How To Interview Developers

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Once you’ve put yourself up to the task of hiring new developers, you’ll want to take some extra time to learn how to interview developers.

Unlike your typical desk job, software development is fairly technical. Thus, assessing the unique skill sets of software developers requires an invested effort.

The interview process involves numerous factors, from who will be part of your hiring team to how quickly an experienced developer is able to apply technical knowledge in a simulated real-world environment.

In other words, you’re in for a read. Stay tuned to get the 101 on developer interviews!

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Hiring Team for Interviewing Developers

First things first, who’s all going to be there?

A job interview is never as simple as the head honcho asking basic questions to an interested candidate — though it may look like that from the outside.

In any industry, the hiring process must account for the interests of the organization as a whole.

This can mean conducting team interviews to see how the candidate fits in with the company culture.

Or in the software industry, this means including important team members from the software development team that — if all goes well — the candidate may later join.

Specifically, the interview process for developer candidates should feature three essential roles:

  • The candidate’s potential boss, i. e. an engineering manager or tech lead
  • Whoever’s in charge of the candidate’s potential boss, such as a CTO or CEO
  • An HR person or recruiter, or perhaps even a dedicated hiring manager

These titular roles should cover your bases.

It’s especially important to have some sort of technical expert participating in the process.

They can assess the candidate’s understanding of the latest technological developments as well as review their technical skills in practice.

Stages for Interviewing Developers

After identifying an applicant that strikes your interest, the real work starts. The developer position is a highly desirable position for job seekers within and outside of the industry.

As a result, one of the most vital lessons in learning how to interview developers is finding the right candidate in a slurry of tech talent and boastful resumes.

In short, hiring software developers won’t be a breeze. And the only way to get through it is to put all job candidates through a long, enduring, but necessary process.

A man writing on a whiteboard, with text indicating steps of a hiring process:

Here are the stages of that process:

Screening Interview

At this point, your potential candidate has submitted their resume. You’ve reviewed it with the lurking thought that this candidate is promising, or at least noteworthy.

You take reign of the situation by inviting the candidate to an introductory interview.

Typically, this interview is a telescreen or a phone call. When interviewing larger quantities of people, digital interviews of this kind save time and money.

But particularly in software development, this is common practice for hiring remote developers.

Your goal in this preliminary phase of the hiring process is to learn more about the candidate and their character by asking relevant questions.

By the end of this stage, you should have the following:

  • The candidate’s previous employment history 
  • The candidate’s portfolio of past software development projects
  • A comprehension of the candidate’s soft skills in regards to their emotional intelligence, open-mindedness, ability to communicate effectively, etc. 

Skill Assessment

How to interview developers mostly comes down to this stage, phase two of the interview process.

While a talk interview is pretty standard in most industries, this stage is by far the most technical.

In fact, in most tech companies, this stage is composed of two parts—

  1. Technical Interview
  2. Coding Challenge

Technical interviews evaluate the breadth of a candidate’s knowledge in their area of expertise.

Whether you’re looking to hire software engineers or IT staff, technical professionals of all kinds are familiar with technical interviews.

In software development, candidates might expect to describe software concepts like object-oriented programming or explain how a program will run given a piece of code.

Most job-seeking software developers will study non-stop during and prior to their job search, knowing that a technical interview is coming their way.

Then there’s the coding challenge, which might be self-explanatory.

Coding challenges and technical interviews are two peas in pods. They’re used interchangeably both in speech and sometimes in the hiring process itself.

A coding challenge is a test of sorts where developer candidates solve problems via code. 

Some companies allow candidates to complete the challenge from home. Others will have developers or some technical expert present in an office setting.

Either way, a coding challenge gives you the opportunity to gauge the candidate’s potential in a real-life scenario.

You’ll get a glimpse of how well skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, and adaptability play into the candidate’s performance.

Related reading: Top 11 JavaScript Developer Interview Questions

Final Interview

Finally, both you and the candidate are at the end of a rocky road.

The final interview usually takes place onsite but if you’re hiring software engineers remotely, a phone interview is perfectly fine as well.

Having gathered all the intel you could on your candidate, this is their opportunity to ask questions and clarify anything that may have come up during the interview process.

In many cases, the final interview also serves to see if the candidate is a culture fit.

With this in mind, there may be other participants, like those on the hiring team that the candidate didn’t necessarily meet in person or potential team members from the development team.

If you choose to borrow from ethical recruiting practices, you’re going to want to close this interview with some friendly words and inform the candidate of when they should hear back from you.

Interview Questions for Developers

When you’re learning how to interview developers, one of the more practical concerns you should address is how to ask the right questions.

Too many recruiters go into the interview process essentially asking job applicants to recite their resumes.

In reality, good interview questions don’t linger too much on what a candidate knows, but on what they’re capable of.

It’s easy enough for a candidate to list off their skills, but unless they can talk about them comprehensively, then their expertise is questionable.
Ask behavioral questions that focus on what choices a candidate has made and prompt them to reflect on mistakes they’ve made in the past.

Do they see room for improvement in tier work and what are their plans for the future?

