18 Behavioral Interview Questions to Ask Software Engineers
Given that 92% of surveyed talent professionals say that soft skills are more important than technical skills (LinkedIn Global Talent Trends), knowing how to respond is vital.
In this article, we’ll break down all the most common behavioral interview questions and provide valuable insight for both software engineers and hiring managers and recruiters. But first, let’s start with a bit of background.
What are behavioral interview questions?
Put simply, behavioral interview questions aim to reveal how you would perform in a given situation.
A way to measure core competencies and soft skills, they allow the interviewer to get a better understanding of their candidate.
Whether it’s how they deal with stress, juggle priorities, resolve conflicts or stay up to date with the latest developments, it’s clear that they are a mainstay in the interview process.
Why are they great for assessing software engineers’ core competencies?
So, why exactly are they so omnipresent in today’s hiring scene? In a nutshell, they allow interviewers to get a very clear idea of how a candidate performs. Unlike typical interview questions such as ‘What are your strengths and weaknesses?’ behavioral interview questions are precise and require that candidates provide specific examples from their work history. And as any self-respecting recruiter knows, past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour, and therefore future success.
With that out of the way, we’re going to take a look at some of the most common behavioral interview questions. We’ve decided to break them down into 6 key areas:
- Teamwork and Leadership
- Technical Skills
- Critical Thinking
- Project Management
Bear in mind that these questions are constantly being changed and refined by recruiters, so you can never be 100% sure of what you’re going to get. In any case, they provide a useful overview, which, coupled with our insights, will allow you to feel as prepared as you can be.
As for recruiters, these questions can help you identify the best fit for your organisation and improve your hiring success rate.
So without further ado, let’s get started!
1. Describe a time when you encountered a difficult technical problem and how you solved it.
This question is very likely to pop up at some point. Here, the recruiter wants to know how well you work under pressure and deal with unexpected challenges. They also want to see that you can reflect on experiences and learn from them. As is the case for many behavioral interview questions, you’ll want to tell a short story that highlights your resolve. Enter the STAR method.
Perhaps you’ve already heard of this interview technique. STAR provides you with a format you can use to respond effectively. It looks like this:
- Situation: outline the context of a specific situation and provide the key details.
- Task: summarise your role in the situation.
- Action: explain how you went about overcoming the challenge.
- Result: share the outcome of your involvement.
A great idea would be to come up with a few key challenges in advance so that when you’re faced with this question, you can simply adapt them to the STAR method. Make sure that the outcome was a positive one; ultimately you want to show how you would be an asset to their team.
2. How do you approach problem-solving in your work as a software engineer?
Here a recruiter wants to understand your problem-solving process. Being precise is the name of the game, so describe your approach in detail. This may be by, for example, first gathering data, analysing it and comparing alternatives, and then discussing the findings with your team to make a final decision. What better way to show both analytical skills AND communication skills? Again, feel free to use the STAR method to put this information into context.
3. Give an example of a situation where you had to balance multiple priorities while working on a project.
This time, it’s all about how well you cope under pressure. As we all know, things can get hectic at the office. Demonstrate your time management skills and ability to remain flexible when needs arise. Show you can determine which tasks are the most important and why. Feel free to describe step by step how you managed to prioritise, organise and complete everything before the deadline.
1. Describe a time when you had to communicate technical information to a non-technical audience.
For this question, you need to show that you have more than just tech skills. You also can distil complex information clearly and concisely, so that it can be understood by co-workers and clients. Employers primarily want to see that you can summarise a concept without using too much jargon. They also want to see you as someone with good listening skills who can check for understanding and ensure their message is heard loud and clear. Be sure to use specific examples in your response.
2. Give an example of how you resolved a conflict with a team member.
Conflict in the workplace is inevitable. With so many competing ideas floating around it’s only natural that employees bump heads from time to time. That’s why good communication skills are really important. To answer this question effectively, the key is to show you can handle any issues that arise with professionalism and that you can use your conflict resolution skills to de-escalate a situation. Think of an example beforehand and share how you led the conversation to a successful outcome.
3. How do you ensure effective communication with remote team members?
As the number of remote workers is increasing (aided in no small part by the pandemic), it’s essential that you show you know how to collaborate with them effectively. You need to show you know how to work in an environment where workers are often in different time zones and are sometimes not available at all. Show how you are comfortable communicating via a variety of different channels. If you haven’t worked remotely before, say what you would do in this situation.
Leadership and Teamwork
1. Describe a time when you led a team to deliver a complex project.
Don’t be surprised to see this question for assessing leadership and teamwork. Most complex projects require teamwork in one way or another. Here, the focus is on time management, communication skills, and your ability to work under pressure. Be sure to include details on how you have led or managed people in a previous situation. What specific steps did you take to keep people on board? What qualities and skills were exhibited? And what was the positive outcome?
