Best Programmer Job Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

11 Best Programmer Job Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

Finding the best IT professional for your company depends in large part on asking the right programmer job interview questions.

After all, when it comes to software programming, there are as many specializations as there are programming languages and projects.

Plus, with technology advancing at an unprecedented rate, finding a programmer who possesses the desired skills (or the potential) can be a challenge.

To make things more complicated, the hiring manager does not have a background in tech, then you’ll have to rely on someone else to assess candidates’ technical skills while you evaluate other qualities.

That means you’ll likely have to divide the interviews into two parts:

  • one that focuses on skills assessment
  • one that focuses on the candidates’ soft skills and culture fit

The following programmer job interview questions will help you get the information you need to make an educated decision about which candidate is the best choice for the job.

Best Programmer Job Interview Questions

1. What programming languages do you know, and at which do you excel?

Software programmers typically know a range of programming languages including C, JavaScript, Python, and PHP.

Over the years, they will have used a handful of these languages more often than the others and have become experts at them.

You need to know precisely where each candidate’s expertise lies to assess whether it corresponds with the requirements of the job.


2. Tell me about some projects you’ve worked on.

This question serves a dual purpose.

First, it will help determine whether the candidate has applied the skills he or she claims to have and if so, to what extent.

Second, it allows you to assess whether the candidate understands the needs of the job.

For example, a candidate could claim proficiency in C. But, if this candidate doesn’t have any projects in his or her portfolio that involve the use of this programming language, you should question the validity of this candidate’s C skills.

At the same time, if a candidate launches into a long story about a specific project that had totally different parameters from the position for which he or she is applying, it indicates the candidate doesn’t have good insights into what the job requires.


3. What have you learnt from your most recent project?

Considering that technology is evolving at a rapid pace, programmers often acquire more skills or knowledge during projects.

For example, a programmer who has in the past only worked on database development. A switch to mobile app development will introduce new skills, including aspects like user-friendliness and responsive design.

Learning is an integral aspect of programming, so a good candidate should be able to provide you with a clear answer.


4. Would you be willing to participate in a programming challenge?

When it comes to assessing technical skills, there’s no substitute for programming challenges.

You can use sites like HackerRank and CodeEval to provide the challenges and evaluate how well a candidate does.

Many software programmers are highly competitive. Since both these sites feature options for individuals to train and find out how they rank against others, it’s highly likely that your candidates are familiar with these platforms. And, more than willing to take a challenge.

Note that if a candidate doesn’t want to participate in a challenge, it’s usually a red flag.


5. What do you do when you run into an obstacle during a project?

Programmers are by definition problem solvers, but you want to make sure their problem solving abilities extend beyond the computer screen.

If, for example, a team member falls ill while a deadline is looming, how does the candidate respond?

Does he or she immediately alert the supervisor and ask for a replacement?

Or does he work with the rest of the team to divide up the responsibilities in order to keep going and complete the project on time?

On the other hand, if the candidate simply shoulders all of the sick colleague’s responsibilities, that could indicate a need for control and a risk of burnout.


6. Do you enjoy working in teams?

Programmers don’t work in a vortex.

Even if they’re the only programmer in a company, they need to communicate with the professionals who are or will be using their products.

That’s why being a team player is important—so the stereotype of the “loner geek” isn’t what you’re looking for.


7. Recall a time when a project you worked on wasn’t well received. How did you respond?

Not all projects yield the desired results on the first take.

That means programmers have to be able to accept constructive criticism and get back to work to make the necessary changes.

Depending on how a candidate answers this question, you’ll be able to assess whether he or she is aware that projects can evolve over time and that feedback is critical to achieving the desired outcome.

Of course, a programmer who tells you about a failed project and places the blame on everyone but him or herself is not likely to be someone who’s willing to keep fine-tuning a project until it’s perfect.


8. How do you go about starting a new project?

This question aims to assess a candidate’s planning and time management skills.

If he or she simply “dives in” and gets to work, it shows a lack of preparation and strategic insight.

On the other hand, if a candidate:

  • researches the needs of the project.
  • lists what abilities he or she doesn’t possess and will need to bring on board,
  • creates a timeline with mini-goals,

then it demonstrates strong strategic planning skills.


9. What do you do to stay abreast of developments in tech?

Both employers and tech professionals should be concerned about skills obsolescence.

For candidates to keep their skills current, they should:

  • read trade literature
  • participate in professional groups
  • regularly pitch their skills against others in hackathons and code challenges

In addition, a programmer can absolutely ask his or her employer to sponsor continuous education or send him or her to trade conferences and similar events.


10. What is your ideal work environment?

As pointed out in the article “5 Common Interview Questions for Programmers” by the Software Guild, it’s important to know in what kind of office environment and company culture a programmer will thrive.

For example, some programmers prefer to work in solitude.

Others enjoy an open plan office with a lot of contact with their colleagues.

And yet others prefer to telecommute and do most of their work either from home or their favorite coffee shop.

At the same time, while a formal office environment could work well for some programmers, others might feel uncomfortable.

It’s imperative that a candidate feels he or she can flourish in a work environment because otherwise, performance and productivity are likely to suffer.


11. Where do you see yourself five years from now?

This question serves to provide you with insights as to the mobility of a candidate.

Someone who states the desire to gain international experience is probably not a good choice if you’re a local company.

Someone who wants to work on interesting projects for one employer while raising a family nearby could be a good, stable choice.


Of course, you can always add more specific questions pertaining to the position and your company.

Just make sure you get all the information you need to make an informed choice as to which candidate is right for this role.


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