13 Software Engineer Behavioral Interview Questions, Answers

Written By John Sonmez

Software Engineering interviews aren't all about coding questions. As has been Simple Programmer's message from the start: Your "Soft Skills" can make or break you in your job hunt and your career success as a whole. 


Learn how to display the exact behavioral attributes companies are looking for -- so you can win at your next interview, and go far as a Software Engineer.


How to answer behavioral questions

Be goal-oriented & socially savvy

When the interviewer is asking you to tell them about yourself, it's not to make small talk -- they're judging you for certain attributes they like to see in a candidate.


By telling compelling stories about your experiences, you can let your favorable qualities shine through without being on-the-nose or coming across as dishonest or bragging.

Know what they’re looking for

The main attributes companies are screening for are:

  • Your ability to solve problems while displaying empathy & leadership towards your team members.
  • Your passion for achieving goals in service of the company's mission
  • Your commitment to your technology and using it as well as you can
  • Your personal presentation: How charismatic you are & your communication skills
Prepare your stories in NSAR format

This template for answering behavioral interview questions was created by Gayle McDowell of Cracking the Coding Interview:

  1. Nugget - tease and give a short summary of your story
  2. Situation - explain what happened in a succinct, engaging way
  3. Action - show how you handled the situation, displaying your positive qualities
  4. Result - let them know what happened because of the actions you took or influenced. Back it up with numbers if you can
Make a grid with your practiced stories

To remember the stories you want to use in your answers, it helps to visualize them in a simple grid. Here's an example layout you could choose (again, this is influenced by Gayle McDowell's work):

Qualities

1st Job

2nd Job

Leading & Influencing 

Cell

Story #1

Overcoming Challenges

Story #2

Cell

Handling Mistakes

Cell

Story #3

Working as a Team

Cell

Story #4

Being Successful

Story #5

Cell

Want to go deeper? We also have a post on the best strategies and tactics in behavioral software engineering interviews for you to check out.


Sage advice from those who've cracked the interview

10 developers got into FAANG.. 

 and tell... how you can, too

  • Their best coding interview preparation strategies
  • Picking the right problems to learn the most — as fast as possible
  • How to answer all questions with confidence

Most Frequent Software Engineer Behavioral Interview Q's & A's

Let's now get into the questions you'll likely be asked.


You'll find the qualities each question is screening for, how to best approach your answer, and an example answer for all of them.

"Tell me about yourself."

Screens for

  • Skills fit
  • Cultural fit
  • Motivation
  • Goal-orientation

How to

answer

  • Don't ramble or rattle off buzzwords
  • Tell your background in a compelling story
  • Connect everything back to the company you're interviewing for

Example

"When I was growing up, I became interested in technology. As I started working on a coding project, I realized: This is what I want to be doing. I went on to study Computer Science. In my work at X company, I am responsible for creating tech software. It's what developed me as a Software Engineer and a leader, and I'm excited to apply my skills on projects Y&Z your company is currently working on."   

 

"Which principles should all Software Engineers follow?"

Screens for

  • Domain mastery
  • Processes / Work ethic
  • Teamwork
  • Problem-solving ability

How to

answer

  • Mention positive qualities for SWE's: Resourcefulness, critical evaluation, commitment to excellence
  • Include your coding approach (e.g. code design, clean code, effective debugging)
  • You could give examples of where SWEs go wrong -- and how you'd do it better

Example

"A principle I try to follow as a Software Engineer is to first do a Requirement Analysis for any project, so we've made sure expectations are set before we dive into development."   

 

"What's a recent technical challenge you've faced — and how did you solve it?"

Screens for

  • Domain mastery
  • Processes / Work ethic
  • Teamwork
  • Problem-solving ability

How to

answer

  • Go step-by-step using the NSAR framework
  • Allude to curiosity, creativity, critical thinking, leadership and grit 
  • Sum up how it better prepared you for challenges at your next job

Example

"Sure, let me tell you about how we managed to overcome the challenge of hosting sensitive client data in the cloud in a safe and compliant way: We implemented encryption, two-factor authentication and robust access controls to ensure maximum safety."   

 

"Why do you want to take this Software Engineering position with our company?"

Screens for

  • Ability to research
  • Genuine connection
  • Skills fit
  • Vision

How to

answer

  • Talk about how you found out about them
  • Tell a story about your connection to what they're working on
  • Outline future projects you'd like to be part of

Example

"A few years ago I was working on a tricky bug. I found a post on a company blog where an engineer explained how her team solved the issue. She included a code snippet she’d open-sourced. I appreciated that she took the time to write about her team’s experience and share their solution. It helped me so much!


That’s how I first started getting into open source. I really want to work with more engineers like that—who write about their work and try to help others in the community. So I was excited to see everything your team shares on your blog and on the company’s Github profile."

 

"Why should we hire you as a Software Engineer?"

Screens for

  • Skills fit
  • Passion & Motivation
  • Resilience
  • Longevity

How to

answer

  • Don't oversell or be fake
  • Emphasize that you love doing the relevant skills
  • You're happy solving their problems and growing further at their company

Example

"What I'm looking for nowadays is somewhere I can apply my Full-Stack skills and enjoy my job while working with my favorite technologies. And I'm also looking for a team with good culture, and a decent salary.