2. Give an example of how you motivated team members to achieve a common goal.
This question is excellent for gauging interpersonal skills and team leadership abilities. To answer it effectively, think back to a time when you managed to rally a team member. Perhaps you offered a reward for their efforts, praised them, or just set a good example and inspired them. Don’t have any managerial experience? Talk about how you have motivated others on a project or even during a meeting.
3. How do you build and maintain positive relationships with team members?
Another question that is quite likely to present itself, here the recruiter wants to know if your relationship-building strategies align with company values. You want to show that you are proactive and intentional in forming connections. Be sure to mention your positive attitude to working with others, understanding their needs and priorities and adapting your communication style. Bonus points if you can demonstrate emotional intelligence.*
1. Describe a time when you learned a new programming language or technology.
Moving onto technical skills, this question can elicit several key pieces of information. This includes a candidate’s technical proficiency, their ability to pick up new concepts and their ability to keep up with new languages. A great way to answer this one is to first share your experience learning a new language or software. Then simply link it back to how these skills could be useful in the role you’re interviewing for.
2. Give an example of how you applied your technical skills to solve a business problem.
This time around, your problem-solving abilities and adaptability are in question. Begin by first defining the problem. Then explain how using all the skills you’ve picked up over the years, you managed to arrive at a positive outcome. Be sure to share your enthusiasm for solving problems and, if possible, again bridge the experience back to the role you’re after.
3. How do you stay up-to-date with the latest developments in software engineering?
A classic in every tech interview. By asking this question, the employer is trying to ascertain whether you have passion for the industry and whether you’re willing to put in the effort to stay on top of your game. Fortunately, this question isn’t too difficult to answer. Simply highlight all the efforts you put into staying abreast of industry trends, whether that’s by reading industry news, attending events, subscribing to newsletters or seeking out groups on social media platforms such as LinkedIn. Above all, be sure to demonstrate your enthusiasm for the field.
1. Describe a time when you had to make a difficult decision based on incomplete information.
This question is excellent for getting an idea of how you use logic and critical thinking skills to make tough choices. Using the STAR method, explain how you made up your mind and resolved the situation. Give justifications as to why you chose the solution that you did. Overall, the recruiter wants to see that you can think independently and be accountable, so avoid blaming others in your explanation.
2. Give an example of how you approached a complex problem by breaking it down into smaller components.
A vital skill in the tech field, especially when it comes to troubleshooting. There are a variety of ways to approach this one, but the key is to demonstrate your problem-solving abilities, and how you use analytical skills to prioritise what to work on. You can also mention your creative approach to finding solutions or your adaptability in the face of obstacles for extra measure. Don’t be shy about using a specific example from your work history to provide context.
3. How do you ensure that your solutions are scalable and maintainable?
For this question, you need to reassure the interviewer that you stay up to date with specific techniques and best practices that ensure scaleability and maintainability. Explain how you prioritise this throughout your work and how you keep things organised whilst doing what you do best – coding.
1. Describe a time when you had to manage a project with multiple stakeholders.
Last but not least, we have questions related to project management. For this type of question, a hiring manager wants to understand whether you have what it takes to juggle at times conflicting demands and deadlines. This will require a hefty dose of organisation, and the ability to communicate clearly. Be sure to provide an example from your previous experience and go into detail on any strategies you may use!
2. Give an example of how you managed project risks and issues.
Being able to effectively manage risk is key to being a successful project manager. And we sure know a lot can go wrong in software development, from minor coding issues to severe security risks. That’s why the interviewer wants to get an idea of whether you know the core principles of risk management, and that you understand the importance of it. Demonstrate your analytical thinking and organisation by providing a relevant example.
3. How do you prioritise tasks and allocate resources effectively in a project?
Finally, this question again relates to your ability to prioritise what’s most important, and how you manage to stay organised. An excellent idea here would be to describe a typical day and what time management techniques you use to stay on top of things. You may also want to touch on your delegation style and what strategies you use to decide which team members are responsible for which tasks.
Onwards and Upwards
So, there you have it. You now have a clearer idea of what to expect in 2023’s hiring landscape. behavioral interview questions are all the rage as they allow recruiters to get an idea of how a candidate really works once they’re in the office. Thankfully, the STAR method, learning how to provide specific and tailored examples and demonstrating core competencies can ensure everything goes that much more smoothly.
And for software engineers interested in giving themselves an edge during the interview process, feel free to check out our Technical Interview Cheatsheet!