Two women and a man sitting at a table, working on a laptop.
Which programming languages are you familiar with?

Depending on the requirements of the role, you may be looking to hear specific answers here, like C++, Python, or Java. But if the candidate isn’t familiar with a particular language yet that is important to the role, are they willing and able to learn it? Can they demonstrate that they have quickly learned new languages in the past? Ideally, an interviewee will have mastered certain languages and have at least some familiarity with others—combined with an eagerness to keep building and enhancing that skill set.

 

What is your quality assurance process for writing code? Also, how do you spot a bug in an application?

An ideal answer to this question will demonstrate a wide breadth of knowledge and an understanding of what it takes to write quality code. Is the candidate in the habit of regularly reviewing their work? Do they mention test-driven development (DTT) techniques like unit testing, which isolates small sets of code at a time to test them for flaws and logic errors? Do they use debugging tools to check each and every line of code they write—and when they spot a bug, do they know how to fix it without affecting the rest of their code? Attention to detail is critical in this role, since even the smallest errors can lead to major issues.

Aside from functionality and design, what do you consider to be the key attributes of an application, and how would you test for them?

Users demand a lot from their applications. Listen for answers that mention attributes like reliability, stability, performance, and integration, as well as a sharp understanding of how to test for them. The best responses will be thoughtful and thorough, delving into specific strategies for testing these attributes and markers for success.

What resources would you recommend to anyone looking to become a better software engineer?

This question is an indirect way of asking whether the interviewee is actively pursuing professional development. To keep up with the rapidly developing field, the best software engineers take steps like attending conferences, bootcamps, online courses, following specific message boards, and joining professional groups. Are they able to name several useful resources without hesitation? Are they tapped into the trends of the industry at large? If not, they may struggle to adapt to change.

How do you keep your coding workflow organized?

An effective workflow not only helps software engineers stay productive, but makes it easier for others to find the right piece of code when they need it. While there’s no single right way of organizing code, listen for answers that mention methods like creating separate folders (like one for CSS and one for JavaScript) and naming them clearly and consistently. Some templates make it harder to organize files like this, so candidates may mention that they use code refactoring to organize code the way they like. As long as they don’t leave all their code and assets in a hodgepodge, they will hopefully be adaptable to your team’s method of organizing code.

Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a coworker who was behind schedule on a joint project? How did you handle the situation?

Software engineering is a highly collaborative career choice even though the bulk of their daily duties will be done on their own. This career requires working with a number of teams and clients, all with different personalities and leadership styles, to identify, solve, and fix software issues. It’s important that your prospect has the interpersonal skills to maneuver uncomfortable situations with colleagues who might have a different work style than their own. Cue into their response to see if they possess the social and emotional intelligence to address conflicts at work.

Think about the most challenging piece of code you’ve ever written. Tell me about the project. Why was it so challenging for you and what did you learn from the experience?

No one is perfect, and not every project will be a walk in the park. The best software engineers are able to identify their shortcomings and take steps to overcome them. Does the candidate acknowledge their weaknesses or blame outside factors? Can they apply the lessons they’ve learned to avoid similar problems in the future? If they have a sense of humor about the challenges they’ve faced, they may also be better equipped to handle the stresses of the job.

Tell me about a time when you disagreed with a client or a stakeholder on a software engineering best practice. What did you do to resolve the situation?

It’s always frustrating when someone disagrees with you, especially in a field as specialized as software engineering. To handle these situations gracefully, it's important that a candidate knows how to be diplomatic while still relying on their logic and analytical skills. Look for answers that show they listened to the client’s perspective, clearly and calmly explained their own, and managed to reach a viable solution.

Imagine you have a great idea for an important software project that you aren’t personally involved in. What would you do?

This question can help you screen for both communication and teamwork skills. Whether the candidate is drawing from personal experience or just considering a hypothetical scenario, their answer should reveal that they’re not afraid to speak up when their insight could benefit the company—and that they know the importance of doing so tactfully. Would they identify the right people on the project and speak to them privately to share their idea? Would they feel resentful if they didn’t get credit, or would they just be happy to help their coworkers succeed? You can take this question a step further by asking what they would do if their idea was dismissed, giving you an insight into their temperament and perseverance.

Describe the traits your ideal product team would have.

You want to know whether your candidate will work well with the existing team and feel at home in your company culture. Consider which core values your company prioritizes and listen for answers that reflect those answers. Does the interviewee mention traits that support the work, like critical thinking, flexibility, and an eye for detail? Or are they more concerned about traits like empathy and strong interpersonal skills that can help a team get along? Ideally, they’ll mention a mix of both, showing they appreciate a well-rounded coworker—and probably recognize these traits in themselves.