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Should you test technical positions?

Posted by A.N. Argas on 12 June 2017


Should you test technical positions?

We could you give you a long answer, but we thought we'd start with the straight version: the short answer to this question is yes.

Our previous blogs and ebook Hiring Done Right argue that technical testing is a crucial part of the hiring process. The longer answer to this question is still "yes" but better phrased as how should you test technical positions.

Tech companies have a well-publicized history of bizarre hiring tactics. Google famously asked brain teasers to try and gauge candidate technical ability such as “How many golf balls can fit in a school bus?”. There is also a community outcry against technical whiteboard tests that involve candidates writing down code to answer academic technical questions. 

So how did these practices fair in the field?

Google found there is no correlation between brain teasers and predicting job performance. On the candidate side, many software engineers find these practices to be alienating to the point that, some candidates have opted out of the market completely. Googles data shows the only productive interview tool has been structured behavioral interviews and they have since done away with brain teasers.

The purpose of any technical test is to assess the performance of a future employee

So how should one “test” a candidate on their ability to perform in a technical role?

1. All tests need to balance time with thoroughness 
At the beginning of any process, it is more important to have a simple filtering method to screen out people who would not be a good match.  With any job listing you are going to get a flood of candidates in and it is inefficient to bring them all in for a structured behavioral interview.

A good filter to use first is a simple technical filter. For developers, this can be something like the FizzBuzz filter which is a quick method of checking whether a candidate can code or not. The first stage of your hiring process shouldn’t be difficult or time-consuming. The main outcome you are trying to achieve is to remove candidates who are a definite no. 

2. Gauge the candidates background via a phone interview 

By this point you should have a more manageable list of people to shortlist. Here you can get a gauge of their background and what they have achieved. Going into a phone interview make sure you have a set of structured questions as not to bias any candidates.

The next stage of your interview process should be a set of structured behavioural questions. This will give you a more in-depth look at how they performed in previous situations. When interviewing developers and engineers, you get the bonus of being able to see work they have completed. Analyzing previous work they have done lets you understand how they think and approach problem solving.

3. Get them to contribute on a live project (or a take home assignment)

With the last of your candidates, the best technical test you can provide them is some real actual paid work to either take home or a live project they can join in on. During this time you can pay them for their contribution to see how they perform. This step poses some obvious issues like if they are currently in employment and don’t have the time to spend on a project. When candidates don’t have time to complete a project then you can assign them a smaller take home assignment that is part of a larger project and can be manageable outside of work.

4. Invite the finalists to meet your team

While cultural fit will be covered in another blog (stay tuned!), getting a candidate to meet the entire team is a great way to establish cultural fit and see if they would get along with everyone in the office. If someone doesn’t agree or gets a bad feeling, then it's best to trust the gut instinct and choose not to go ahead with the person.

Taking the above steps will provide you a much better overview of the technical ability of your candidates. Having a structured process like this also reduces the necessity for needlessly complex interviews and puts a greater emphasis on past achievement of a candidate, rather than their ability to memorize academic concepts.

Learn more about technical testing by downloading our ebook Hiring Done Right.

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Topics: employer