How do you use technical assessments to hire developers?

Technical assessments are key in your recruitment process. They help you sift through candidates and find those that stand out with their technical skills. And today, you’ll learn how to create a technical assessment that works.

Want to learn more? Read on!

What is a technical assessment?

A technical assessment is a test that you send to candidates for technical roles to assess their technical skills. Typically, you’ll ask your candidates to take this test after you’ve had one or two rounds of interviews.

Why are technical assessments important?

A great technical assessment helps you:

  • Identify the right talent for your team (based on skills)
  • Assess candidates’ technical talent (you’ll get an understanding of candidates’ skill level)
  • Create a candidate experience that stands out (because too many companies use assessments that ruin the candidate experience)
  • Eliminate bias (assessment tests are objective, whereas interviews can be subjective)

Especially technical roles need a thorough assessment process. Many of these roles require highly specialized skills and you need to understand your candidate’s skill level.

The thing is: if you hire the wrong candidate, it can cost you.

74% of employers have hired the wrong candidate in the past. According to our own research, it costs $41,049 to hire a developer. This sum depends on the salary, though. Overall, recruiting a new hire will cost 20-25% of that person’s base salary.

And as developer salaries tend to start at high-five figures for junior roles (depending on where you’re located, this could be much more), it’s easy to see how fast recruitment costs rack up.

Plus, assessments can improve diversity at your organization by reducing bias in hiring processes. There’s plenty of research on hiring bias. For instance, according to one study, people were asked to choose a candidate who was the best suited to be hired as police chief. They chose education when male candidates were more educated, but experience when female candidates had more education.

Assessments can help you create a more objective hiring process. You base your decision on not just interviews that are prone to bias, but on people’s actual skills. If you have clear assessment criteria that you apply to everyone, you are much more likely to hire someone based on their knowledge and experience rather than how alike they are to interviewers, their race, sex, or any other irrelevant features.

What’s more, technical assessments can be a great way to stand out as an employer. Developers tend to be grumpy about completing coding challenges (for a variety of reasons; that they take too much time and they feel like free work to name just a few). And that’s your chance to position yourself as a dream employer. Create candidate-friendly tests that candidates are happy to work on! After all, tech recruitment is competitive and there are more employers looking for top talent than there is talent looking for jobs.

That’s why technical assessments are important. But how well do assessment tests work? That’s what we’ll look at now.

a man with a sweater looks at his computer screen

How well do technical assessments work?

Do they actually work? Yes!

Practice tests can increase the quality of applicants, the chance of a successful hire, human capital, and reduce the cost of testing unqualified applicants, Journal of Applied Psychology reports.

This is backed up by other research, according to which well-designed work assignments correlate with job performance.

Aberdeen Group says that organizations that use assessments are 24% more likely to hire employees who exceed their performance goals. 39% have a lower turnover rate and 36% are more satisfied with their decision than employers who don’t use tests.

What does a great assessment look like?

Last, not all assessment tests are created equal. Some tests are not ideal for your reputation as an employer and they don’t give objective or sufficient information on candidates’ skills.

In the next section, we’ll discuss which assessment tests are the best ones, depending on your recruitment needs.

Overall, a great technical assessment process is clear, so that you communicate with candidates every step of the way.

It’s also flexible, in that candidates can complete it remotely. Not only can this make your process much more effective this way, but you also open doors to people who might have otherwise fallen through the cracks, such as single parents and developers who are in a busy 9-5.

Preferably, you let candidates use their own IDE so that they don’t have to get used to a new tech stack. (Because, in the end, you’ll want to see how they perform on the job -- in other words, how they use the tools they’d use on the job.)

And what does a technical assessment include? It depends on the role you’re hiring for, but typically you’ll include one task that resembles work that the developer would work on as part of their job role. The tasks aren’t that time-consuming (3-4 hours), but long enough for you to get a thorough understanding of someone’s skills.

Finally, a great technical assessment test does require you to give feedback. The reason is simple: candidates have spent time on your assessment test and so they’ll want to know what they can improve. As many companies skip this step, YOU have a chance to stand out.

Now you know what a great test looks like. Next up: how to choose among different assessment tests.

What types of technical assessments are there?

There are a number of different technical assessments out there. But which one should you choose? Is there a type of test that gives the best data on candidates’ skills? That’s what we’ll look at here.

How to choose a technical assessment test

First of all: you have various alternatives to choose from. How do you choose the right test type for your needs?

This depends on the role you’re hiring for, your company culture, and the size of your organization.

You see, if you’re hiring for a more junior position, quick screening challenges might be fine, if you have hundreds of candidates lining up for every job opening.

But if you’re a small business, then go for one of the more personal technical assessment tests, such as a take-home coding assignment or pair programming.

Here are your options:

Take-home coding challenges

A take-home coding challenge is a technical assignment that candidates complete at home, at their own pace (in other words, there’s no supervision of them completing the task). The task itself is a short coding challenge based on real-world tasks.

