Skip to content Skip to footer

Level up your engineering team with CodeSignal Develop


Find candidates with the right skills by layering your technical assessments

Join CodeSignal CEO Tigran Sloyan and Co-Founder Sophia Baik in Data-Driven Recruiting Episode #44 as they discuss the different layers of knowledge that effective technical assessments must address. In this episode you will learn about:

  • Why layers of knowledge matter for how you assess candidates
  • The three layers of knowledge in software development
  • How to create a layered candidate assessment process

Let’s say your company decided to #GoBeyondResumes and incorporate technical skills assessment into their hiring process – fantastic! But how should you implement assessments to ensure it brings the right candidates through the hiring funnel? 

“A lot of people think of technical assessment as a one-step thing. But actually, there’s a lot more to it,” says Baik. The key, say Sloyan and Baik, is breaking up the assessment process into stages that reflect engineers’ layers of technical knowledge. 

These “layers” of knowledge are like the rings of a tree, Sloyan explains. Engineers’ knowledge starts with foundational programming skills. They then build on that foundation with new layers of more complex knowledge. A layered approach to technical assessment allows hiring teams to hone in on relevant skills – and on the right candidates – quickly and accurately.

1. The Core Layer

The first and most fundamental level of knowledge companies should assess is a candidate’s core programming skills. This first level of assessment asks the candidate to be a kind of “translator,” Sloyan explains.

“The core, when it comes to developers, is, ‘Can you write code in the language of your choice? If I tell you something in English, can you translate it into code?’” says Sloyan. 

For some companies and engineering positions, assessing the core level might be enough. If you’re hiring an entry-level developer, for example, you might only care that the candidate has a solid foundation of programming skills and room to grow in the role. In this case, you can use a shorter, faster evaluation process. 

2. The Language Layer

While assessment of core programming skills might be enough for some hiring managers, many will want their engineers to have in-depth knowledge of a specific programming language. This brings us to the language level of knowledge.

“As software development and as product development has grown over the years, you start seeing outer layers that software developers need to understand to be proficient at what they do,” says Sloyan. “On top of the core, the next layer typically is the language layer, in which you get deep and specialized into a specific language.” 

At this level, hiring managers will want to see candidates’ abilities to solve complex tasks in Java, for example, in ways that are unique to the language. 

3. The Framework Layer

The outermost layer of knowledge has to do with candidates’ abilities to actually build an application in a specific framework designed for that purpose. Sloyan explains, “Once you go beyond the language layer, you end up in the framework layer. The framework layer is designed for specific use cases.” 

Common examples of frameworks hiring managers might want to assess candidates on are React, for building front-end applications, and Node.js, a JavaScript framework used for building back-end applications. 

Layering Your Assessments

Creating effective technical assessments requires you to break up assessment into different, layered steps – “just like the knowledge itself is layered,” says Baik.

“If you’re assessing ability, you want to think about it from core outwards,” Sloyan explains. If an initial assessment tests outer-layer knowledge, for example, the assessment will be hard to automate. This means that “you risk missing candidates and you risk spending way too much time doing it manually, ” says Sloyan. 

The reverse is also true. “If you only measure the core and you never touch anything else, you’ll end up with developers who might be very good at the core, but are very uncomfortable when it comes to actual product development,” Sloyan says.

The type of engineer you’re hiring for also matters for how you design assessments. Candidates for entry-level engineering positions may only need a core base of programming knowledge. For senior-level positions, though, hiring managers are looking for candidates who already have established expertise that they will bring to your company. Candidates for these positions should go through multiple stages of assessment that address each layer of knowledge. 

“Core is a common denominator for everyone, whether you’re entry level or senior level,” explains Baik. “Then, in the interview process, you add the next layer of assessment as you go.”

What layered assessment comes down to, says Sloyan, is “not trying to do it all in one go.” Breaking up technical assessment into stages based on layers of knowledge creates a better experience for the candidate – each assessment is relatively short. And, crucially, it allows hiring managers to focus on the specific skills that matter for the job.