Top developer interview questions to ask while looking for new team members

Mislav Stanic

Hiring a new software developer is an important but challenging process.

A good developer who fits into your team, and has the right amount of knowledge, passion, and ambition will be a great asset to your company.

On the other hand, if you miss the mark during the hiring process, you could get someone who will slow your whole team down.

That’s why you should think carefully about the questions you ask your potential developers during an interview. In this article, we’ll provide you with 17 things to ask in order to cover everything you need to know about the person you want to hire.

Let’s start off with a question about previous successful projects.

Can you describe a successfully completed project?

This question will unveil several different qualities about your potential new developer.

Specifically, it provides insight into their work processes, how they manage time, communicate with clients, and how they see themselves as a part of the team, their contributions to the project, etc.

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As you can see, the answer can be a potential well of valuable information about your future developer.

For example, see how Christian Verwijs describes his contribution to the project of NowOnline. 

Source: Dzone

In short, he describes what made the project successful, emphasizes crucial development processes, and explains his role in the team.

If your interviewee provides you with a similarly structured answer, you can learn a lot about them just from this one question.

Who are your role models in the tech industry?

The answer to this question can indicate what you can expect from a person if they become a new member of your team.

As an example, let’s say that a developer you’re interviewing named James Gosling as their role model. From that, you can tell a lot about their values, fields of interest, and ambitions.

Source: Twitter

Someone who has Gosling as a role model likely shares his values of curiosity and learning, taking on new challenges, but also moving to a new company when there’s no more room for growth.

With that kind of insight, you can more clearly see if the developer is a good fit for your company or someone who would be challenging to manage.

What do you find most challenging about coding?

This question can be tricky to answer for candidates—and that’s precisely why it’s important that you ask it.

In a nutshell, the goal of this question is to figure out how the candidate thinks about their weaknesses in programming.

What if they answer that they don’t find anything challenging? Well, presuming that you don’t have a once-in-a-generation genius in front of you, everyone has some weakness; it’s just a question of whether they can recognize it and work on it.

And minimizing almost any technical weakness isn’t that challenging; with a range of courses available even for advanced developers, they all have the opportunity to improve, if they are willing to put in the effort.

Source: Udemy

This question can show you if a developer is blind to their shortcomings or even arrogant about their skills, which can help you decide whether you want to hire them.

Do you have experience giving presentations?

Developers are increasingly working directly with clients, so it’s very beneficial to have people on your team who are comfortable giving presentations.

That experience is especially valuable when it comes to presenting to groups of people outside the industry. Making your product accessible to a broader audience can be crucial for improving your business.

Someone who has the experience of presenting projects might approach the development process itself differently.

For example, developer Anna Collins points out that her code needs to be crystal clear if she wants to explain it to an audience successfully.

Source: Medium

As Matt Boardman, a communication coach, says:

 “Your expertise, product or idea is worth nothing unless your client or investor believes in it enough to pay for it”.

Because of this, a developer with presentation experience can be a great asset to your team.

Can you describe your workflow in creating a mobile app?

A good software development workflow can save your business a lot of time and resources. Asking a developer to describe their workflow is, therefore, perfectly logical.

From their answers, you can gain insight into their methods, how organized they are, as well as how important attention to detail is to them.

For example, from the workflow description of Léna Faure, we can see which steps as a developer she took while designing the AlloAnim web app, what her methods were, and how the team used a story map.

Source: freecodecamp

If a developer has a highly structured workflow like, for example, Zell Liew with his six-part process, you can count on a developer who’s organized and reliable.

On the other hand, if they describe a workflow that’s all over the place, that can also tell you something about their working habits and indicate if they are a good fit for the team.

Do you consider SEO, UX, and security while building an application?

Being a software developer is more than just writing lines of code. Every developer should know what makes a good user experience and keep it in mind while working on a project.

By asking them this question in an interview, you can see if they consider the big picture.

With so many apps at their disposal, users are looking for a flawless experience—according to Statista, between one in five and one in four apps are used only once after downloading.

