Top 50 COBOL Interview Questions and Answers

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated September 15, 2021 | Published February 25, 2020

Updated September 15, 2021

Published February 25, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Computer programmers often learn multiple programming languages throughout their careers. One language these professionals use in business settings to fulfill their data processing needs is COBOL, short for Common Business-Oriented Language. If you're anticipating questions about COBOL during your next job interview, it may help to review common COBOL interview questions. In this article, we discuss these types of interview questions as well as some sample answers.

General questions

These questions help an interviewer understand your personality, interest in the position and background.

  • What made you choose a career in programming?

  • What do you enjoy most about the programming process?

  • When did you first learn about COBOL?

  • Why are you interested in this position?

  • What are your greatest strengths?

  • What do you think are your biggest weaknesses?

  • How do you plan on improving your technical skills?

  • What helps you focus the most?

  • What do you do when you're feeling stuck on a project?

  • Where do you see your career in five years?

Related: Learn About Being a Computer Programmer

Questions about experience and background

These questions help an interviewer evaluate your qualifications for the position and learn whether your values align with their company's. They also demonstrate how well you'll fit in with the organization's work culture.

  • How has your educational background helped you gain your current programming skills?

  • What is the most challenging aspect of COBOL for you?

  • What have you learned about COBOL since graduation?

  • How has your past work experience helped you understand COBOL?

  • How often have you used COBOL since graduation?

  • What would you like to learn about COBOL while you're working here?

  • If hired, would you be willing to participate in COBOL training? Why?

  • If you could rate your skill level using COBOL, what would it be and why?

  • How do you research difficult concepts when you need further clarification?

  • If hired, what do you hope to learn in this new role?

  • When you've had challenging projects in the past, what helped you complete them?

  • What do you look forward to most regarding advancements in programming?

Related: Interview Question: "Tell Me About Your Work Experience" (With Example Answers)

In-depth questions

These questions help interviewers gain a better idea of your understanding of COBOL, your working style and your problem-solving skills.

  • Tell me what you know about COBOL.

  • Describes the most important features of COBOL.

  • Explain the difference between subscript and index.

  • How do COBOL's search functions differ?

  • Why would you use a scope terminator?

  • Explain the file opening modes used in COBOL.

  • Why would you want to perform a paragraph instead of a section?

  • Explain the process of writing into a file.

  • Explain the difference between a static and dynamic call.

  • How do you perform a binary search?

  • Explain the difference between COMP-1 and COMP-2.

  • When would you use a compute statement?

  • Why should you know the difference between using TEST BEFORE and TEST AFTER?

  • What are the consequences of coding GO BACK instead of STOP RUN?

  • In which division is the FILE-CONTROL paragraph located?

  • Which verb tells the program to update a file?

  • When you have two tables, which one will the SEARCH function use?

  • What are some examples of command terminators?

  • What does length mean in relation to COBOL?

  • When operating a sequential file, which mode would you use?

  • What does the REPLACING option do in a copy statement?

  • What is the purpose of the LINKAGE SECTION?

  • How are arrays defined in COBOL?

Related: Situational Interview Questions and Answers

Interview questions with sample answers

Here are some common interview questions for programmers using COBOL as well as advice on how to answer them with sample answers. Interviewers want to know how well you understand the fundamentals of the language and assess your overall ability to answer questions intelligently.

Explain some characteristics of COBOL as a business language.

When you're asked a question like this during an interview, you'll have an opportunity to demonstrate your level of understanding regarding COBOL as it applies to business. Make sure to thoroughly explain your answer and use past work experiences to show your expertise in the subject.

Example: "COBOL is a business-oriented application with many characteristics that help businesses manage and update important data. As a business language, COBOL can handle large volumes of data, and programmers can compile, execute and bring together this language on many machines. In my last job, I frequently used its debugging and testing tools when looking for solutions. There are many versions of COBOL that enhance the features of this structured language."

What guidelines should you follow when writing a structured COBOL program?

Interviewers often ask questions that require a process-oriented response. They do this because it helps them gauge your level of experience working with the topic in question. Before you answer, think about the steps you take while coding a program and what guidelines you adhere to as you complete the process.

Example: "When I'm writing a structured COBOL program, I follow a certain format that allows me to implement the coding in a proper way. For instance, when I'm constructing a case, I know that I have to use EQUIVALENT statements every time. When I'm nesting, I use scope terminators, and when I want the program to 'do' something, I use IN-LINE PERFORM statements. I also use TEST BEFORE and TEST AFTER statements when I'm coding for do-while loop statements."

How do the statements NEXT SENTENCE and CONTINUE differ?

This question helps interviewers verify that you fully understand the difference between two similar concepts. By demonstrating that you know how and when to use each statement, you're confirming that you've used both enough to move forward with unsupervised work tasks. When you answer, restate the question and explain their differences clearly and concisely.

Example: "The statements NEXT SENTENCE AND CONTINUE differ in specific ways. NEXT SENTENCE controls the next verb following the next period. Basically, it tells the program to go to the next sentence, which begins after the period. When coded this way, you do not add the number 1 to input count. In comparison, the CONTINUE statement controls the next verb following the direct scope terminator. When coded, you add +1 to input count."

What are the divisions in a COBOL program?

Explaining the four divisions in a COBOL program helps interviewers recognize your overall understanding of COBOL. When you answer, begin by stating the four division names before explaining each division's specific role.

Example: "There are four divisions in a COBOL program—identification, environment, data and procedure divisions. First of all, the identification division is most important because it identifies the program. The environment division is divided into two sections, the configuration and input-output section, and it defines the environment of the written program. The data division identifies data items, allocates memories and defines names within the program. It is composed of the file section, working-storage section and linkage section. Lastly, the procedure division supports the logic behind the program, and it must have at least one statement to use variables defined by the user."

What does the ACCEPT verb do?

Answering this question demonstrates your knowledge of basic verb commands used in COBOL. Interviewers may ask this kind of question to test your memory of coding statements. When answering, restate the question and explain how you've used the statement in real-life scenarios.

Example: "The ACCEPT verb is a basic statement used in COBOL to retrieve data like time, date and day from the user or program. When working with educational data in the past, I've used the ACCEPT verb and DISPLAY verb to receive information for a student record."

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