Want a headstart? Check out a few of these handy developer interview questions:

  1. Tell me about a time you developed a software product paying close attention to project requirements. But the end-user was still dissatisfied with several of the final product’s features.
    A. How did you handle this situation?
  2. Describe a time when a co-worker was struggling with a complex software problem.
    A. Did you take any steps to resolve the issue?
    B. If so, what did you do?
  3. How does technology play a part outside of your work life? 
    A. Do you contribute to any open-source projects?
    B. What is the latest new technology you’ve invested in?
  4. Present the candidate with a specific feature that needs to be added to an application. Ask them to give you an estimate for how long the modification will take. They should explain their reasoning. 

Tips for Interviewing Developers

The selection process for choosing a software engineer has several steps in and of itself. And it’s even more grueling when you don’t know what you’re doing.

The most efficient way to narrow down candidates is to prevent the chaos from happening in the first place.

Start by implementing a structured interview process. Then, you can rest assured that you’re being objective about your choices.

Use these other tips to tie up loose ends.

1. Identify which skills you are most interested in.

You should know from personal experience that checking off every skill and qualification from a job listing isn’t a prerequisite for getting hired.

You just need to be the best person for the job. So regardless of what your listing says, pick and choose which skills are a must for the task you have at hand.

That way you don’t get stuck looking for perfection.

2. Make tests relevant to the position.

As central as technical interviews and coding challenges are to conducting developer interviews, not every tech company has the hang of them.

It’s not unheard of for employers to ask their candidates’ arbitrary questions and give them a run-of-the-mill coding challenge pulled off the net.

What’s the vacancy your trying to fill? Envision what you need the candidate to bring to the position and evaluate them based on those specific skills.

3. Prepare multi-faceted questions.

As established above, questions with multiple parts do a good job of getting meaty answers.

Short questions encourage quick answers and you don’t really learn much from a curt response.

4. Ask the same questions for every candidate.

In the interest of being objective, you should ask the same questions for every candidate.

Not only will this help you avoid a lawsuit, but providing identical parameters for every candidate is a logical means of navigating the future selection process.

You find higher-quality candidates when you can assess their capability impartially.

5. Make decisions based on the candidate’s top skill.

Similar to the earlier point on finding out what skills you want the most, you should find a candidate whose top skill fulfills the brunt of what you’re looking for.

There will always be some gaps in knowledge, and training new hires should occur anyways during developer onboarding.

You should choose candidates based on what they can bring to the table, even if that means teaching them a thing or two in the kitchen.

6. Use other companies to guide you.

Check out your favorite companies and take a look at how they do their hiring.
Trio, for example, has coding challenges on lock. They suggest focusing on real problems for coding challenges and keeping an open mind about what is the ‘right’ answer.

Related reading: How To Hire Front-End Developers

Evaluating Candidates Post-Interview

After collecting all your interview data — hopefully, in the most objective manner possible — it’s now time to evaluate your candidates.

These are some of the details and characteristics you’ll be looking at.

Clear Communication

Collaboration and teamwork play a central role in software development. It goes without saying that it’s a bit difficult to work with someone who isn’t the best communicator.

Four blue game pawns with question marks above them and one black pawn distanced from the group, with a tangle of lines symbolizing confusion on the right side, against a white and blue geometric background.

Ergo, the candidate should be able to talk about themselves and their work in a way that others can understand.

Does the candidate 

  • think before speaking?
  • communicate clearly and concisely?
  • listen and absorb information intently?
  • ask clarifying questions?

Attention to Detail

You’ll mostly observe this skill during the technical interview and coding challenge.

In the technical interview, many of the questions will be brainteasers, where paying attention is half the work.

Similarly, in the coding challenge, candidates must follow directions closely and be careful of letting unnecessary bugs infiltrate their code in a high-stress environment.

Optimized Solutions

Coding isn’t one-size-fits-all. There are plenty of ways to solve the same problem.

But not every way is necessarily efficient, particularly when it comes to delivering software on time and on budget in a real-world scenario.

Your candidate’s code should reflect their ability to seek out optimized programming solutions.

Likewise, they should be able to explain why their solution was optimal for the challenge presented.

Time Management

The candidate needs to track how they’re spending their time to complete the challenge in a timely manner.

Within your business, clients will expect you to stay true to your word, or in this case, your deadlines.

Unfortunately, delays happen.

But there’s a difference between a project being a couple of days late and having a person on your team who drastically overestimates how quickly they can get things done.

Code Quality

Clean and maintainable words are basically etched into every software developer job listing you’ll ever see.

That means the candidate’s code should be easy to understand and easy to change.

Code Functionality

The code should be bug-free and run when prompted. Enough said.

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Choose the Right Developers with Trio

Learning how to interview developers is only the first step in the hiring process.

You have much more taxing obligations ahead of you if you truly want to find the right developer for your business. Be prepared for what’s in store.

That said, there isn’t only one way to hire developers.

At Trio, we serve businesses in need by tailoring them with a fine team of highly skilled software engineers.

They will fill the roles you need and integrate themselves seamlessly within your company, without disrupting daily business operations.

Trio developers can optimize your future projects and ensure quality throughout your software product.

Trio offers unparalleled software wisdom and access to South American developers. Meet our elite Colombian, Mexican, and Brazilian developers for outsourcing excellence.

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With over 10 years of experience in software outsourcing, Alex has assisted in building high-performance teams before co-founding Trio with his partner Daniel. Today he enjoys helping people hire the best software developers from Latin America and writing great content on how to do that!
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