Complete Guide: How to Interview Software Engineers in 2023

Software engineer interviews can make or break the success of your hiring process. That’s why it’s crucial to prepare in advance and choose the right questions that will help you define the candidate’s relevancy.

According to CB Insights, in the first six months of 2021, technology startups raised nearly $300 billion globally, which is almost as much funding raised in the whole of 2020. What does it mean? The answer is simple. Currently, the tech market is all about “buyers”, and this is a tech talent who chooses where to work, as the demand is getting larger year by year. So, the main challenge of companies is to win the employees over and offer something more than a high salary.

That’s why we’ve decided to create an in-depth guide about everything you need to know when interviewing software engineers. Also, we have described our experience in this area and included practical tips only. You will learn more about how to prepare for the interview, what type of interview to choose, and what software engineer interview questions to ask to increase the chances of hiring the right person. Let’s get to the point.


How to prepare for a software engineering interview

Let’s confess, a software engineering interview is a complex process, where you usually have less than half an hour to test not only technical but also soft and problem-solving skills of the candidate, as well as their personality traits.  

In addition, the interview is not all about testing the candidate but also about showing off your company values and their difference from competitors. So, before getting to how to prepare for a software engineering interview, let’s see what the main phases of the software engineering interview are:

  • Phone screen

This is usually the first stage of the technical interview, aimed to show the candidate that a company liked their resume and wants to proceed. Also, during this stage, an interviewer checks if the candidate is enthusiastic enough to proceed to the next stage.

  • Technical phone interview

Sometimes, companies decide to do a quick technical check-up over the phone / online or give the candidate a homework-type assignment to test coding skills before inviting them to the actual on-site interview. It’s done to weed out irrelevant candidates and spend time only on qualified ones.

  • On-site

On-site interviews can take place either in the office or in different locations such as coffee shops, coworking spaces, or conference rooms. This is a great chance to meet the candidate in person and get a first impression. You can either speak to the candidate one-on-one or invite other team members to join.

Then, the interviews can also be divided according to their purpose. There are such types of interviews depending on what questions you will ask and what outcome you expect:

  • Coding interview
  • Questioning interview
  • Cultural fit interview

According to TopTal, you can combine different types of interviews to better test the candidates and developer interview questions.

As you can see, it’s recommended to start with language and personality questions to understand the candidate’s motivations better and then pass to technical screening and algorithm testing. A screening process doesn’t stop after the candidate is hired, so the last stage is continued excellence when developers have to maintain a track record when working with clients.

An effective determination of technical proficiency goes far beyond the nuances of a specific programming language or technology. It is the candidate’s fundamental technical strength and understanding, creative thinking, and problem-solving that are critical to evaluate.” — Hyam Singer, VP, User Engagement at TopTal.

Combining different interview types will help you test the person from different sides and consider not only technical but also soft skills, which are crucial in any teamwork.

Let’s see how to interview software engineers and what to do for software engineering interview preparation for the software engineer level.

Software engineer phone interview

Phone interviews are a great way to get insights and screen candidates before conducting a formal on-site interview. Software engineer phone interview usually takes 5-10 minutes, so you should prepare accurate questions to get the exact answers in such a short period of time.

At the beginning of the conversation, it’s important to ask basic questions to get to know the candidate. Then, you may proceed to ask questions about the candidate’s background and professional experience. The final stage may include in-depth technical questions; however, many recruiters decide to ask such questions in person, not via the phone. Usually, the main goal of the phone interview is to get a basic understanding of the person’s motivation, and asking technical questions is not the best way to find it out.

Senior Software engineer interview

Let’s start with the definition of the software developer first. According to Glassdoor:

Senior software engineers are the most experienced members of a software team and usually carry the most responsibility and authority of that team. Because of this, interviews will be designed to find candidates who have expert knowledge of the field and years of experience as software engineers. Expect to be asked tough technical questions and to give examples of previous projects that you have worked on.

During the interview, you should ensure that the candidate is able to:

  • Work independently in the team.
  • Have critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
  • Have an analytical mind. 
  • Lead operational and technical projects.
  • Collaborate with upper management to define the business needs of the project and convert them into technical specifications.
  • Understand the software development life cycle and control all the processes it includes.

