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Software engineer interview questions and tips

Software engineer interview questions and tips

Are you looking to hire a software engineer? Sourcing software engineers is extremely challenging, given the high demand for IT talent. Recruiters who make the effort to learn how tech talent thinks — and what they think about — can bring a major strategic advantage to their companies.

Once you locate a potential candidate, learning to impress them can get you closer to closing the deal. When it comes to conducting a software engineer interview, questions won’t get you far unless you’re really bringing something to the table. The recruiter tips and insights below will help you successfully prepare for your next software engineer interview.

Key software engineer credentials and certifications:

A bachelor’s in computer science is the most widely accepted degree for software engineers. However, some employers insist that software engineers come with one or more of hundreds of available certifications from MCAD (Microsoft Certified Application Developer) to CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional).

When asking about certifications, consider questions, such as:

  • Can you tell me about the tech certifications that you hold.
  • What certifications have been the most useful to you and why?
  • What additional certifications, if any, are you considering?

Recruiter Tip:

“We narrow it down to the top three languages,” says Jenny Chynoweth, talent outreach manager at WhitePages. “We don’t necessarily do a ranking of candidates, but we do ask about their level of experience and what projects they’ve worked on.”

Critical IT skills for software engineers:

The ability to design, implement, test, and maintain software for applications or systems is vital for any IT position. But it’s also important that candidates show their ability to learn new technologies and exploit them to further the organization’s strategic goals.

Recruiter Tip:

“We build a spec sheet for each role, and it’s not just hard skills,” says Jon-Ray Rivera, vice president of client delivery for recruitment process outsourcing at ManpowerGroup in Milwaukee. Soft skills, like communicating and working well with team members, are also important.

Experience and software engineer requirements:

In software engineer job descriptions, some employers require a few years of experience even for entry-level developers and programmers. Other organizations are happy to consider new graduates in computer science, and may even prefer to train new programmers in their proprietary development methodology.

When it comes to software engineer interview questions regarding experience, consider taking a broad approach by asking questions, such as:

  • What online tech resources are you familiar with?
  • Are you working on any tech projects as hobbies?
  • How do you keep your tech skills current?

Recruiter Tip:

“I want to know what the candidate accomplished, not what his team did,” says Chynoweth. “We’re interested in what technologies and resources he used, and how long it took him to complete a project.”

How to source software engineers:

College and university computer science departments are the richest source of new talent for software engineers. However, online communities, especially niche ones, give everyone visibility into broad and deep talent pools. Also, while poaching of talented engineers from competing organization is often frowned upon, it’s also often practiced.

Recruiter Tip:

“With all the information that’s out there, it’s not necessarily hard to identify those with the right skill set. We’re able to build lists of talent names, companies and titles,” says Rivera. “Larger companies make more of an effort to create relationships with universities and their computer science or electrical engineering departments,” he adds. “Large clients do that more than smaller ones — they have the infrastructure for internships or coop programs.”

How to engage software engineer candidates:

The best talent is the least likely to be open to cold calls, raising a steep challenge for recruiters. Software engineers respect recruiters who understand enough about technology and people to surface on-target opportunities.

Recruiter Tip:

“We have to convince candidates to even talk to us,” says Rivera. “We have a process to gain the interest of a candidate before we get on the phone with them.”

What to do in the candidate interview:

When courting a top software engineer, interview with a mindset to sell the opportunity. Candidates should also be tested on their technical acumen and problem-solving ability. The more strategic the role of the IT department, the more critical communication skills become.

Recruiter Tip:

“Top talent attracts top talent,” says Rivera. “We want to learn about the hiring managers, so we can tell candidates about the great leadership at the company. We ask employers to tell us about what they’re working on and with what technologies, so we can talk about it with candidates. Ask the hiring manager what they expect the hire to deliver in three, six or 12 months,” says Rivera. “If they struggle with that, we work with them to build a compelling message for candidates.”

How to close the deal with software engineers:

Money talks, in the form of a substantial bump up in base pay, meaningful performance incentives, and sometimes equity. Savvy software engineers want to keep themselves marketable by staying ahead of the technology curve.

Recruiter Tip:

“At companies like ours, there aren’t a lot of layers, so there’s not a big ladder to climb,” says Chynoweth. “But there’s great opportunity to grow by learning new technologies.”

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