 

I've done some research and you seem like a friendly company who're doing great things and working on cool projects. If this job is as advertised, I'm all in on it. This is really what I want to do, and this sounds like it could be the right place for me."

 

"What are your strengths as a Software Engineer?"

Screens for

  • Technical skills
  • Soft skills
  • Self-awareness
  • Excessive Ego

How to

answer

  • Tailor it to the company, its stage, goals and needs
  • Show how you can fill the current skill gaps in their team
  • Give examples and tell stories

Example

"My biggest strengths have always been my soft skills and communication ability.


In my current job, I've coordinated difficult projects and built trust with customers. I needed to be on top of my communication skills to pull it off, but we did. 


I'd love to put my abilities to work in some of your company's future projects."

 

"What are your weaknesses as a Software Engineer?"

Screens for

  • Self-awareness
  • Humility
  • Proactivity

How to

answer

  • Confidently say the weakness
  • Give an example & state why it's an issue
  • Explain how you're working to improve on this

Example

“Sometimes while coding, I can end up digging myself into a hole. Then I almost forget what I was working on in the first place.


This is because I like to understand every concept that I’m working with.


But I realize that’s a weakness, because if we're prioritizing speed, this can get in the way.”

 

"Where do you see yourself in 5 years as a Software Engineer?"

Screens for

  • Vision
  • Personal Development
  • Dependability
  • Humble confidence

How to

answer

  • Don't say something generic like "I'll be a respected Engineering Manager"
  • Outline the growth journey of your last five years
  • If you've kept developing, and can look back at how much you've grown after the next 5 years, you'll know you've been successful

Example

"Let's start by looking back at the last 5 years. I worked for company X doing work with Y technology. Then I transitioned into a role with more responsibility at startup Z.


When switching jobs, I always ask myself: How much can I learn and grow from here?


I can't tell you exactly where I'll be in five years, and what position I'll be in. But one thing I know is that if there's a place I can look back from and say: Boy, have I learned a lot and become a better person since then -- then that's where I want to be."

 

"What makes you passionate about Software Development?"

Screens for

  • Motivation
  • Grit
  • Curiosity
  • Initiative

How to

answer

  • Avoid sounding overblown and fake
  • Make sure your answer fits what the company is doing
  • Give examples for your being a motivated problem-solver

Example

"I've always loved the challenge of solving technical problems using my analytical ability.


Whenever I encounter something difficult that needs solved, I immerse myself in the problem - and I won't quit until it's solved."

 

"Why did you choose Software Engineering as a Career?"

Screens for

  • Passion
  • Motivation
  • Personality
  • Talent

How to

answer

  • Show your passion for tech
  • Explain how you love solving problems
  • Mention the ability to create useful things from scratch

Example

"As I said in my self-introduction, I've always been fascinated by the opportunities technology gives us. And to be able to manipulate technology to create something new for others to enjoy - that's motivating to me.


Software Engineering also offers you endless growth. As I progress in my career, I want to be working on bigger and bigger challenges while creating more and more value."

 

"How do you stay up-to-date on new technologies related to Software Development?"

Screens for

  • Curiosity
  • Initiative
  • Learning ability
  • Discipline

How to

answer

  • Summarize why it's important to stay up to date
  • List your favorite ways to learn
  • Give specific examples of how you've learned about new trends 

Example

"As a Software Engineer, it's in my blood to stay on top of new developments in technology. I read tech blogs, developer forums, Stack Overflow and GitHub Trending / Explore, and I follow thought leaders on social media.


I also talk and share ideas and opinions with fellow Engineer friends. In the past I've been to developer conferences and local events to stay up to date with my knowledge and get new ideas.


Developer books and podcasts do the same: X and Y are some of my favorites. 


I've also set the goal to take at least one new course per year, and I'm working on learning a new programming language right now."

 

"How do you deal with a member of your team who disagrees with the work you did as a Software Engineer?"

Screens for

  • Teamwork
  • Confidence
  • Empathy
  • Ego

How to

answer

  • Never blame others or make excuses
  • Display your openness to constructive criticism
  • Show how you'd handle the situation confidently

Example

"I have much experience as a Software Engineer and deliver high quality work -- however I think it's also important to listen to what my team has to say, because they might be contributing something valuable as well.


So, I'd be open to hearing why they disagree with my work and their opinion on what could be done to improve it. We're all working for the same organization, and if I have to change something to benefit the team goal, I'm open to doing that if the request is substantiated."

 

"How do you handle conflict with co-workers?"

Screens for

  • Team spirit
  • Humility
  • Leadership & Confidence
  • Empathy

How to

answer

  • Don't say you never have conflicts - they happen at every job
  • Explain handling conflict professionally without compromising your reputation
  • Show your ability to reason and persuade

Example

"As a code reviewer, I had to critique one developer's code, because it didn't follow our standards. The developer then got upset because of my review.


We managed to resolve it -- I told him I understand his frustration, but explained how our best practices can actually make coding more efficient, and promised to stay in touch more during future tasks."