We love take-homes because these challenges resemble the work your candidates would actually be doing. They’re also the most objective, as no one is monitoring candidates as they work (which can lead to bias); instead, you base your assessment on the end result.

Finally, take-home challenges tend to create the best candidate experience because they are less stressful and more flexible than other challenge options. Candidates work on the task at their own pace and preferably in their own developer environment. While candidates typically tend to dislike coding challenges, take-homes can feel fun because they are a learning opportunity.

Granted, you need to ask candidates to complete your take-home at the right moment to create a good experience. If you ask them to do it before you’ve held any interviews (with the expectation that many of those who complete the tests will not move forward with an interview), chances are candidates will feel like you misused their time.

But if you introduce your take home after one or two rounds of interviews, you’re much better positioned to improve your candidate experience and ultimately, your employer brand.

Want to learn more about take-homes? Try our demo assessment here.

two happy people chat during a meeting

Pair programming

Your next option? Pair programming.

This coding challenge typically involves an interviewer and candidate co-solving a task. They share a coding platform and work on a problem for about 45 minutes. The assessor (interviewer) guides the interviewee through the process. The candidate, on the other hand, writes most of the code.

The idea is that both ask questions, voice concerns, and give their opinion. (So, the hiring manager is involved in the process, not just observing it.)

The benefit of pair programming interviews is that you get a solid understanding of how candidates work on problems and their communication skills. That’s really valuable data for your recruitment process.

A quick word of warning: note that some companies tend to have pair programming sessions with multiple hiring managers who all co-assess candidates. Don’t do this unless everyone will actively participate! Otherwise, it only serves to create a lot of pressure for the candidate, who then might not perform to their usual standards. And you might miss out on great talent.

Instead, if you want your entire hiring team to review the session, record it (with the candidate’s permission). While this might also create some pressure for candidates, it’s a far better option than making them feel as if their every move is being scrutinized live.

Finally, consider conducting your sessions remotely. Doing so can open up your interview process to so many more candidates.

Want to learn more about pair programming? Our pair programming feature is called CodePair -- take a look at it here.

Screening challenges

Next up: screening challenges.

What are these?

Essentially, screening challenges are quiz-like questions. They’re short and not full-blown challenges per se.

Because they are so short and don’t measure anything too substantial, you should only use them in one situation: if you’re recruiting for an enterprise-level organization with tons of applicants (and even then, only if you need to screen them somehow to get to the next step without wasting anyone’s time).

But outside of this specific scenario, screening questions are distracting and a time killer. Plus, candidates (especially senior ones) tend to dislike them because they are often basic-level and mundane.

If you want to try out our alternative to screening questions, take a look at our demo here. They’re called Bytes, and they’re a lot more fun and relevant than the average algorithmic screening questions you’ll find on other platforms.

Whiteboarding

Last on our list:

Whiteboarding.

A whiteboarding test means that candidates complete the test in front of hiring managers on a whiteboard.

First, it creates pressure as it’s more of an observatory process. The candidate has to perform in front of several people and for many, stage fright can kick in. (Which really doesn’t indicate if a candidate will be good or bad at their job -- just that they may lack public speaking skills, or get nervous under pressure like most of us do.)

Second, whiteboarding is performed on a physical whiteboard, writing code with dry-erase markers. That’s as far as you can get from developers’ normal working environment. Plenty of candidates can feel confused by that switch and perform worse than they otherwise would.

Third, whiteboarding is done in person. (Technically, you could use an online whiteboarding tool, but then, why not go for one of the other options?) You may actually exclude a lot of candidates from your process by having them come to your office. And as more workers are switching to a remote or a hybrid model, you might not be keeping up with employment market demands.

Those are just a few reasons to avoid whiteboarding. For most companies, take-homes or pair programming are the best alternatives.

But what should your technical assessments look like? That’s what we’ll look at next.

What technical assessment questions should you ask your candidates?

What types of tasks should you send to candidates?

Great question! It depends on the role you’re hiring for. If you have a sample task that a developer would work on if they were hired, use that. Ideally, this is a short task that isn’t too complicated (doesn’t require a lot of background research) and has clear instructions.

Let’s say you’re hiring a web developer for your ecommerce store. Use a small task that you’re familiar with, such as building out a small feature (maybe a simple chatbox or a cart feature). You shouldn’t use a task on your current list, though, because if you don’t thoroughly understand the task and know how it’s solved, how can you really assess candidates?

That said, most coding assessment tools include a coding challenge library. So you can choose a sample task from the library -- these are typically tried and tested so that you can rest assured you’re using the right type of question.

For example, here is a technical assessment test sample from our own CodeSubmit library:

codesubmit preview

Over to you!

There you have it! Now you know what a technical assessment is and how to use them in your own technical interviews.

What it comes down to is using a technical assessment that works for the role you’re hiring for. Set up and implement clear assessment criteria and you’re set to find your next team member.

Want to try our technical assessment tests today? Sign up for a CodeSubmit account and get started right away. (The first 7 days are free and no credit card details are required when you sign up.)