Source: Statista

Users don’t have patience with apps that don’t provide them with a great experience, so that should be one of the developers’ priorities.

Security is another crucial factor. For example, two-factor authentication in the app is a sign that developers prioritize user security.

Source: Toptal

A software developer who considers SEO, UX, and security issues a part of the development process is certainly in demand. Therefore, you should consider asking your candidates about their takes on those elements.

Can you tell us about some mistakes you’ve learned so far in your career?

Those who work sometimes make mistakes and software developers are no exception. What’s important is how they deal with it.

Even the most experienced developers are prone to mistakes, but the best ones learn from them and come out stronger, such as Ellen Spertus.

One of the mistakes she made caused all the computers in the data center where she worked to crash. However, she learned from it, fixed the code, and added test units to prevent the error from happening again.

She’s even humble enough to have a sense of humor about her mistakes.

If you ask your potential new hire about their mistakes and lessons they got from them, you can gain valuable insight into their approach to software development, their work ethic, and willingness to learn.

Can you describe an app you don’t like and why you don’t like it?

You want your developer to be able to recognize good and bad developing practices but also to have ideas on how to improve an app.

Of course, a developer should be able to give an answer that’s more detailed than “this app is bad because I don’t like it and it’s ugly”.

Anyone can criticize someone else’s work, but developers should notice and explain why they consider an app to be poorly made and how they would do it differently.

A good answer might look something like this.

Source: Quora

As you can see, this developer explains why he thinks that the Pinterest app is poorly designed and makes some pretty convincing arguments.

This shows an analytical mindset and a willingness to critique bad development practices, even when they come from a highly authoritative source, like Pinterest.

We should point out that the Pinterest app has changed since, and the design is now more user-friendly.

Source: play.google

The point is that you should look for developers with an analytical mind and a level of knowledge that goes beyond merely criticizing other peoples’ work. This question can help you discover them.

Can you describe the steps you make when an application stops working?

When something goes wrong with an app and it stops working, you want a developer who doesn’t go into panic mode. With this question, you can assess if they’re prepared for that situation.

Developers should have strong problem-solving skills because that’s a big part of software development. The process is rarely so smooth that they don’t find themselves in some kind of pickle.

That’s why a developer should be prepared and have a go-to routine to turn to when something goes wrong. Here are some ways they deal with those situations, according to a survey by Stack Overflow.

Whether it’s looking for an answer in online communities like Stack Overflow or GitHub, watching tutorials, or asking for help from a teammate, it’s important that developers plan their course of action, so they don’t end up in the 10% who panic.

Can you try to find an error in this particular code?

This question can be helpful for you to assess whether a candidate has the necessary technical skills for the job. Also, it can show you how they perform under pressure.

In some job interviews, developers are asked to write code on paper or a whiteboard. That can be time-consuming, so the alternative is to give them a piece of code with errors to debug.

Here’s an example of a question like that from a job interview.

As you can see, the task can be brief: just a few lines of code. However, even that can be enough to see how a developer works.

It can also be useful to put them under pressure with this question in an interview. Pressure from clients and deadlines is something that most developers experience from time to time, and a situation like this can simulate it effectively.

Can you describe the projects you are working on in your spare time?

Many developers like to learn, explore and work on personal projects outside their working hours. This question can help you unveil if your candidate is that type of developer.

Software developers who work on their passion projects clearly love programming enough to do it in their spare time. Having an enthusiastic person in your team can significantly boost the engineering culture in your company.

Furthermore, they are able to learn new skills and branch out, which can also be beneficial to your business. Craig Phares, the founder of digital agency Six Overground, is a fan of side projects.

Source: Twitter

He mentions Link My Photos, which became a legitimate business project after starting as an idea he worked on in his spare time.

Of course, you don’t have to look for developers who have side projects that could earn millions; the point of this question is to see if they have ambition, drive, and a love for their chosen field—qualities that can improve any engineering team.

What do you think will be the new trends in the web development industry?

A good software developer should be aware of the trends in the industry and think about how they can use them to shape their work.