We recommend senior software engineer questions that first check the candidate’s problem-solving and analytical skills. Remember that the best developers don’t waste time remembering things they can easily find in API documents or technical specifications. Also, a high-qualified senior developer will easily learn any new language, technology, and design pattern. 

That’s why one of the best methods to screen the senior developer is to create a programming challenge unconstrained by language. You can come up with a problem and ask the developer to create a solution in the language of their choosing. Here are some other tips for Senior software engineer interview preparation in 2022:

  • Do not ask senior developers to explain a simple algorithm or data structure, as most of them don’t have experience with such things.
  • Do not use whiteboard testing.
  • Ask candidates to show samples of their work.
  • Ask the candidate to improve the existing code.
  • Pay attention to how your candidate prioritizes the problems and comes up with new solutions and approaches.

Entry-Level Software engineer interview

Prepare for an entry-level software engineers interview and when interviewing the entry-level software developer, make sure that:

  • The candidate can explain complex concepts in simple terms. 
  • The candidate shows good creative problem-solving skills and is able to solve problems in multiple ways.
  • The candidate writes code with proper structure.
  • Demonstrate your ability with examples from current or past projects. 

It’s better to coordinate with the development team to include a mix of technical and general questions. Ask the development team to review the candidate’s code and prepare questions about specific design decisions, coding styles, and patterns used.

To check out the motivation and interest of the entry-level developer, ask them to provide a list of open-source projects they have contributed to. It will be more valuable than just asking technical questions without any practical application.

Interviewing process: Questions and tips

Before going straight to the questions you need to ask to get the best outcome, here are a few tips to consider:

Make sure to invite someone from the development team who is as advanced as the candidate

It will help you better test the candidate’s skills and provide you with an opportunity to ask practical developer interview questions to check the candidate’s experience. However, we don’t recommend inviting more than 2 people to make the interview process more comfortable.

It’s better to avoid algorithm tests

Algorithms tests do not provide too much space for testing the ability of the candidate to solve problems and think creatively. That’s why if you want to use algorithm tests, it’s better to ensure they give a lot of space for creative solutions or include advanced debugging.

Ask candidates about their desire to mentor someone less experienced

It will show the candidate’s desire to cooperate with others and share their knowledge. The ability to work in teams is essential in the software development cycle. Also, you can ask about the candidate’s teamwork skills and examples of a time the candidate applied them.

Paired programming interviews are a great way to check how to work with this person

The paired interview is when one recruiter interviews two candidates simultaneously. In this case, the interview resembles an ordinary workday, where candidates will communicate with each other, share their ideas, and discuss different issues. 

Check the candidate’s empathy to ensure that they can communicate with other team members and leaders

Inevitably, some roles of the software developers require more interaction with other team members. So no matter what the candidate’s duties, experience, or employment arrangements are, they need to understand how to communicate with team leaders. So testing for empathy should be a must-have in your interview process.

Let’s get more specific and see what questions you may ask during an interview.

5 Essential Software engineer interview questions

Now let’s review basic software engineering interview questions and define why you need to ask them and what result it will give.

What was the last project you’ve worked on? What was your contribution? What did you learn during this project?

This is one of the questions to ask a software engineer about their career. Such a question will give you an understanding of the candidate’s ability to contribute and learn from mistakes, as well as show their management and communication skills.

Can you solve this programming challenge? You can choose whatever solution you find right.

This is more a task than a question; however, it is the best way to check how the candidate works under pressure and if they are able to solve complex tasks without prior preparation. It will also demonstrate their professional skills and experience.

What tips and tricks do you use when reviewing other people’s code?

Code reviews are essential in the software development process and help make the work process more efficient. This question will help you test the ability of the candidate to solve problems, pay attention to details, and track the efficiency of other team members.

What programming languages do you use?

The answer to this question will show candidates’ programming knowledge, their job level of proficiency, and whether they are a good fit for your company. However, keep in mind, then when giving the candidate a programming challenge, it’s better to make it unconstrained by language.

