Interviewing & Vetting Software Engineers | Modis US

Interviewing and Vetting Potential Software Engineer Candidates

Modis Posted 03 February 2021

Most software engineers fill several roles within a company. Engineers are frequently required to project manage, handle support problems, gather and discuss customer feedback, provide project advice to management, and write code. Because of the many roles that one engineer must play, it's essential to think about whether or not a candidate will fit in well with your existing team.

An engineering degree is important, but the person you hire must also be able to work with teams, discuss projects with clients, and be comfortable presenting and speaking in public. Consider the level of engineer you need before interviewing potential candidates as the complexity of interview questions will vary according to an individual's experience. Take a look at the following software engineer interview questions according to experience level to find a well-rounded candidate.

Job interview at desk

Entry Level Software Engineer Interview Questions

Should you only hire an engineer with a degree? Less than ten years ago, many software engineers were hired based on experience, but a lot has changed since that time. Most candidates will have obtained an engineering degree, and entry-level positions will attract new graduates with little to no experience.

However, you shouldn't ignore a candidate that does not have a degree but appears to be worth an interview -- some software engineers have worked in the field and are passionate about engineering but do not have a degree. Whether the person you're interviewing has a degree or not, here are some basic questions to ask a candidate applying for an entry-level position:

  1. What was the last project you worked on? Look for someone passionate about a recent or ongoing project. Ask how the project ended, what they worked on individually, and about any challenges they faced.
  2. How do you handle not having direct instructions? Some people freeze when they are not told what to do, and others move onto the next phase of a project. Depending on your management style, you may want someone that can keep a project moving forward or would be better suited to someone that waits for instructions.
  3. How do you feel about working with a non-technical team? It may be necessary for your new hire to work with customer service or leadership, which means being adaptable.
  4. Give me an example of a time when you faced a challenge that seemed impossible to solve. Your new hire must be able to problem-solve. Were they able to overcome a struggle? How?
  5. What kinds of programs have you built? Can you explain those programs to me using basic terminology? An engineer that can define a project in basic terms will likely not have any issues working with people outside of the engineering departments.
  6. Provide a line of code and ask the candidate to solve a challenge. Before giving out a coding test, ask your technical team for the answer, or set up a review process. Some companies ask candidates to solve coding problems before the initial interview as part of the vetting process.

Senior Level Software Engineer Interview Questions

A senior-level software engineer should have a lot more field experience. Rather than asking purely technical questions, you should ask senior candidates a slew of behavioral questions as these hires will be essential to teamwork.

  1. Have you ever started a project on your own? Most senior engineers have a side project or two or have created a project in the past. What motivated them to start the project? What happened to it? Was anyone else involved?
  2. What makes you the most uncomfortable in any job position? Some people will immediately talk about public speaking, and others may talk about teamwork or other situations that they do not feel confident about. Gauge the reply and consider whether or not a similar situation might happen in your office.
  3. How would you scale this system? Make sure you have a system in mind before asking this question and then consider the reply. Would the candidate use a cloud platform? What would make the most sense? Is the person clear and concise in their answer?
  4. Tell me about your last position. Try and figure out why the person left their previous job, how they felt about the job tasks, and what some challenges might have been.
  5. How do you feel about managing a team? Have you ever managed a team? Find out if the candidate has team management experience, which may be an essential part of the position you're seeking to fill.
  6. If you think about the last project you worked on, would you have done anything differently? Someone that can look back and recognize mistakes is often a candidate worth getting to know better because they are willing to analyze projects and fix issues.

Management Level Software Engineer Interview Questions

Management-level software engineers must be able to manage teams and work with leadership on projects. Hiring someone that is not comfortable speaking with others, leading teams, or tending to customer concerns may not be the best idea. In the case of management, the right degree, experience, and personality are all essential assets.

  1. Explain a fire-drill situation that you can remember. What happened, how did you handle it, and how did your team fix the problem? Would you have changed anything now that you are looking back on the situation? Fire-drills are regular occurrences that require an experienced manager with calming stress skills. How did the candidate handle the situation? Are they willing to admit that they would change something? Are they confident in their reply?
  2. Have you ever deal with a confused or angry client? How did you handle the situation, and were you able to explain project details clearly? It's highly likely that the person you hire will have to speak with clients regularly and that some clients may not fully understand technical project details.
  3. If you know that you are about to miss a deadline, what do you do? It's crucial that management alert everyone involved in a project if a deadline cannot be met.
  4. What do you do when members of your team do not get along? Is there a method you use to handle the tension between team members? A good manager should have some team-related problem-solving skills.
  5. Have you ever had to work with a team from a distance? How do you handle different time zones and teamwork platforms? Are you familiar with various teamwork platforms? Which ones? Sometimes an organization may have to finish a project remotely. When this happens, a manager that is familiar with remote teamwork may be a definite asset.
  6. What is your prioritization process? A team lead must be able to juggle and prioritize numerous projects and deadlines effectively. Find out what a person's methodology is when it comes to making sure all parts are moving smoothly.

Finding the Perfect Fit

A software engineer interview can be highly technical or more behavioral-based. Often, it's a good idea to weed out initial candidates with technical questions and then move on to personality-centered questions. In the end, the right candidate for the position will be able to answer questions smoothly while also openly discussing strengths and weaknesses.

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