Want to learn how to interview software engineers?
You’re in the right place. Today, you’ll get an in-depth guide on how to interview software engineers, as well as some of the best questions to ask.
Want to know more? Let’s get started.
How do you recruit a good software engineer?
Software engineers are in high demand, with some companies taking an average of 66 days to find engineers for their open positions. Despite recent layoffs, the demand for core tech skills has continued to grow, according to Bain & Company. There is still an ongoing developer shortage, after all.
That’s why implementing a good interview process is key. Not only because you want to identify the best candidates, but because you also need to offer a great experience so that software engineers keep applying for your open positions (and don’t ghost your hiring team halfway through).
By following a thorough evaluation process, you can ensure that you hire the best candidate for the job: the ones who will bring the necessary technical skills and fit in well with your company's culture and values.
What does that process look like? Here’s how to interview software engineers:
How do you conduct a software engineer interview?
The hiring process for software engineers involves evaluating technical skills, problem-solving abilities, cultural fit, and more. We’ve broken it down into four parts:
- Your hiring team
- The introductory interview
- Technical assessments
- Final rounds of interviews
Let’s dive into what you need to know to ensure you make informed hiring decisions and build a strong engineering team.
Building the right hiring team
First, you need a hiring team. You see, your interview should involve multiple stakeholders who provide different perspectives on the candidate’s fit for the role and your organization as a whole.
Your hiring team should ideally include these roles:
- The candidate’s potential manager (e.g. an engineering manager or tech lead)
- Whoever manages the candidate's potential manager (such as the Head of Engineering, or at smaller startups, maybe the CTO)
- An HR representative, recruiter, or hiring manager
We’ll look more at the top interview questions to ask at the interview. But this team covers all the necessary bases, including the authority to determine role requirements, the ability to assess the candidate's technical skills and speak with them in a technical manner, and the ability to identify cultural fit, as well as overall potential for success in the role.
The introductory interview
The first step after receiving and reviewing a candidate’s resume is to ensure that they meet the role’s basic requirements before investing too much time and resources in their particular hiring process. That’s what a screening interview helps you accomplish.
An introductory interview can be done over the phone or through a video call. It’s a shorter interview that should be around 30 minutes long.
During this interview, your goal is to learn more about the candidate's work history, experience, and soft skills to get to know the person you’re speaking to. It's also important to set the stage for the candidate and to get a feel for how invested they are in the potential role as well.
Your screening interviews help shortlist candidates for the next step – the coding assessment.
Technical assessments play a crucial role in the process of interviewing software engineers. These assessments test a candidate's problem-solving abilities and technical skills.
You can assess candidates with different types of tests, including take-home assignments or pair programming exercises. What’s essential is that you tailor the assessments to the specific role and your company's requirements.
Additionally, clear instructions and feedback help candidates understand what's expected of them during the assessment. For more on how to conduct technical assessments, take a look at our guide here.
Final rounds of interviews
The last step is to hold the two final rounds of interviews. These interviews are in-depth discussions that focus on candidates’ technical and soft skills.
The first of these interviews is with a senior member of the candidate’s future team, like their potential manager. This interview is a great opportunity to learn more about the candidate’s technical strengths and weaknesses, as well as providing an opportunity for them to build early rapport with their future team. Then, the candidate is invited for a final interview to assess cultural fit and meet their future team. These two interviews are often grouped together to take place on the same day, especially if they take place on-site.
And that's it! That’s how to interview software engineers. The next step would be extending an offer.
But what exactly do you ask software engineers during these interviews? You’ll need to ask strategic interview questions to identify the best candidates.
How? That’s what we’ll look at next.
What are some questions to ask a software engineer?
- A structured interview process
- Targeted behavioral questions
Not just any behavior questions will give great results. Include behavioral questions (questions that aren’t “yes” or “no” questions), such as:
- “Walk me through your latest project. How did you contribute to it, and how did you handle obstacles?”
- “When did you have to make a critical decision during a project? What happened? How did you manage it?”
- “What do you look for when checking a team member's code?”
Good behavioral questions provide insights into the candidate's past experiences, actions, and decision-making processes. As the interviewer, you’ll get a good idea of the candidate’s problem-solving skills, their mindset, and how they identify and solve obstacles.
Include technical questions, too. However, the best way to assess someone’s technical skills is with a technical assessment.
You’ll want to develop a list of questions that works for the seniority level and role you’re interviewing for. To start, we’ll look at questions for junior and senior developers.
Entry-level software engineer questions and answers
As you interview potential hires for an entry-level software engineer role, remember that candidates may lack advanced technical skills. Instead, pay special attention to their soft skills and their eagerness to learn.
Ask questions like:
“What new language are you learning and why?”
