De-Coding Phone Interviews

3 min readFeb 2, 2020

Phone interviews are generally your first step to your dream job. Being physically away from the interviewer and at the expense of your internet/phone connection presents its own set of challenges.

Here are some of the tips and tricks that you can use to make sure you present your best version when job comes calling -

  1. Don’t rely on last minute prep. Ideally, your prep should finish at least an hour before the actual time. Last minute reading tends to add to the anxiety and takes focus away from problem solving during the interview.
  2. Be punctual, respect your interviewers time. As obvious as it sounds, any time wasted means you get less time to prove yourself. This will help you avoid “Only if I had 10 more minutes” situations.
  3. Choose a spot with minimal interruption and good connectivity. Make sure your code editor is accessible and ready.
  4. Make sure you understand the question correctly. Ask as many questions as you need to get clarity. Often over phone, its difficult for the interviewer to gauge if he/she needs to give more information. Don’t let this communication gap in your way of problem solving. It is better to confirm that you are on the correct path right away, rather than in the middle of the interview.
  5. Don’t waste time on basics. Let me elaborate, if your question expects you to build a LRU cache( cliche example but yes !) there is no way you could solve the question in stipulated time, if you don’t know what a hash map is.

So how exactly can you make sure that basics are covered -

a) Data structures and algorithms — Prepare a cheat sheet like this and make sure all of this data is on your finger tips before the interview. Almost, like multiplication tables :)

b) Language specific building blocks — Language is a form of expression even in computer science. If you struggle with words and the grammar there is no way you can write prose. Similarly, for example, if you are not sure how heaps are implemented in python(or any language of your choice) you would not be able to implement priority queues.

Though most interviewers are lenient about syntax, it still helps to not get caught up in syntax and focus on problem solving. You can prepare your language specific cheat sheet, like this.

In this next section, we will try to elaborate a possible run book you could play by during your phone interview -

  1. 5–10 mins — Introduction, connecting with your interviewer.
  2. 10 mins — Discuss the problem statement, propose a solution, discuss more and arrive at the optimal one before you start coding. Usually,
    Discuss → Conclude → Code works better than Code → Discuss → Conclude.
  3. 15 - 20 mins — Code out an actual working solution, check for all the edge cases. Keep your interviewer engaged during this time. Continuous discussion helps you not loose track.
  4. 10 -15 mins — Discuss your solution with the interviewer, get his/her opinion, propose alternatives. End it like you owned your time :)

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