The Psychology Of Software Development - Part 1. Telephone Interview.

Interview - even the word can strike fear in the hearts of men and women. I'm not sure I've ever met anyone that actually likes interviews, and I most certainly haven't met anyone that likes giving them. I've sat on both sides of the table and experienced the feeling of a successful interview and a few not so successful ones.

A lot what what is being asked of in interviews is quite frankly useless in ascertaining whether the individual being interviewed will actually be able to perform long term in the role, we'll get on to that later..

In my 10+ years experience I've encountered a lot of interview techniques, It's a spectrum, and I've generally found the more highly regarded the company in the tech world the more complex the interview process is. 

The initial phase usually takes the form of a telephone interview which this blog post covers.

Now the phone interview can be tricky but if you follow a few simple rules it should put you in good stead for breezing through.

The phone interview might get technical, it might not, a non-technical call can be just as revealing for the interviewer and there are a few distinct things which they'll be looking for

Can you communicate clearly

Aim to speak clearly, it's worthwhile finding a space you can do this in where it's quiet and you won't be disturbed, book time out in your calendar to have the conversation; a non-technical phone interview is going to look to tick the box that you can communicate clearly and you care enough about the role to give your interviewers time some respect.


It's sometimes difficult finding a space to do this when you're already in a job and understandably we usually prefer some discretion when it comes to your current employer knowing of our intentions to leave; whispering under the stairs isn't going to give the best impression over the phone. I would always try and organise a call later on in the day, if you're work hours are flexible then leave early and organise a call for 5.30 - 6pm. If you're better on a morning then go for that, however, I always thinks it's hard to engage your brain first thing for both you and the person interviewing.

Are you showing some enthusiasm about the role

The easiest way to show enthusiam is to not give one word answers, the interviewer is looking for some insight into what your thought processes are like and what your practical working experience is. The tone of voice you use is pretty important too, it's not a case of being in your face, one thing i always do is try and be personal, speak to your interviewer warmly, like a friend, it will make them want to work with you.  

Can you expand on your CV with some real world examples

I always think it's worthwhile having a print out of your CV in front of you, make some notes on the most recent job(s) that you've had, annotate with things that went wrong in projects, what went right, the stuff that you wouldn't think to put on your CV but are a bit more juicy and show you've got experience in things going wrong and problem solving in those times. Also have to hand times when things went right. Don't get too domain specific, keep it high level, as an interviewer i'm not looking for you to list all the objects in your common libraries to get to the point of the story..

Do you know something about the company

Google them before.

The higher level more abstract stuff is genearlly easy to talk about, you can talk about your past wins and losses because you've lived through them and you can prepare for the questions, what's not so easy to prepare for is very technical and specific questions about frameworks and languages.
Again, it's a spectrum, for the most part over the phone I’ve tended to find that it's more a general discussion about the types of technology you're using and information about current roles.

I've had some really bad phone interviews that get really technical with pop quizzes, one interviewer asked me to name a data collection type, then asked me the last time I used it and what I used it for, when I explained when and what I had last used a generic list for their response was “That's not really the answer I was looking for!”... OK..

Interviewers may ask you in depth technical questions, it's difficult to prepare for this given the vast spectrum of software development, that said, one thing that you should consider at the very least is to prepare based on what you have written on your CV.

If you've put dependency injection then make sure you can explain what dependency injection is.
If you've stated Agile then be able to explain what a user story is, or a story point.
If you've written TDD then be able to explain why TDD is useful and the stages you perform in TDD.

In some cases you may just get what I like to call trivia questions, if you know the answer then great, if you don't then they can make you feel insecure and foolish, it's hard to account for every possible element of every single framework and language you use, especially in todays market, if a company is pop quizzing you in an interview then they are looking for a very specific type of candidate, this may be you, it may not be.

You can mitigate for this by at least taking time to understand common interview questions thing like "what's the difference between abstract and virtual"? In a later post i'll pull together some common questions that are worth reading up on.

Finally, it's important to recognise that the interview is a two way street, you should be critical of how businesses present themselves to you and the questions they ask. Interviewers can get it wrong too, be critial of how they approach their questioning and allow that to be reflective of their business.

I've personally never worked in a company where they've ran up to my desk and thrown .net triva questions at me just to check i'm up to the task; to an interviewer that may signify developer greatness, to me it signifies they're looking for a memory box rather than someone that thinks outside of the box.

We live in a time where software developers are in demand, you're lucky enough to be able to take the time to choose the right role, but make an effort, learn about your trade and be passionate in how you speak about it, if it goes wrong, learn from it, be ready for next time. It may take a few to get it right but you'll get there.


  1. Some great points Aaron. Hiring managers do it to save time because if it's not going well it's easier to just end a phone call than it is to end the face to face interview. But at the end of the day they don't serve anyone as the good candidates can easily stumble and be passed up on and bad candidates can shine if they're well practiced. There isn't really a time in software development where your ability to explain data structures over the phone is integral to the role so the whole practice is pretty absurd when you think about it.

    Looking forward to the next instalment.

    This is an old post but has some more general tips for interviews.

  2. Thanks for your comment Will, the next installment should be up this week. Hopefully i'll be able to make some suggestions as to better ways to manage this rather than just calling out the current methods. Thanks for sharing your tips too. Hoping to get a lot more feedback from people active in both hiring and interviewing.

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