Understand in what direction they’re taking their skills, as well as how willing they’re open to learn new things. If they aren’t developing their skills, understand why. How do they see their career developing in the future?
“Tell me about a project you worked on recently. What did you like about it? What did you dislike about it?”
This question gives your candidates a chance to talk about how they approach projects. What tasks are they most motivated to work on? How does that fit into your team?
“How do you approach a situation where you disagree with a coworker?”
Their answer to this question will show a few things – how well they communicate in this type of situation and if they are a good team player.
“What industry websites or blogs do you read/follow?”
This question is a good way to gauge how interested your candidate is to understand industry trends and improve their skills.
Next, let’s take a look at questions for senior developers.
Senior-level software developer interview questions and answers
Senior software engineer candidates may already possess the required technical skills. However, their soft skills are just as important, if not more so, as they might lead projects and work in a managerial role.
Look for candidates with strong communication skills, adaptability, and leadership qualities.
Here are some questions to ask:
“Tell me about a time when someone on the team questioned your decisions. How did you approach the situation?”
Good managers are open to receiving feedback from others. It's important to look for candidates who are willing to listen to and objectively evaluate team members' ideas.
“Tell me about a time when you noticed that a co-worker or a team member underperformed. What happened, and how did you approach the situation?”
This question helps you determine how well candidates can provide feedback. How do they coach others to perform at their best?
“Walk me through a time when you/your team failed to meet expectations. What did you learn from this experience, and how did you resolve it at the time?”
This interview question focuses on assessing the managerial skills of a senior developer. It aims to uncover how they lead a team toward achieving goals. An ideal senior developer is someone who can analyze and solve problems efficiently, making them a valuable asset to any team.
Finally, let’s take a look at how to conduct great interviews.
Best tips to interview developers
The actual process and questions you ask offer a structure for your interviews. But how do you dig deep and hold objective, fair, and effective interviews that help you identify the right candidates? That’s what we’ll look at next.
1. Use the same questions for all candidates
Using the same interview questions for all candidates is a great way to keep things fair and objective during the hiring process. When everyone answers the same questions, it's easier to compare candidates and better understand their skills and experience.
To create the best interview questions, it's a good idea to involve your hiring team in the process. They can help you cover all the important topics, such as technical skills, problem-solving abilities, teamwork, communication, and cultural fit.
By doing so, you'll be able to gather a well-rounded picture of each candidate and make a more informed decision about who to hire.
2. Test relevant skills
In addition to asking interview questions, testing a candidate's relevant skills is important. Skill assessments and coding challenges are a great way to evaluate a candidate's ability to perform real-world tasks that are relevant to the job.
On the other hand, if you're hiring a backend developer, you should test their knowledge of databases, server-side languages, and APIs and their ability to write efficient and scalable code.
3. Understand which skills are “core” skills
During the hiring process, you’ll need to clearly understand which skills are “core” skills versus “nice-to-have” skills. Core skills are the must-haves, the essential skills that a candidate needs to perform the job effectively. Nice-to-have skills are the icing on the cake, the skills that would be beneficial but not essential.
It's rare to find a candidate with all the skills and qualifications you're looking for, so deciding where you can be flexible is important. By focusing on the core skills, you can ensure that you're making the best decision for your organization and hiring the best candidate for the job.
Choose the right candidate
So, how do you ultimately decide and choose the right candidate? It's not just about finding someone with the technical skills required for the job, but also someone who fits in with your company culture and has the necessary soft skills to thrive in your organization.
During your evaluation process, it’s crucial that candidates have the technical skills needed to excel in their roles. What kind of technical skills should you look out for?
The right candidate should have:
- A strong background in a programming language
- Problem-solving skills
- Skills in database management systems
- Proficiency in source control
- Knowledge of system design
- An understanding of cloud services
- Data security and privacy skills
- Knowledge of algorithms
- Ability to write clean maintainable code
And as technology is constantly evolving, you'll want to look for candidates willing to learn and adapt to new technologies.
Soft skills are equally as important as technical skills for software engineers. How important are they?
A study by Harvard University, Stanford Research Center, and the Carnegie Foundation revealed that 85% of career success comes from having well-developed soft and people skills.
Qualities such as communication, time management, attention to detail, and cultural fit are all critical factors to keep in mind. For example, a software engineer who lacks effective communication skills may struggle to collaborate with other team members, leading to miscommunication and project delays.
Or an engineer with poor time management may miss important deadlines, causing setbacks for the team.
With that being said, evaluating a candidate's soft skills can help ensure that they are the right fit for the role and the company's overall culture.
Over to you!
There you have it! Now you know how to interview software engineers.
Use these steps to attract the right candidates and create a competitive hiring process.
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