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Why this matters:

Asking data-structure-based questions like this can quickly reveal whether a candidate has the basic hard skills needed to do the job well. To get the most from this question, specify a programming language that the role relies heavily on, such as Java, then ask the candidate to briefly explain how they’d go about finding repeated characters in a string in that language.

What to listen for:

  • Concise yet detailed answers that demonstrate the candidate’s level of comfort with the material
  • Great answers that reveal both their expertise and their enthusiasm for talking about programming

Why this matters:

Great developers know that programming languages are just tools for them to wield — it’s the logic behind them that really matters. But it’s helpful to know which languages they’re fluent in, which they’re only familiar with, and what sort of projects they prefer to do in each, as this will help you assess how much training and onboarding they would need if hired.

What to listen for:

  • Reference to a variety of programming languages, such as C++, PHP, Java, Swift, and React
  • Answers from junior programmers that may focus more on their experience, and answers from senior-level candidates that may go into more detail about why they love a particular framework

Why this matters:

This question can help you determine the standards the candidate holds themselves to, and how forgiving they’ll be of coworkers’ mistakes. Mistakes are a natural part of the workflow for computer programmers, but it’s the quality — and sometimes quantity — of mistakes that matter. You need to know that they’ll take pains to avoid major errors and will learn from every minor one.

What to listen for:

  • Specific examples, such as submitting code without first testing it
  • Signs that the candidate recognizes the difference between a reasonable error, like one stemming from a lack of familiarity, and an error caused by sloppiness

Why this matters:

This question can give you an insight into the candidate’s experience level and ambition, as well as their leadership and project management skills. In order to lead a software project through to completion, a computer programmer needs to think about both the granular details and the big picture — effectively mapping out the project and accounting for every detail.

What to listen for:

  • Great answers that demonstrate the candidate’s ability to visualize the distinct stages of a project and prioritize effectively
  • From those who have never led a project before, an eagerness to do so in the future and a clear idea of which steps they would take

Why this matters:

Computer programming isn’t always smooth sailing. You need to know that your candidate can persevere, even when the sky seems to be falling or the timeline feels impossibly tight. If they were able to navigate a crisis smoothly and effectively, regardless of who or what was to blame, they’re likely to steer all projects to success.

What to listen for:

  • Evidence that the candidate used their problem-solving or teamwork skills, or both
  • Strong answers that reflect on what the candidate can do differently next time to handle the situation better or avoid the same problems

Why this matters:

Computer programmers often need to work as part of a cross-functional team to complete major projects, so ideal candidates will have experience doing so. Pay attention to the specific role they played on their team. Depending on the job requirements, you may need a candidate who’s a strong leader — or a great facilitator. 

What to listen for:

  • Top answers that demonstrate the candidate is comfortable working independently, but can also be a team player when the role requires it
  • Signs that the candidates is dismissive of others’ accomplishments, indicating they may not be a good fit for a team-focused role

Why this matters:

Computer programming requires deep focus, and many candidates have very particular productivity preferences that help them stay in the zone. These preferences may make it harder for them to work effectively in your specific work environment, so this question can help you screen for that. For example, if they say they need total silence and privacy, an open-plan office may not be compatible with their work style.

What to listen for:

  • Evidence that the candidate will thrive in your company’s work environment
  • Whether their work style seems misaligned — if so, let them know what their workspace would look like and mutually assess whether they could adjust (ex: wear headphones)

Why this matters:

In some roles, candidates may primarily interact with other computer programmers and technically minded staff. But if they regularly need to get buy-in from leaders in the business or work with another team to develop a product, it’s important to ask a question like this that screens for communication skills.

What to listen for:

  • Ideal answers that show the candidate is comfortable breaking down complex concepts to help a layman understand
  • Great answers that demonstrate the candidate is a patient and thoughtful teacher

Why this matters:

This question tests a candidate’s ambition. While salary is important, candidates who find intrinsic motivation in computer programming and who have a real passion for the field may make for more engaged, satisfied employees. Passion and ambition may also have an impact on the new hire’s retention, so it’s worth figuring out what drives them. 

What to listen for:

  • Evidence that the candidate has a genuine interest in logic, math, and coding
  • Great answers that discuss inspiring goals, like changing the world through their programming skills or helping the company develop a new product
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