9 Software Engineer Behavioral Interview Questions & Answers

11 min read

Want to land a software engineering job? Preparation is key. 75% of interviewers make their final decision in the first meeting, so it’s important to nail your skills assessment.

In this article, we will look at nine common behavioral interview questions for software engineers and provide tips on answering them effectively. Whether you are a junior or senior software engineer, this guide will help you prepare for your next interview and increase your chances of landing the job.

Responding to behavioral questions using the Star Method

The STAR method is an interview technique that uses the situation, task, action, and result to shed light on an event or experience. It allows you to build a story around it and grow the hiring manager’s interest in you as a qualified candidate.  

  • Situation: Explain the circumstances you were in and the role you played. Be detailed.

  • Task: Describe specifically what you were tasked with doing or attempting to do at the time.

  • Action: Lay out the steps you took to accomplish the assignment.

  • Result: Be specific about the outcomes of your actions. Use numbers and quantities where possible.

Using these four components to shape your story will help you give a thorough, relevant answer. In essence, you help the interviewer gain an understanding of who you are as a candidate, and how your behavioral traits can contribute to your productivity.

Ready to dive in? Here are some of the queries you’re likely to hear in your interview.

Tell me about yourself and why you'd be a good fit for the position.

Tip for the candidate: There are a few directions you can go in your answer. Depending on who you are and your past experiences, you can shed light on your life circumstances. For instance, you can share a story that shows your perseverance and motivation to grow professionally despite any obstacles. It’s worth mentioning past achievements and projects, too. Focus on your professional life, instead of telling the recruiter your whole life story.

Tip for the hiring manager:This question can be very telling not only about the candidate’s skills, but also about their determination to grow their software engineering career. It’s fine for the applicant to give you a backstory on why they’ve shifted from, say, a product manager role to a software development one. After all, it refers to their career. However, if the candidate decides to focus their answer around their hobbies (i.e., a topic completely unrelated to them as an engineer), this could be a warning sign.  

Why do you want to work at [company]?

Tip for the candidate: It's important to show that you’ve done your research, understand the objectives of the company you’re applying to, and are enthusiastic about working there. The recruiting manager wants you to tell them why you want to be part of their company, specifically. First and foremost, don’t state the obvious, like “I’d like to work at a fast-growing company”. In itself, the motivation is fine, but there are likely thousands of other companies that are developing as quickly. Instead, go deeper to prove you’ve done your research. For example, you could mention that you’ve read that the company sourced $50 million in funding last year, and have followed the company since. 

You can also flip this question around to "Why am I a good choice for the company?".

Think more about what you have to offer and how you could impact the company rather than why getting the job would benefit you. When getting ready for an interview, it is essential to consider how your skills and experiences align with the company's goals and values. When preparing a response, consider the following questions:

  • What specific contributions can you make to help the company achieve its objectives?

  • How can you leverage your past successes to benefit the company in the present and future?

  • How does your personal and professional approach align with the company's culture and work environment?

By researching the company's culture and identifying what appeals to you, you can tailor your response to highlight how you fit within the organization. 

Tip for the hiring manager:  Listen closely to the applicant’s answer. If they mention that they prioritize the ability to work remotely (and you only offer off-site work twice a week), then chances are high there will be a conflict of interest and they’ll want to jump ship.

What are your organizational strategies?

Tip for the candidate: When answering questions about organizational skills, don't just focus on your workflow within the software engineering team. Highlight other areas where you excel as well. For example, how you organize your calendar, your ability to take meeting notes, or your habit of preparing agendas for team calls. These extra details can give your interviewer a sense of how you might contribute to the company in additional ways. They might be able to spot your potential for being a team leader, or representing the company at industry conferences. 

Tip for the hiring manager: When evaluating candidates for software engineering positions, don't just look for organizational skills within the team. Look for broader characteristics like their day-to-day work organization, above-average charisma, and initiative. These traits could, for instance, indicate that the candidate would make a good future CTO or CIO.

Tell me about when you had to deal with last-minute changes to a deadline or project. How did you manage that?

Tip for the candidate: The purpose of this question is to gauge how well you’ll work under pressure. Demonstrate your ability to react to sudden plan changes. Tell the hiring manager about a time when you were able to adapt to unexpected shifts without sacrificing quality work. Like any behavioral interview question, a specific, quantifiable example of your ability to navigate eleventh-hour alterations will be the most compelling.

Tips for the hiring manager: Did the candidate mention any particular tools or methods they employed to handle the modifications? Did they outline the steps they took to ensure the project isn’t derailed? These details can provide a clearer understanding of how they will approach and navigate these scenarios at your company.

Here are some things to look for:

  • Evidence of adaptability 

  • Effective communication skills

  • The candidate's level of experience

  • Their ability to prioritize.

Tell me about a time you disagreed with a coworker and how you resolved it.

Tip for the candidate: Conflict in the workplace is common, but how you've handled these situations can provide insights into your priorities, personality, and conflict-resolution skills. Demonstrating your leadership and interpersonal skills can increase your chances of being hired and even lead to future management roles.

