software engineering interview

The 6 most common software engineering interview questions and answers

Whether you’re a full-stack expert, skilled in Python or know your way around Java and Javascript with your eyes closed, there’s a high chance you and your skills are in demand. If you have an interview lined up for a software engineer role, it’ll help to know the common questions the interviewer is likely to ask.

In general, the software engineering interview questions will focus on your tech skills, such as the types of programming languages you’re skilled in. But it can also stretch to exploring your analytical capabilities and problem-solving abilities — depending on the software engineering role you’ve applied for.

To showcase confidence and impress in your interview, here are six of the most common software engineering interview questions (with some examples answers to inspire you).

1. What programming languages are you skilled in?

Software engineers must have experience and skills in a range of programming languages. This is the cornerstone of a software engineering role and will help you succeed. It’s perhaps the first question the interviewer will ask you, so read the job description carefully to determine whether you’ll need programming language skills. If it’s required and you have the experience, be honest with the languages you’re familiar with.

Example answer

Explain which languages you’re proficient in, such as Java, Python, Ruby, Javascript, C# or C++. Then, highlight the ones you’re most comfortable with and share the languages you used the most in your previous role. Next, explain what type of projects you worked on using those languages, such as C++ to develop operating systems to work with applications.

Finally, explain how using the programming languages improved your skills such as productivity and efficiency.

software testing

2. What are your thoughts on software testing?

Expect the subject of software testing to come up during your software engineering interview. There isn’t a clear-cut right or wrong answer. Here, the interviewer wants to know your process to ensure software quality before deploying it to users. Whether you’re a fan of manually testing applications or unit testing, there are various approaches you can take. This is what the interviewer wants to know — what your process is and what experience you have.

Example answer

You need to showcase your informed opinions. Don’t be vague, either. Explain why you prefer a particular approach over another, as it’ll showcase you’re aware of the different software testing methods and that you’ve made a decision based on experience and reasoning. 

Start by explaining why software testing is essential, the tools you’d use and the method you’d select to limit the impact of any missed bugs, for example.

3. Tell me about a challenging software engineering problem you experienced and how you solved it

Another typical software engineering interview to expect is about your experience handling problems and how you overcame them. This is so the interviewer knows your process of finding solutions to problems you might face when they hire you. This could be as simple as complex bugs you had to fix — so this question alone can tell the interviewer a lot about you.

Example answer

This isn’t the time to use technical jargon and make the explanation overly complex. Answer this question as if the interviewer doesn’t have the specialized vocabulary and relies on you to explain complex software engineering issues in a simple way. You can ask how familiar they are with the topic you’ll discuss and mold your answer based on the context to offer either a technical, detailed response or one that’s simpler.

4. How do you decide if a project is successful or not?

An interviewer will ask this software engineering question because they want to know how high your standards are. If your responses suggest you’ll be happy with something that’s ‘good enough’, then they might not be too pleased. This question also gives you a chance to explain previous projects you’ve worked on and what your measure of success was.

Example answer

The answer you give needs to explain that everything you do addresses the users’ needs while offering the business value. They want to know you think long-term and beyond the technicalities to solve actual problems. Explain that you lay out success metrics at the beginning and pinpoint the relevant KPIs you want to impact.

Then, touch on the hypothesis and a good success indicator, such as a 5% increase being considered positive as the team is focused and doesn’t impact the business’ ROI. This sort of big-picture thinking will go down well in your software engineering interview.

5. Why did you decide to become a software engineer?

A basic question but arguably the most important an interviewer will ask you during your software engineering interview. Companies want passionate individuals who are genuinely excited about the role and the industry. They need to sense this passion in your response so they can separate you from other enthusiastic software engineers.

Example answer

Avoid mentioning the salary. Yes, software engineers are in high demand and the salaries offered are more attractive than ever. Still, the interviewer doesn’t want to hear you’re in the software engineering world because of money. This answer suggests it’s ‘just another job that pays the bills’ and not something you’re truly passionate about.

Explain your motivation, the journey you’ve taken so far to become a software developer and a couple of the biggest reasons why you love being a software engineer. Let your passion shine through your answers so they can filter out those who are in it just for a paycheck.

6. How do you keep your skills up-to-date?

Another common software engineering interview question to expect is how you keep your training and knowledge sharp. Every software engineer needs to be on top of changes that happen in this fast-paced industry. With new technologies emerging over time, expectations change and newer skills are required. 

Employers don’t want to keep hiring someone new based on new developments — they want to know you’re constantly adapting and wanting to learn more to help the business.

Example answer

You can answer this in two parts. First, explain how you stay updated with developments, your training and how you quickly learn new skills. Secondly, give an example of how you successfully adapted your skills based on new technology in a real-life situation, so the interviewer knows you aren’t offering baseless explanations.

Expect these six or a variation of them to appear in your interview. Depending on the specific role you’re applying for, you’ll also be quizzed on the specifics. In some cases, you might also face practical tasks. So, be as prepared as possible.

To leave an impression in your software engineering interview, set up a profile on VanHack. Create an engaging profile and stand out from others to increase your chances of landing your perfect software engineering role.

If you need extra support with the interview process, the VanHack Premium Academy can help you become even more prepared for your interview by helping you craft answers your interviewer wants to hear.

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