Phone Screens for Junior People

There’s a question on one of the forums, about how to ask questions in a phone screen for junior developers. I thought I would answer it here, and then post a link. These tips work for junior developers, testers, writers, BAs, whatever.

In a phone screen, you first want to ask elimination questions; then essential technical skills, qualities, preferences; essential non-technical skills; then issues that could pose a problem with interviewing or offer activities.

Okay, so what does that look like?

I write a template for each position, so I can take notes. I leave space for each candidate’s name, the date of the call, the time, all those details. Why? Because if it’s late, and I’m tired, I want to know if I’ve screwed up my notes.

Assuming you’ve done a job analysis first, you have the pieces of the phone screen. The hardest part will be keeping the entire phone screen to no more than 45 minutes.

Think about the elimination factors. Are you willing to offer relocation? Do you really need people with a degree? How about a maximum salary level? I’m a big fan of discussing salary earlier rather than later. Junior people have lower salary expectations than more senior people, so salary should be less of an issue than other positions.

A plea to hiring managers: Please do not look for specific tools or languages or years and years of experience in your junior folks. Please be willing to train your junior staff. You will buy their loyalty for a very low cost. And you will learn if they are smart and can learn quickly.

Okay, once you’ve moved past the elimination factors, which should last no more than 5-10 minutes of the phone screen, you can move the essential technical skills, preferences, and qualities and essential non-technical skills. Are you looking for people who are highly collaborative? What about the ability to finish things? Learn quickly? Take small steps? Oriented towards a goal? Able to design as part of a team? Work as part of a team? Work alone? Something else? I don’t know what’s essential for you. Only ask about what’s essential. Have 3-5 behavior-description questions about these essentials on your phone screen, and feel free to use the questions as a start of a conversation, continuing to take notes.

You may be worried about how to ask behavior-description questions of junior folks. I wrote an article about that. See Interviewing New College Grads.

After you’ve discussed the essential technical and non-technical skills, go on to the issues that could pose a problem with interviewing or offer activities. Is the candidate still in school, and have limited time for interviewing? Are you in another city or state, so you need to bring the candidate in for interviewing? Is the candidate committed to complete a project for another month or two?

That’s how you create a phone screen. It’s not hard, and it takes just a little thinking and preparation.

One Reply to “Phone Screens for Junior People”

  1. Fine article, Johanna, especially for being so short, and so is the one linked from it.

    As a sort of wrapper for the approach you describe, I propose that one general question is a key backdrop: What support does this candidate need to be effective and can we provide it? For a new team member at any level of seniority, not only does s/he need to adapt, so does the team, and to ignore that simply raises costs and reduces the liklihood of success.

    I enjoy all of your posts!


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