Technical testing has a role to play in any screening process for technology staff. Hiring someone under-qualified will be as damaging to that person’s career and confidence as it will be for the business appointing, so for most hiring managers, technical tests are an instinctive, non-negotiable element of any screening process.
Talent Point encounters all sorts of methods for testing the technical competence of applicants prior to appointment. Below is a summary of types and the benefits and downsides of each.
Benefits: Setting applicants a fairly open technical task – perhaps building an API or some code to achieve a particular action – at an early stage of the interview process greatly acts as a measure of their interest in the role, shows how they approach a technical task and the quality of their code, and provides a useful discussion point for interviews.
Downsides: While this sort of testing reduces the number of applicants interviewed, the majority of those who leave the process do so of their own volition. Those businesses happy to see applicants without an upfront technical test will always have greater access to top level talent.
Offsite technical test
Benefits: These more formal tests, usually pre-set by professional testing businesses, will give a very clear benchmark of technical knowledge for those who complete it. It also measures interest in a role to the same extent as a more creative, loose technical task.
Downsides: Such tests are extremely restrictive for those completing them and will likely alienate more senior applicants who tend to feel patronized by them or wonder why the team has not developed their own testing. Again, the key here is in applicants having to dedicate time to complete a test at such an early stage of the process when this is not a requirement for other companies.
Paired Programming Exercise
Benefits: A paired programming exercise at the interview where applicants code alongside a potential colleague, is the most natural way for an engineer to show their skills and for an existing team member to build a relationship with them. This exercise need take no more than an hour, shows that your firm invests personal time in future employees, and can be focused around the actual user story your team member is currently engaged in building.
Downsides: These type of in-interview exercises only work if you can be confident that each applicant is worth an hour of engineering time from the person who will test them. Performing 20 interviews without making a hire would be an extremely costly exercise.
Benefits: Giving an applicant a snippet of relevant code to review and comment on gives good, natural insight into their coding ability and their commitment to quality. This can be performed either at the interview as a point of discussion or following successful interview as a homework exercise.
Downsides: Reviewing code doesn’t show how someone creates code or solves a problem. This type of testing works well as one single part of a mature, confident interview process but is less effective where a technical test needs to act as the key screening element.
More generally, for optimum technical interviewing that both identifies and attracts talent, take the following into account:
- Clearly identify your ideal target hire, a target hire you know exists that you will appoint if proven competent.
- Distil such competence into clear “soft” screening criteria and pre-qualify before testing.
- Invest your time in personal exercises with this small, pre-screened group at the interview, either paired programming or code review.
- Minimize stages wherever possible. If you can do everything in one session, do.
- Show respect to every single applicant. Those you treat like valued employees will become them.