Technical Tests… Do they work?


Searching for a job can sometimes be a long winded and stressful process, but so can finding the right candidate. But are we making the process harder than it needs to be?

Earlier this week, I stumbled across a forum on Stack Exchange that debated the legitimacy of using programming tasks in the interview process, and it got me thinking. While many employers sing its praises, and have their internal processes, others worry that the tests may scare away otherwise eligible candidates at a time when programmers are already in short demand.

Considering both sides 

Candidates will often apply for a myriad of vacancies and expecting them to complete a 2-4 hour programming test in their own time and without the promise of a response is a big ask, especially when programmers are in high demand and many of them will have already be working full time jobs and there may potentially be more lucrative roles with less hoops to jump through? Or more damningly, why would they work for a company that does not value their time?

So, he should ditch the “tech test” altogether? I have had developers in the past point-blank refuse to do them before being put forward for a role. Is a GitHub / Bitbucket repository enough to warrant skipping a technical assignment? Obviously, we need to see some sort of code to assess their ability. Are we asking too much of candidates to complete multiple coding tests for multiple jobs? Or does this just show commitment to wanting the job? What works best and what is most effective for hiring the right calibre of developer your team needs?

It’s a familiar catch-22. The test is needed to determine the candidate’s ability, but the candidates are too busy to part with their valued time to complete a test that may not even result in an interview, let alone a position. So, what’s an employer to do?

Improving the process

I was speaking with a technical manager who I have worked with for some years and his opinion was that they should be no longer than 60-90 minutes. No test will be able to paint an accurate picture of a programmer’s potential, but it can single out the bad ones. From here, interviewing the candidate and asking them questions should give better insight into their ability.

He also advises that employers modify the content or approach so that it’s more streamlined. After all, by the time the week is up and employers have got around to checking the tests, the candidate may already have other offers.

It seems like a debate that is ongoing but what’s your opinion on technical tests? Do you think that they’re a valid interview tool, or do they hinder the hiring process? Is there a winning formula which suits the candidate and employer?! Be good to hear from both sides on this one!

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