Top Developers Point Out 4 Mistakes With Tech Hiring Assessments

Tech recruiting can get a bit dull at times. That’s when I turn to my tried-and-tested source of humor – Dilbert. A laugh-and-a-half helps me remember why I love doing this job – because it matters! I enjoy talking to recruiters and hiring managers and writing about real-life tech hiring problems and their solutions. Here’s a recent Dilbert strip I chanced across while working on this piece.

Tech Assessments - Dilbert Cartoon

So, let’s talk about the problem at hand – Assessments – and the many ways in which recruiters can get it wrong. (Not intentionally, of course. No offense meant, amigos! I’ll leave that to Dilbert and his ilk :))

The Unintentional Mistakes Recruiters Make With Tech Assessments


Finding good tech talent is every recruiter’s dream. Sometimes, it can feel like you’re doing everything right; and yet the results are not coming in. We have asked this question to many recruiter friends and they say that many times, the problem lies in the assessment phase of the hiring funnel.

Tech assessments sound simple, right? Send a developer a problem statement, ask them to hand in code submissions, review the code and voila! You have a match. In reality, quite a few things can go awry with your tech assessments. Let’s take a look:

1. Long Tech Assessments = Time Sink

Tech hiring is known to be a notoriously long process. However, before you send in another tech assessment that requires days to complete, ask yourself if that’s really necessary. The longer a take-home assessment requires to finish, the less likely it is that the candidate will complete it.

Assume that candidates interested in your role are also talking to other companies, many of which will require them to complete take-home projects. As such their projects will stack up, and if your candidates are also working full-time jobs, they simply won’t have enough time to complete long projects for free. Additionally, good engineers know how much their time is worth—asking for hours of free code is going to lead experienced engineers to drop off.

So, what can you do to reduce drop offs? Respect your candidate’s time. Keep your assessments short and timely as much as possible. If a certain role requires a long take-home project then consider making it a paid project to retain interest, and to not let the developer feel like their time has been taken for granted.


2. Take Home Assessments + Onsite = Too Many Expectations!

Many companies combine take-home assessments with an onsite test as well. For engineering candidates, this can turn out to be a severely demoralizing experience. Imagine spending hours on a take-home to showcase their best efforts, only to be called into an onsite interview where the manager clearly has no clue about your skills because they never looked at your submission.

Recruiters in today’s day and age cannot expect candidates to be at their beck and call. If a take-home needs to be coupled with an onsite assessment, then begin by clearly defining these expectations during the initial screening round. If an engineer is walking through your office doors (virtual or otherwise) for an onsite project, they respect the time they put into the project.

How can you make the onsite experience better for your candidates? First up, understand if your candidate is ready for this. With the pandemic, many of us have become caregivers for our families, and it may not be possible for every candidate to dedicate extra time for both a take-home and an onsite test. If they do agree to an onsite, use the opportunity wisely to see how they integrate with the team. Talk through their code-writing process with them, understand their decision-making process, and become privy to how they think about software.
Don’t, and I repeat – don’t, make it just another hoop for them to jump through.

3. Picking Resumes Over Assessments for Lateral Hires

One of the biggest mistakes many recruiters and hiring managers make when selecting lateral hires is the decision to skip assessments for experienced developers. Sometimes this decision can also be taken in order to prevent any discord – experienced developers have been known to take offense at being asked to ‘prove’ their skill.

Allow me to present an analogy – the recipe for baking cake is the same, innit, but not every chef cooks up the exact same dish. Oven temperatures differ. Techniques change. Even the minutest of alterations in the recipe can provide for amazing differences.

So while it’s true that experienced devs come with a proven skill-set, it does not automatically make them the right fit for your team. Technical assessments are a proven way of judging for this ‘team fit’, and you should not gloss over it just because someone has an impressive resume.

What is the secret to using technical assessments for better lateral hiring? When hiring experienced developers you are not looking at problem-solving ability, or a skill fit. Your candidate already has that. What you need to check from a hiring perspective, is what it would be like if the candidate worked on your production code in real time. The closer the prospect’s project is to the real work you and your team does, the better the signal that they are the right choice for your team.


4. Using Manual Reviews Without Proper Benchmarks

There’s proven data to show that top talent is ‘off the market’ within 10 days of them becoming ‘available’. There is a very small window to attract the best of the best, and the scope for errors is nil.

Now, imagine you’re a recruiter trying to tap into this talent pool. You spend a couple of days talking to and screening candidates. Then you send across a 2-day project to a candidate. On submission, you can email it across to your hiring manager for review. The manual review takes another two days. By this time, a week has already passed and you just have 3 days to schedule interviews, and make an offer. Another company that uses automated assessments gets the edge over you because they used a much more efficient method of assessing and evaluating candidates.

Developer Hiring Statistics - hackerEarth

Automation ensures speed, accuracy, and an objective bias-free evaluation process where every developer is assessed according to standardized benchmarks. Apart from efficiency, automated assessments are also beneficial in removing errors during manual reviews. In short, by using automated assessments over manual reviews you are creating an error-free process where only the top skills filter through.

Creating The Perfect Tech Assessment

We’ve spoken to many tech recruiters over the years to understand what makes a good coding assessment. Here’s what we gathered:

  • A good coding assessment is true to the role at hand, and is customized to assess the exact skills required for the role. You cannot hire exceptional people with generic assessments.
  • It needs to be standardized. So, if there are 20 applicants for a given role, all 20 should be asked to take the exact same test, so that the results can be benchmarked.
  • A good coding assessment should provide a more accurate work sample than whiteboard interviews or timed challenges can ever do.
  • With a take-home coding assessment, the key is to allow the candidate to out their best foot forward. The assumption is that by taking the test in the comfort of their homes at their own convenience, they will be under less pressure and will perform better. So, there should not be an element of unwanted stress by making the assessment more complex than is necessary.
  • At all times, it is imperative to RESPECT the candidate, their time, and their skills. If you’re asking them to code for 10 days for free, that’s not the hallmark of a good employer.
  • Using automated assessment tools and question templates can go a long way in helping you make your assessment process error-free. At the end of it all, do remember that while there may not be a one-size-fits all solution, there are some tenets that will remain permanent.

Don’t use the take-home assessment as ‘just another step’ in the hiring process. Use it wisely, so you can save time in the interview process, and not lose out on hiring the top talent due to inefficient processes. A well-crafted technical assessment can help you better evaluate your talent pool, and take some of the stress off of your hiring managers — but it works well only when you remember to respect and stay invested in your candidates.

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