Navigating frontend interviews in 2022: the informational phone screen

By Mike Chen

Your first call with a company will always be a “get to know you”-type call. Here’s what to expect and how to prepare for it.

This is the third post in a series about what to expect from the frontend interview process in 2022. Here’s where we are in this series:

  1. Overview and reverse interviewing
  2. Researching your company
  3. Informational phone screen
  4. The onsite interview — live coding challenge
  5. The onsite interview — behavioral
  6. The onsite interview — systems design
  7. Offer and negotiation

This call will take place with a hiring manager/recruiter. Their goal is to:

  1. hear about your resume and story in your own words
  2. gauge your interest in the company
  3. understand your rough salary expectations
  4. field your questions
  5. (sometimes) get a rough idea of your technical ability

Let's go over each of these one by one:

Your story

You'll usually be asked to talk about yourself and your resume ("Tell me about yourself"). Keep this succinct, 2-3 min max. Have a summary ready of the highlights of your career history.

Focus on roles that changed your career focus, or where you hit growth spurts in your development. Talk through what interests you now and where you might want to end up in the future.

If you're talking with a recruiter, don't deep dive on technical jargon. Know your audience.

Lastly, if you're uncomfortable doing this, do not wing it. Write it out and practice!

Your interest

Your company will want to get a sense of how serious you are about the job. Hiring and interviewing is an enormous drain on the company’s resources, often requiring 20+ hours per candidate, depending on how far they advance. They want to know if you’ll have a good chance of accepting a potential offer.

Show that you've researched the company. See our an earlier post in this series about this for more information.

More and more companies consider themselves to be mission-driven, meaning they claim to use tech to drive public good. It's critical for you to express alignment and interest with the mission if this is the case for your company.

Note that if you fake this passion through the interview, you'll be expected to fake it the entire time you're at the company. You'll need to decide in advance if that's worth it to you.

Your salary expectations

Salary often comes up in the first conversation. This isn’t the time for white-knuckle negotiation. It's a high-level conversation to see if your expectations are in line with the company's budget.

Your recruiter will always want you to name your price. Avoid doing so if at all possible. Negotiation disadvantages the party that names the first number, an effect known as “anchoring”.

Instead, try to get them to go first. Ask something like "what did you have in mind when posting this job?". If they still force you to name a salary, give a target range based on your market research.

Avoid giving your current salary at all costs. It limits your bargaining power. In some states, it's illegal for your employer to even ask about your current salary.

Frame the conversation around your target salary if you can.

See this article at Nolo for more details and advice.

The most important thing here is not to lowball yourself. Don't think "I'll start low to get through the process and convince them to give me more money later". They won't.

Be honest with yourself. Make sure you settle on a range you’d be comfortable accepting. If not, the interview isn’t worth your time (unless you’re in it for the practice).

Your questions

This is the time to ask how the interview process will go:

  1. Whom will I speak to?
  2. What kinds of questions will they ask me?
  3. How long can I expect the process to take?
  4. When will I hear back from you about next steps?

(Sometimes) Pop-quiz style technical questions

I see this happening less and less, but some companies will ask short-answer interview questions during this call. This might happen even with a recruiter, who will write the answers down and relay them to a technical counterpart

There are a lot of Github repos that have these questions. Study them if you're seeing these questions a lot.

PS: this is a pretty silly way to assess engineering ability but if your company is using it, you have to play ball.

Example repos:



Prepare to:

  1. Tell your story about your engineering journey
  2. Express why you're uniquely interested in the company and their mission
  3. Find out whether your salary requirements might be a good match
  4. Get details about the rest of the process
  5. Answer pop-quiz style interview questions

What’s next?

In the next post, we’ll look at the bread and butter of programming interviews: the live coding challenge. Follow @frontendeval and stay tuned for more!

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