If you were in my job position, what skills would you develop in the first place?

This question may seem irrelevant to software engineering; however, it’s one of the HR questions for software developers that helps test the candidate’s empathy and decide which skills are important to them, their potential manager, and the business. A person who can “wear different hats” makes better decisions during critical situations.

How to complete an interview

Take a look at the following statistics by Glassdoor.

As you may see, hiring engineers is not a piece of cake. You have to interview a lot of candidates, conduct screens, organize onsite interviews, and make a number of offers before hiring the engineer you need.

So, here are a few tips on how to complete an interview.

  • Find qualified candidates who already had a similar experience to what you’re looking for.
  • Engage with the best candidates, send only personalized messages, and don’t be afraid to send follow-ups if there’s no response.
  • Show your interest in the candidate and ask questions that show you’ve learned everything about their experience. Try not to ask the things that have been already mentioned by the candidate in their CV or social media.
  • Practice pre-closing. Ask more about candidates’ motivations, and discuss their concerns about the position you offer. Learn about your candidate’s expectations to answer any questions they may have before sending your offer. You can also organize an additional meeting with the candidate. In addition, if the candidate declines the offer, find out the reason to improve your close rate in the future.

Common mistakes when interviewing a software engineer

Finding a relevant candidate is hard. However, imagine that you can find the perfect person for your position but screw everything up during the process. So, here are the common mistakes to avoid during the software developer interview process.

  • Missing the pre-interview stage

According to Smart Recruiters, 35% of developers said they’d like to be informed about whom they will be speaking with and other basic details before the interview. Actually, it’s easy to do. You can send a short email with such details as who they will be speaking with, the duration of the interview, etc. It will help the candidate to prepare better.

  • Sending no follow-ups after the interview

After the interview, send an email with further instructions informing the candidate when they can expect the results. Also, if the candidate didn’t get the job, you can communicate more on the reasons and give the candidate useful tips. Who knows, maybe later you will require such a candidate, so keeping good relationships is essential.

  • Selling job, not the opportunity

Talented engineers are flooded with different offers and messages from recruiters around the world. You need to give them something more than just a job offer to catch their interest. Describe the opportunities the candidate will get and how this position will help them grow more detailed.

Evaluation of candidates

According to Zety, the top traits and qualities recruiters are looking for are:

  1. Loyalty (52%)
  2. Integrity (49%)
  3. Sincerity (48%)
  4. Adaptability (41%)
  5. Kindness (41%)
  6. Patience (39%)
  7. Persistence (38%)
  8. Emotional intelligence (37%)
  9. Tolerance (26%)
  10. Open-mindedness (25%)

When it comes to technical skills, recruiters value the following:

  • Experience in the required programming languages and tools.
  • Portfolio of projects the candidate has contributed to.
  • Dedication and interest in the job.
  • Soft skills and the ability to lead the team.
  • Enthusiasm and motivation.

So here’s what you should look for when screening a candidate:

  • Pay attention not only to technology but also to soft skills, as well as the cultural fit. It will help you hire a professional who will contribute to the company’s growth.
  • Think about the future and how the software developer can grow in the company. 
  • Make use of behavioral assessments. Such questions will help you gain insights into how the candidate deals with challenging situations in the workplace and the ability to stay flexible while adapting to new challenges.

And remember not to judge the candidate on the first impression and ask deep questions to get to know the person better.

Preparation for the interview is essential to its success

To conclude, always make sure to learn everything about the candidate and come up with a list of questions that will help you make the right decision. Also, after the interview with the candidate, review the meeting, write yourself notes and try to “score” the candidate. It will help you compare the candidate to others and recall the interview results later. 

Dewais goal is to transform businesses and work for a better future, that’s why we provide product-oriented consulting services and value transparency, cooperation, and growth. When hiring candidates, we pay attention to corporate social responsibility, contribution to the open-source projects of our employees, and their emotional and intellectual personal growth. Want to get a free consultation? Contact us right now, and we will help you make your hiring process more efficient.

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