As an IT recruiting agency, many job candidates are required to take a technical test as part of a multiple stage interview process.
Technical testing is one way to explore whether people really have the programming skills listed on their resume. But, unfortunately, we’ve seen some cases where technical tests backfire and actually eliminate the best candidates.
That’s why we decided to weigh in on the best and the worst practices we’ve seen when companies use testing as part of their hiring process.
Three things to consider when setting up a technical test
Avoid badly worded, ambiguous questions that involve style or creative thinking, such as a coding challenge that has many possible solutions.
Make sure your questions are up to date. Sometimes the job candidate knows a newer solution to a challenge but gets marked wrong due to an outdated answer key.
Don’t ask people to define terminology. Coders work with multiple languages and have instant access to any information they want at their fingertips. Your questions should reflect what they will do in their day-to-day work.
How to avoid insulting a highly qualified candidate
Imagine you’ve been working as a highly skilled developer for 5 years and you’ve built a community on Github. Would you take it seriously if someone asks you to prove your skills by taking a test? Or would you feel annoyed.
If your “hot” candidate is currently working, they are busy. So when to time comes to write the test, they’ll be rushed and anxious to get back to work. They might just breeze through the test just to get it over with, expecting a chance for a proper interview.
This doesn’t give you the best picture of a highly qualified candidate.
What’s worse, candidates who are considering multiple opportunities may lose interest in working for you.
Test anxiety can result in unfair assessments
You may miss out on a great hire because people do not like to disclose that they have test anxiety
Many people freeze in test environments, even though they are unfazed by the same content under normal work conditions.
Some of the best coders experience anxiety when faced with a test and it’s even worse when they are excited about the job. Working candidates might not have time to prepare for a test, further adding to the anxiety.
If you already have a technical test in place…
Show empathy for the job candidate, their other commitments and for people who may text anxiety.
Give them an alternative to taking the test. For example, they could take the test verbally with a technical person on your team.
Provide them with a test administrator who can answer any questions they have about the test. Don’t put a time limit on the test and give them a private space to take the test. Allow the person to have access to the internet during the test, just as they would have on the job. Remember that you’re not testing their memory, you’re testing they ability to solve problems with code. It’s not a race. Creativity needs space and freedom to flourish. Give them the respect and space to show you their true abilities.
In conclusion, if you want to test job candidates without annoying them, be sure to respect their time and the value that they may bring to your team.
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I can definitely see the pros and cons of technical testing. My main concern with technical tests is the accomodation factor. I believe any type of employment test should ensure that there are accomodations for those you may have difficulties writing tests.
I also worry that candidates who do need accomodations for writing tests might be hesitant to ask for those accomodations. I believe it is our duty as recruiters, hiring managers and employers – to ensure that accomodations can be made and that candidates are aware of these alternatives.
Technical test certainly have their pros and cons.
I think if you have 100’s of applicants and you can have candidates do a small technical test it can be helpful in your screening.
I believe some companies lose out on strong candidates because their tests are not objective or well thought out. Interestingly some of the most technical interviewers are often the ones having candidates doing technolody tests.
Sometimes multinational companies have had large consulting companies create a testing process for companies that tell them that by testing candidates they will get only top talent.
I believe techncial tests should be less than 30 minutes.
You make some good points about how technical tests can be misleading. One time I did poorly on a test for a tech writing position. But I still got the job. I think the test was outdated 😉 Luckily they took my portfolio into consideration. The person who recommended hiring me told me that she had just downloaded the test from the Internet.