures in LiveMeeting and then asked me how I would solve the problem. After I explained, he asked me to code my solution in LiveMeeting.

I found that it worked fairly well, and I wound up getting the job. It was a bit awkward typing while holding the phone though (I didn't have speaker phone).
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Moderator
Posts: 592
Joined: 2002.12
Post: #5
I've had technical interviews over the phone before.

Sometimes those kind of questions are just there to trip you up and see if you fluster under the pressure. Often responding to them by stating that coding like that is not realistic because you would think about it before implementing it is a good answer.

Even when I've done written tests in interviews I've said that the code / design I've provided may not work as there is always some kind of tweaking when you think it through or try and compile it. They tend to agree and it leads to a discussion about how the design / coding process should be done which makes you stand out as it shows you are aware of the issues. However if you just put down the perfect algorithm for solving the problem it may just show you can repeat parrot fashion what you learned in lectures.

Of course if they do not agree do you really want to work for someone who expects everything to just work and is unaware of the issues of software development?
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Member
Posts: 100
Joined: 2006.05
Post: #6
When I interviewed for the undergraduate research position I have right now, I actually did the interview over Skype. I had another offer that wanted me to confirm that night and a friend had mentioned me to another offer so I had to interview right away. I actually didn't have a mic, so it ended up being a chatroom interview. It was certainly a first for me...
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Sage
Posts: 1,482
Joined: 2002.09
Post: #7
Well, it wasn't as bad as I thought. They want to do another phone interview. (Crosses fingers)

Scott Lembcke - Howling Moon Software
Author of Chipmunk Physics - A fast and simple rigid body physics library in C.
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Member
Posts: 469
Joined: 2002.10
Post: #8
Skorche Wrote:Well the company in question was Google. I've heard that they deal with so many hopefuls that pretty much everybody is involved in the hiring process. The interviewer I talked to was actually an engineer on the "Ads by Google" project.
If you've gone past the 1st round interviews at google, then you're under NDA and can't mention that you're interviewing there unless you get hired. As frequently as this board is crawled, no doubt somebody has been emailed a google alert already. I'd keep quiet.

One of my former co-workers just hired on at google. He went through 2 rounds the first time, then 4 rounds this past time.

In the future, if you're interviewing at a Mac friendly company like google, I'd recommend recommending SubEthaEdit for all your live phone interview coding needs.

Either that or bust out Omnigraffle + Adobe Connect and show off your modeling skills.

---Kelvin--
15.4" MacBook Pro revA
1.83GHz/2GB/250GB
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Sage
Posts: 1,482
Joined: 2002.09
Post: #9
I haven't signed the NDA yet, nor does it make any stipulations about anything I've said in the past.

They only make people doing on site interviews sign that NDA.

Scott Lembcke - Howling Moon Software
Author of Chipmunk Physics - A fast and simple rigid body physics library in C.
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MarkJ
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Post: #10
I've had plenty of phone interviews with teams at Apple, Google, and Yahoo. They all follow a pretty similar format. First there's the meet and greet. Maybe they ask you about things on your resumé, programming challenges you've faced and your solutions, etc. Then you'll usually get some tech questions. I've had things like stuff on bit masking, palindrome detection algorithms, the jumble problem, etc. Finally, if they're really gung-ho, they send you a sort of programming test via e-mail and ask you to complete it and return it in a day or two.

Success on one phone interview leads to more follow-up phone interviews, a flight out to meet the team and get grilled harder, or a straight-up offer.

I've never had to actually code something that would compile verbatim over the phone, however.
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Member
Posts: 104
Joined: 2007.01
Post: #11
Maybe the market has changed, but most companies I have ever interviewed for did not do coding tests over the phone (and I've worked for some huge companies). The only one I ever encountered that wanted a coding test was Qualcomm, and I quickly told them I was not interested.

In my opinion, doing coding tests over the phone is stupid. A coding test usually has nothing to do with a real-world problem - it's usually so simplistic that it tells you nothing about the candidate's real abilities. That's why resumes include references. Call up my former employer and ask him if I'm a good coder.

Maybe such tests needed for college hires, but certainly not for experienced developers. It's rather insulting.
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