The most common questions asked in early and mid-career engineering interviews

David McDonald

David McDonald

14 Oct 2022 • 4 min read

Interviewing engineers is part science, part art. On the one hand, you need to test that technical skills meet the bar. On the other, your hiring process needs to suss out more nuanced areas like how a candidate reacts to challenges, interacts with teammates, or gets motivated to do great work. Effectively assessing both requires smart questions to gather the right signal. To help with that, we’ve analyzed our data to understand what teams using Metaview most frequently ask early and mid-career engineers in hiring manager and onsite interviews (note this analysis excludes technical interviews such as coding or system design).

Most common competencies and questions covered in engineering interviews

Our data shows that the most common questions in early and mid-career engineering interviews cover three main topics: technical proficiency & problem solving skills; personal motivations & experience; and ability to navigate challenges. We’ve rounded up the most frequently-asked questions across each topic and why they can identify useful signal.

Technical proficiency & problem solving skills

It goes without saying that when interviewing an engineer at this level, assessing technical proficiency and problem solving skills is high on the list of priorities. Those areas make up the bulk of what you’ll need the candidate to do, so it’s important to make sure they’re able to deliver.

"How would you go about solving this problem?"

📊 Asked in ~35% of interviews.

Asking candidates to walk you through a hypothetical problem is an effective way to understand their approach to problem solving and how they might perform in the role. Responses will shed light on how they think and how well they can communicate complex thought processes. These types of questions can also provide insight into a candidate’s general aptitude and whether their raw skills could be effectively applied to your context.

"Do you have experience with [x technical skill]?"

📊 Asked in ~17% of interviews.

Metaview customers find that it can be useful to understand whether or not a candidate has experience with a particular language, tool, or concept. For questions like this, the key is to align on what you need a candidate to know coming in the door and what you can teach them on the job (something we recently talked about in our conversation with hiring leaders at Tally). You can then assess whether their skills are right for you given your organization’s needs and priorities. However, this question shouldn’t stand on its own—use it as a jumping off point to ask further questions assessing particular technical skills, rather than a one-off, checkbox exercise.

Personal motivations & experience

Assessing mutual fit is a necessary part of a quality hiring process. Especially for ambitious early or mid-career hires, it’s a good idea to ensure the growth trajectory you’re offering aligns with their goals.

"Can you tell me about a time when you went above and beyond what was expected?"

📊 Asked in ~16% of interviews.

This question reveals what motivates a candidate to do their best work. What were the specifics of the project or team that made this person want to exceed expectations? You can use this insight to deduce whether your own environment is one where they’re likely to thrive. At Metaview, we recommend you follow-up this question with something like "what was it about this situation that brought the best out of you?" in order to really get to the heart of what makes the candidate tick.

"What are you looking for in a new role?"

📊 Asked in ~12% of interviews.

To avoid costly mis-hires and employee turnover, make sure motivations are aligned and that you can offer what the candidate is looking for. Upfront alignment on expectations will save you the pain of hiring a new engineer only to have them leave shortly after because what you needed them to do is not what they expected.

"How big is the team that you’re on right now?"

📊 Asked in ~10% of interviews.

It’s helpful to understand the context in which a candidate currently operates. Depending on the size and structure of their team and how it fits into the broader organization, a candidate might have wildly varying levels of responsibilities or differing scopes. This will shed light on the context of their day-to-day work and whether their experience is well-suited to what you’ll need them to do.

Ability to navigate challenges

When hiring an engineer at the early or mid-career level, you’ll want to make sure candidates have the skills to effectively push projects forward, even when obstacles arise.

"What was the most challenging part of the project?"

📊 Asked in ~11% of interviews.

Once you get the candidate talking about a past project, you can gain a better sense for what they consider a challenge and how they react when pushed out of their comfort zone.

"Can you tell me about a time you dealt with a difficult obstacle?"

📊 Asked in ~10% of interviews.

Any engineer joining your organization is bound to face projects that don’t go exactly to plan or unexpected setbacks that get in the way of delivery. To test for a resilient mindset and willingness to overcome difficulties, Metaview customers like to see how candidates have responded to adversity in the past.

"Can you tell me about a time when you had a conflict with a coworker?"

📊 Asked in ~8% of interviews.

Building products is a team sport, so it’s important to understand how candidates interact with the people they work with. Are they empathetic? How do they react when faced with differing viewpoints? It’s good to have a sense for not just what they’re capable of achieving, but also how they go about doing it.

When hiring an early or mid-career engineer, be sure to know what you’re looking for, and come up with an interview process that gathers the signal you need to make informed hiring decisions.Here's a recap of the most common questions, ranked by overall frequency of mention in hiring manager and onsite interviews for early and mid-career engineers:

Most common questions in HM and onsite interviews for early and mid-career engineers, ranked by frequency of mention.
Want to run higher-quality, more consistent interviews? Metaview can help.

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