Good Interview Questions to Ask a Software Developer

Technology professionals can have an outsized impact on the success of your business. Because every IT hire your company makes matters, you need a reliable and effective system for evaluating candidates.

Max Levitan is Lead Technical Recruiter with Agile, our IT staffing company. He emphasizes the importance of candidate interviews, particularly when you are bringing on software developers.

“A resume might include the right keywords to match your job description,” Levitan says, “but an interview will tell you about a candidate’s approach and capabilities.”

Whether your business recruits directly or works with an agency like ours, posing the right questions can be the difference between a great hire or a poor investment. Here, we share good interview questions to ask a software developer.

1. Describe a technical problem and then ask the candidate, “Where’s the first place you would look to resolve the issue?”

A question like this will help your company distinguish between candidates who have basic know-how and “problem-solvers.” The latter group can apply their skills to complex challenges, and they typically want to grow and advance in their career.

Levitan says, “I like to see people think through problems. These are the candidates who say, ‘Well, I could start by doing it this way. Or, I could do it this other way. But I’d probably use this third approach, and here’s why.'”

He adds that Agile doesn’t focus on textbook answers. “In our company, ‘how’ and ‘why’ matter more than what. It’s one of the things that separates us from other IT staffing agencies.”

As examples, Levitan doesn’t ask candidates to give a definition of polymorphism, to compare inner and outer joins, or to explain the Fibonacci sequence. Even senior developers may stumble over details they last studied in college introductory classes.

Instead, it’s more important to see the candidate’s thought process. There are many different ways to arrive at a solution, and the responses you get in an interview can tell you:

  • How candidates would address future challenges.
  • How quickly they might resolve problems.
  • The way they work: independently, relying on the team, using online resources, drawing from experience, and so on.

Levitan also recommends that interviewers allow room for exploration in responses. “Pausing or stumbling in an answer isn’t a red flag. It’s just a sign that someone is thinking through things.”

2. “Here’s some background on our company’s project. What tools might you use for this type of project and why?”

Good software developer interview questions aim for a deeper response than “How well do you know JavaScript?” or “Have you worked on a project like this before?”

Instead, allow candidates to demonstrate their knowledge. The responses you get will tell you more about:

  • Your candidates’ skill levels.
  • Whether they can apply these skills in novel situations.
  • How well they might use expertise in one area to learn new software.

“Experienced developers can compare the advantages of different tools for your project,” says Levitan. “If you hire them, they might find ways to complete work more efficiently.”

(For more on identifying great candidates, explore our article on “Where to Find Developers.”)

3. After discussing a candidate’s accomplishments, ask, “Did you create this solution from scratch, or did you utilize a preexisting library?”

Bullet points on a resume do not give interviewers enough detail about a candidate’s capabilities. Good interview questions to ask a software developer provide the necessary context.

Levitan states, “When I interview developers, I find out whether they were drawing on the work someone else did or if they created solutions themselves.”

There is a lot of value in a candidate who can develop tools that may not already exist. These are the professionals who can produce elegant solutions to complicated problems.

However, companies shouldn’t rule out developers who rely on resources such as a REST API or an existing code library. These are legitimate and useful approaches, particularly for workers who are earlier in their career.

“The best option for your company will depend on the skill level and seniority your job requires,” says Levitan.

4. “How did your work affect your company?”

Agile looks for candidates who understand how their code contributes to an organization’s success.

“Only part of an interview should focus on what the applicant did with the technology,” Levitan states. “Just as important is learning how their work improved the company.”

Employers should prize software developers who can start with a business goal, identify needs and opportunities, and help produce tools to address them.

When you ask this interview question, Levitan says that “some candidates will just list technologies in which they’ve had experience. Others will talk about accomplishments, like creating a backend service for an application. Then, they’ll detail how that added to the company’s bottom line.”

By hiring candidates who use this approach, employers can significantly upgrade their workforce. These employees understand the big picture, think beyond themselves, and can focus on team goals even if they work independently.

Hire Recruiters Who Know Technology

To get value from this type of interview, your hiring team needs IT expertise.

“These are great questions to ask for developers,” Levitan says, “but your recruiter has to know software to evaluate the answers.”

Agile’s recruiters spend extensive time learning about technologies and trends so that we can communicate more authentically with candidates and hire more effectively for clients.

This knowledge also lets us identify professionals that a simple keyword search might overlook. We know that if your company uses EKS within Amazon Web Services, a candidate who has done GKE in Google Cloud can cross over.

With this background, recruiters can go from finding the right candidates to asking the right questions. From there, it’s a short step to making the right hires.

Learn more about Agile’s recruiting process and services for employers. Contact our IT staffing agency.








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