The point of this question isn’t to see if a developer can predict the future; it’s meant to show you how your candidate thinks about the state of the industry, what their thoughts are about emerging trends, and if they’re open to change.

For example, someone who refuses to learn anything but JavaScript may not be interested in new trends, and they’ll have less and less value to the company as time goes by.

However, someone who follows what’s happening in the industry might already have a headstart in, for instance, low-code technology.

Your team can prosper with developers interested in the industry and the changes it goes through, whether they’re excited or skeptical about them.

Do you prefer to work alone or in a team?

Some developers feel more comfortable working alone and having greater freedom, and others prefer working in a team.

It depends on your business and the projects which type fits better in your company; one isn’t necessarily inherently better than the other.

However, you should keep in mind that some level of teamwork is needed even from a most independent developer; if you hire them, they’ll be a part of the business and share company culture, goals, and values.

That’s also what Chris Newhouse, CTO at Appstem Media, believes.

Source: Backlog

In short, you should know what kind of developer fits your needs the most—a lone-wolf type or someone whose qualities shine in a team environment. This question helps you learn about the preferences of your potential new employee.

How do you practice and update your skills?

A software developer’s job is a job of constant change and learning. Technology moves fast, innovations are on every corner, and your developers should stay on top of that.

That’s why you should ask the person who might become your next addition to the developers’ team how they polish their skills and knowledge.

The method isn’t crucial in this case. Developers have plenty of available knowledge sources. Some prefer books, podcasts, or online repositories like GitHub.

Source: GitHub

Others follow their favorite industry experts like Mina Markham, for example, on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Source: Twitter

Possibilities are seemingly endless, so there’s no excuse for developers not to practice and update their skills.

Why did you decide to become a software engineer?

The way your potential new developer answers this question can show you their values and how much potential they have as an employee.

Let’s address the elephant in the room here—if a developer says that money is the deciding factor for getting into this field, that isn’t necessarily a red flag.

According to a survey by Stack Overflow, money is a powerful factor in choosing a workplace.

So, if a person says that their motivation for becoming a software developer is money, you can decide if you’ll value that kind of honesty or if you’re going to be careful about hiring them.

That’s because that answer could also indicate that they’re focused on the compensation and lack natural curiosity and internal motivation to improve.

The reasons someone becomes a developer can reveal a lot about their motivation and interests, so be sure to include this question in your job interview.

What do you expect from this job?

Asking your interviewee what they expect from a job will reveal how interested they are in working with you.

It’s not entirely unreasonable to expect someone who wants to work in your team to know something about the goals and values that you strive for as a business. If they didn’t bother to do a little research before an interview, they might be looking for any job that they can find.

For example, LinkedIn has a strong emphasis on these company values:

  • our members come first
  • relationships matter
  • be open, honest, and constructive
  • demand excellence
  • take intelligent risks
  • act like an owner

They publicly present those values and look for employees who share them.

Therefore, when developers apply for a job at LinkedIn, they know what they can expect. You can do the same for potential employees—to know what they’re getting into and if they are a good fit.

Do you have any questions for us?

This question has a similar purpose to the one in the previous section: to see how interested the developer is in working in your team.

Someone who has a genuine curiosity about the job will have questions about the company culture, values, goals, technology, and programming languages you use—and these are only a few of the possible areas of interest.

As Sean Borman from Obsidian Security admits, he’s impressed by the candidates who do their homework on the company and think about the technical challenges of projects.

Also, it’s a good idea for candidates to see how the company thinks about those topics.

Source: Techrepublic

Developers want to feel that the company wants them and values them, but vice versa is also true. You should feel like the developer you’re interviewing wants to be a part of your team. Their answer to this question can show you if that’s true.

Conclusion

What you ask the developer who sits in front of you in a job interview will depend on the needs of your company and the specifics of the workplace.

However, asking these 17 questions from this article will help you narrow down your list of potential hires to the best of the best.

Use this list of questions to your advantage. The answers can reveal who’s the best developer for your business.