Software Engineer Interview Questions

Software engineers at work
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Software engineers are responsible for developing, testing, deploying, and revamping computer programs. If you're interviewing for a position as a software engineer, it helps to know what types of questions to expect.

Many interview questions will focus on your tech skills, such as what programming languages you know. However, employers will also want to know about your problem-solving skills and analytical abilities. They will also want to know whether or not you will fit in well with the company culture.

By practicing your answers to the most common software engineer interview questions, you can display confidence and impress the employer during your interview. 

General Questions About You

There are certain interview questions that employers ask candidates in every industry. 

These range from questions about you (“tell me about yourself”) to your past work experiences (“tell me about your best boss”). Make sure to practice answering these common questions, since they will likely come up in any interview:

  • Why should we hire you?
  • What are your greatest strengths?
  • What are your greatest weaknesses?
  • What were your responsibilities at your previous job?
  • How do you handle pressure and stress?

Tech Skills Interview Questions

Typically, interviewers are eager to find out about your tech skills (such as what programs and languages do you know). Before your interview, review the job listing to make sure you know the technical requirements of the job. Be sure you are familiar with the programs and other technical skills necessary for the position.

Weave mentions of the job's required tech skills and programs into your responses.

Question About Your Knowledge and Experience 

Some of these technical questions will be straightforward questions about your tech knowledge and experience, and how you perform certain technical tasks. These will not necessarily have a clear right or wrong answer.

Here, a look at some common questions about technical knowledge and skills: 

  • What programming languages have you used?
  • Describe the process you use for writing a piece of code, from requirements to delivery.
  • What books have you read on software engineering that you would recommend to someone in the business?
  • How do you make sure that your code can handle different kinds of error situations?
  • How do you find an error in a large file with code that you cannot step through?
  • How do you design scalable applications? Walk us through your process.

Quiz Questions

Others will be quiz-like questions. Many of these will have a clear answer, some with a "yes or no" answer and others that require you to demonstrate your concrete understanding of concepts. These are designed to test your knowledge of particular aspects of software engineering.

  • What is the difference between a mutex and a semaphore? Which would you use to protect access to an increment operation?
  • What is the difference between re-engineering and reverse engineering?
  • What is the difference between local and global variables?
  • What is the agile software philosophy?
  • Name one or two examples of how an application can anticipate user behavior.

Relevant Skills Interview Questions

Some questions will focus on other, non-technical skills required of software engineers. These skills range from problem-solving to logic to analytical thinking.

Also, since most software projects happen on tight schedules, interviewers will be eager to find out how you perform under deadlines, manage your time, and communicate about setbacks and delays to project managers and team members.

Behavioral Interview Questions

Some of these questions will be behavioral interview questions. A behavioral interview question is one in which a person asks you about your past work experience. For example, an employer might ask, “Tell me about a time when you struggled to meet a deadline,” or “Describe a time you used logic to solve a complex problem at work.”

Situational Interview Questions

A similar type of question is a situational interview question. A situational interview question is one in which a person asks how you would handle a hypothetical work situation. For example, the employer might ask, “What would you do if your team member did not complete their part of a project on time?”

Company Culture Questions

Employers want to know that you will be a good fit not only for the job, but also for the company. You will likely get questions about what kind of work environment you like, and whether or not you will be a good fit for the company culture.

To prepare for these questions, research the company before your interview. Give honest answers, but also try to emphasize that you would fit in well at the company.

  •  What do you know about our company?
  • Why do you want to work here?
  • What kind of work environment do you thrive in?
  • How do you feel about a collaborative work environment?
  • How comfortable are you in a startup environment?

Tips for Giving the Best Response

Use the STAR Interview Technique

Whether answering behavioral or situational interview questions, use the STAR interview technique: 

  • Describe the situation you were in.
  • Explain the task you had to accomplish.
  • Detail the action you took to accomplish that task (or solve that problem). 
  • Then, describe the results of your actions.

Match Your Qualifications to the Job

To prepare for these questions, also match your skills to the job requirements. Review the skills mentioned in the job listing. Then think of times that you have demonstrated those skills in the workplace.

  • What would you do if a coworker asked you to review their code, and it was full of errors?
  • Describe your ideal level of interaction with coworkers that would allow you to achieve the most success.
  • Tell me about a time you worked with coworkers to solve an issue at work.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to solve a problem, but you didn’t have all the necessary information about it in hand.
  • Imagine your manager wants to buy new software for the office, but you think it will decrease productivity. What do you do?

Have Questions Ready to Ask the Interviewer

Finally, you'll want to be prepared with questions of your own for the interviewer. Asking questions will help you seem engaged and interested in the role. It's also a way for you to find out more about the company and how it works, so you can determine if the organization is a good fit for you. 

Key Takeaways

  • Practice your responses to the various types of questions, and make sure to review the job posting carefully for insight. 
  • For many questions, it's helpful to have an example of how you've handled a situation in the past, whether it's sharing information outside of the department or solving a tricky tech question. 
  • Try to get a sense of the company and its culture during the interview, and be prepared with your own questions for the interviewer.