The Role of Soft Skills in a Software Engineering Interview
By Stefan Mai
Aug 10, 2023
When you hear about a Software Engineering interview, you're likely to imagine complex programming challenges and technical grilling. But being technically adept isn't the only thing that matters. Enter the world of soft skills, the intangible qualities that can make or break your chances in an interview. Let's delve into the importance of these skills in your journey as a software engineer.
Soft skills, often underestimated, play a pivotal role in a software engineering interview. These skills are about how you work, communicate, and problem-solve, rather than what you know. In short, they reflect your personality and work ethic. In an industry where collaboration and communication are key, these aspects can significantly impact your success.
While your technical competence may get your foot in the door, it's your soft skills that can swing the decision in your favor and play a large role at more senior levels (especially at large companies). They come into play when interviewers assess whether you'd be a good fit for the team, how effectively you'd manage tasks, and how adeptly you'd handle communication.
Remember, a standout software engineer isn't just someone who knows how to code, but someone who can effectively collaborate, communicate, and adapt in a diverse, dynamic work environment.
The Importance of Active Listening: How to Listen and Respond Effectively
Every question posed by your interviewer serves as a subtle hint, a signal revealing what they're hoping to discover more about. The key to effective interviewing is not just answering questions, but helping the interviewer to fill in their mental rubric for how you'd fit in to a team and a role.
Effective interviewing is not just answering questions.
A big part of this is listening to both the verbal and subverbal cues from your interviewer, with verbal cues being those things that the interviewer actually says and non-verbal cues being those things that they reveal through their posture, tone of voice, or pacing.
Picking Up on Verbal Cues
Most interviewers have a list of questions pre-prepared for the interview. These will be interwoven with follow-up questions which are a dead giveaway as to what they're truly after. As an example, if an interviewer starts with "Tell me about the project that you're most proud of." they could be testing a lot of things: your motivations, technical skills, etc. But if they follow this with a question about "How did you find this project?", they're very likely looking for how you handle ambiguous situations or how proactive you are.
While some of these signals can be observed readily, the interviewer may not make it nearly so obvious. If you misunderstand or fail to catch a cue, your interviewer may repeat a question or ask you for another example. These are great opportunities to clarify their intent with a question like "are you looking for more about the conflict?", "do you want an example where I was working independently?". Even if you aren't spot-on with your probe, your interviewer will likely correct with you where they'd like you to spend time responding - dialing up the chances that you give them the data they need.
Pro tip: If the interviewer is speaking slowly and clearly, they may be giving you a hint to do the same.
Sifting Through Non-Verbal Cues
If you're paying attention, your interviewer may be giving you non-verbal cues that reveal how they think of your response or how the interview is going on as a whole. To catch these signals, you need to be proactive about seeking them out:
- Listen actively: This means fully focusing on the speaker, avoiding distractions, and responding appropriately to what they're saying.
- Watch the speaker's body language: Are they leaning in? Nodding? These can be signs that you're on the right track.
- Pay attention to tone and speech patterns: These can reveal a lot about what the speaker is really thinking.
Remember, the goal here is not just to get through the interview, but to truly understand your interviewer and what they're looking for in a candidate. This can give you a huge advantage in landing that software engineering job.
Final thought: The ability to pick up on verbal and subverbal cues is not just a useful interview skill, it's a valuable tool for any software engineer.
Interviewing is a two-way street. Understanding your interviewer's intent, judgement, and questions is half of the battle. Responding well is how you win the job. And a lot of the best suggestions are mirror images of what you should expect from an interviewer.
Unlocking the Art of Communication
Just like a dance, good interviewing requires rhythm, a keen sense of timing, and, most importantly, excellent communication. Let's explore some keys that will help you make that crucial connection with your interviewer.
"Communication - the human connection - is the key to personal and career success." - Paul J. Meyer
Key 1: Active Listening
Active listening is the first key. It's not just about hearing words; it's about understanding the context, the subtext, and the underlying questions. It's often the unasked questions that hold the key to why you're being asked something in the first place.
- Pay full attention: Give the interviewer your undivided attention. Show that you're fully engaged in the conversation.
- Demonstrate understanding: Paraphrase or summarize what you've heard to confirm your understanding.
- Respond appropriately: Answer the question directly and provide additional relevant information.
Key 2: Clarity and Brevity
Being clear and concise is the next crucial communication aspect. Remember, your interviewer has limited time; make it count by getting straight to the point.
- Plan your thoughts: Take a moment to gather your thoughts before answering a question.
- Be direct: Answer the question as directly as possible. Avoid unnecessary jargon or overly complex explanations.
- Keep it brief: Keep your responses concise. If asked to provide more detail, you can then elaborate.
Key 3: Non-Verbal Communication
Lastly, never underestimate the power of non-verbal cues. Your body language can speak volumes about your confidence, readiness, and sincerity.
|Non-Verbal Cue||What It Communicates|
|Maintaining Eye Contact||Confidence, Interest|
|Good Posture||Confidence, Attentiveness|
|Smiling Genuinely||Friendliness, Positivity|
Master these communication keys, and you'll not only nail the interview but also become a more effective communicator in your professional and personal life.
Wrapping It Up
When it comes to acing that software engineering interview, the spotlight is often on technical skills. But as we've journeyed through this article, it's crystal clear that soft skills play an equally important role. They're the secret sauce that adds flavor to your technical expertise, and makes you stand out as a holistic professional.
Communication, problem-solving, teamwork, emotional intelligence, and adaptability are not just buzzwords, they're the building blocks of a successful software engineer. Not only do they help you navigate the interview process, but they also pave the way for effective collaboration, innovation and growth in your career.
Soft skills are the complementary strengths that enable software engineers to work efficiently and harmoniously in a team, communicate complex ideas in simple terms, and adapt to the dynamic nature of the tech world.
Stefan is one of the co-founders of HelloInterview, a platform to help software engineers and other tech professionals to prepare for their dream roles. He's conducted 1,000+ interviews and hired dozens of individuals at big companies and small startups.
Schedule a Mock Interview with a Real FAANG Interviewer
The System Design Interview: What is Expected at Each Level
Thu Nov 30 2023
Understanding the Differences between Meta's SWE System Design and Product Design Interviews
Wed Nov 15 2023
System Design Interview Fundamentals: Mastering Estimation
Thu Nov 02 2023
Understanding Job Levels at FAANG Companies
Wed Nov 01 2023
Story Crafting 101: Constructing Engaging Behavioral Interview Stories
Mon Oct 16 2023