Tip for the hiring manager: Be sure to evaluate the candidate's approach to conflict resolution, not just avoidance. Also, look for examples where the candidate showed leadership and effective communication skills in resolving disagreements. To give you a sense of what a thorough response should be built around, you can refer to the following: 

“One of the Q&A specialists assigned to the project I worked on kept missing deadlines. Occasionally, they also failed to do a thorough checkup before clearing the code from staging to production. I have reached out to them several times raising my concerns, however, my requests were left unanswered. I consulted my team leader about the recommended course of action, as I didn’t want to overstep or scale the issue to the Q&A team leader without my own manager’s consent. Ultimately, it turned out that the Q&A specialist was struggling with health issues. Their leader encouraged them to take a few weeks off from work to recover, and another specialist took over their responsibilities”.   

Can you share a time when you made an error and what you learned from it?

Tip for the candidate: Nobody’s perfect, and your interviewer is aware of this, so don’t try to make yourself look flawless. Making errors in the past does not disqualify you from the job. Instead, the interviewer wants to see that you take responsibility for your mistakes and can discuss the key lessons you learned from them. That being said, it's important to choose the right type of mistake to discuss. Ideally, it should be one which didn’t have significant consequences for the business, i.e., something that you were able to identify and resolve quickly.

Examples could include:

  • Miscommunications or misunderstandings

  • Situations where you were reactive instead of proactive

  • Errors on work products you submitted

  • Missed deadlines

  • Clashes, disagreements, or conflicts with team members

  • Knowledge or skill gaps.

Tip for the hiring manager: Be mindful that the candidate is likely to be nervous while discussing their mistake. Try to create a comfortable and non-judgmental environment. Listen to the candidate's explanation of the mistake and evaluate what they learned from it. Also, what action and steps did they take to prevent it from happening all over again?

Additionally, pay attention to how genuine the candidate's response feels. Look out for red flags such as an ongoing character flaw, unethical or controversial behavior, mistakes that involve essential job skills, or those that are framed as someone else's fault. Finally, don’t accept answers where the situation doesn’t genuinely qualify as a mistake.

Tell me about your typical day at work and how you stay productive.

Tip for the candidate: When answering this question, keeping the specific job and company in mind is important. Experienced employees understand that managers value productivity. Share your methods for staying productive and organized, such as using specific software or techniques. It's also important to consider the impact of your productivity on the team and the company. For example, if you use a tool or method that makes you more efficient, but others do not commonly use it in the team, it could create confusion.

Tip for the hiring manager: Assess how the candidate's approach to productivity aligns with the company's and development team's methods. Ask about their familiarity with specific tools, techniques, or methodologies used in the company. For example, let’s assume that your company uses the Fibonacci sequence to prioritize and score the development team's work. Ask the candidate if they've ever worked in such an approach. If so, how do they plan their day to achieve the assigned Fibonacci points by the end of each sprint?

Can you give an example of a significant obstacle you encountered and the approach you took to overcome it?

Tip for the candidate: Think about any challenges you faced in your previous role as a software engineer and how you overcame them. It's important to choose a situation that highlights your problem-solving skills and showcases your behavior and characteristics. For example, if you have experience working at a software agency, you could discuss when a client's e-commerce website crashed on a busy shopping day and how you handled the crisis. Be honest about how the situation affected you and any challenges you faced. This will demonstrate your credibility and ability to handle stress.

Tip for the hiring manager: This question will help you evaluate the candidate's problem-solving and stress-management abilities. Look for examples relevant to the role you are hiring for. Pay attention to any additional cues such as the candidate's potential as a team leader or being the emergency contact person on the project.

Tell me about a specific positive impact you made on a program or project.

Tip for the candidate: When answering this question, select a project you have recently worked on, as this will demonstrate your current abilities. Make sure to choose one that is relevant to the responsibilities of the job you are applying for. Provide specific examples of your contributions and their positive outcome for the project.

Tip for the hiring manager: Ask the candidate to describe the entire process, including their role, how they led the project, and the decisions they made. Ensure the candidate mentions the project's tangible results. Ask follow-up questions, if necessary. Also, make sure the candidate is focusing on their contributions, not just the work performed by others. Give your candidate bonus points if the example they’re sharing shows their initiative.

Software Engineer Behavioral Interview Questions as Your Starting Point 

Preparation is key when it comes to acing a behavioral interview as a software engineer. However, it's just as important to prepare for hard skills as it is for behavioral questions. Showcase your problem-solving skills, ability to work under pressure, and effective communication and collaboration skills to increase your chances of impressing the hiring manager. Then, and only then, will you get a chance to show off your programming capabilities. 

Meanwhile, hiring managers should prepare questions that truly assess the candidate's behavioral traits. If you’re a hiring manager, you can use the questions in this article as inspiration. Better yet, you can turn to a hiring expert like Match, and leave the initial soft skills’ candidate assessments to us!

And if you’re a software engineer looking for a career move, search no further – get in touch, and let us find your next project.

About the Author

I am a passionate marketer and content writer. In 2019 I took a step into the unknown, left my full-time job, and started freelancing. That’s when together with my friend Anna I co-founded Contentki – a boutique content marketing agency. It was one of the best decisions I have made. Currently, we work with some of the most exciting tech brands from various industries. The learning curve is steep, and no two days are the same, but I love the project variety and the freedom of choosing whom I want to work with. Creating content for the MVPMatch community is a very rewarding experience. I love sharing knowledge that I have acquired throughout the years. All the articles you can find on the Match blog I have co-written with Anna. I hope you find them helpful!