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Using technical screening to streamline your hiring process

What you will learn in this article

The rapidly evolving landscape of programming languages, frameworks, and technologies—coupled with the growing demand for skilled software engineers—makes identifying and securing top tech talent complex and time-consuming. On top of that, many hiring teams strive to minimize hiring biases and promote diversity and inclusion, which can add an additional challenge to the tech recruiting process. In light of these circumstances, technical screening has emerged as a crucial tool for employers seeking to efficiently and effectively evaluate candidates for engineering roles. 

In this article, you will learn what technical screening is, different types of tech screenings, why technical screening is a beneficial recruiting stage for companies hiring software engineers, and how to conduct an effective technical screen.

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What is technical screening?

Technical screening is a crucial step in the hiring process for software engineering and other technical positions, designed to evaluate a candidate’s technical skills and knowledge before moving forward with a hiring manager or panel interview. Often in the form of coding assessments, tech screening enables employers to efficiently identify qualified candidates with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed on the job. This includes assessing candidates’ problem-solving abilities, foundational computer science knowledge, and mastery of specific programming languages and frameworks. By effectively filtering out unsuitable applicants, technical screenings contribute to a more streamlined and targeted hiring process, ultimately resulting in higher-quality hires.

Why is technical screening important?

Adding technical screening to your engineer hiring process provides two key benefits to companies: bolstering a data-driven approach to recruiting, and reducing the amount of time your engineers spend on recruiting activities.

It supports data-driven recruiting 

Technical screening supports a data-driven approach to recruiting software engineers by providing quantitative insights into candidates’ abilities and proficiencies. By administering coding assessments or computer-scored technical screens, employers can collect measurable data on candidates’ performance, including their skills in data structures, basic coding, and implementation efficiency. This data-driven method allows recruiters to objectively compare candidates and make informed decisions based on their technical aptitude, rather than relying solely on subjective factors like resumes or personal impressions. Ultimately, this data-centric approach to technical screening leads to more consistent and effective hiring outcomes, ensuring that the best-suited candidates are extended an offer for software engineering roles.

It frees up engineering time and resources 

Technical screening plays a vital role in conserving time and resources for engineering teams by focusing their time on the candidates that have shown they have the necessary skills early in the process. By utilizing coding assessments to gauge technical aptitude, employers can quickly identify top talent, enabling them to focus their efforts on candidates who demonstrate strong abilities and potential. This streamlined process reduces the time and resources required for interviews and evaluations, allowing engineering teams to concentrate on their core responsibilities and projects. Additionally, by ensuring that only well-qualified candidates progress to the later stages of the hiring process, technical screening helps reduce the number of on-site and panel interviews hiring teams need to conduct before they’re prepared to make an offer.

Companies who use Pre-Screen, CodeSignal’s asynchronous technical screening solution, save over 15,000 engineering hours per year by eliminating the engineering teams to participate in early-stage technical phone screens. With Pre-Screen, companies also see a 42 percent improvement in the completion rate for the technical screening stage of their hiring process and up to a 50 percent reduction in the time it takes candidates to complete this stage.

What is a technical screening interview?

A technical screening interview is an early or mid- stage evaluation in the recruiting process, designed to assess a candidate’s core technical skills and computer science knowledge. Typically occurring early in the first few weeks of the hiring journey, this screening ensures that candidates possess the fundamental competencies required for the specific role they are applying for. By utilizing coding challenges, problem-solving exercises, and sometimes conceptual questions, technical screening interviews enable employers to gauge an applicant’s core software engineering skills, as well as their abilities in specific programming languages, algorithms, data structures, and software development methodologies. This crucial step in the recruitment process helps to efficiently identify the most promising candidates, ensuring that resources and time are effectively allocated during the subsequent stages of interviews and evaluations.

What are the characteristics of a technical screening interview? 

A technical screening interview possesses distinct characteristics that set it apart from other types of interviews in the hiring process. Key features of this interview stage include:

  • Building on initial screening: If a candidate successfully passes the preliminary screening or resume review, they will typically advance to the technical screening interview—sometimes known as technical phone screen. This stage delves deeper into the candidate’s technical abilities and ensures they possess the required skills for the position.
  • An asynchronous or synchronous format: Technical screening interviews can be conducted in an asynchronous manner, where candidates complete coding challenges on a tech hiring platform within a set time limit, without interacting with a human interviewer. Alternatively, they can be synchronous, involving a live coding challenge where the candidate interacts directly with an interviewer, showcasing their problem-solving and coding abilities in real-time.
  • Focus on core technical skills: Technical screening interviews place significant emphasis on evaluating core technical skills and computer science knowledge, and may assess for mastery of certain programming languages, data structures, algorithms, and software development methodologies. This targeted approach allows employers to identify candidates who demonstrate strong potential and proficiency in the relevant areas.

These characteristics contribute to the effectiveness of technical screening interviews in identifying candidates with the right skill set and expertise for software engineering roles.

Why do companies need technical screening?

Companies greatly benefit from using technical screening in their engineering hiring process for several reasons, which contribute to a more efficient and effective recruitment experience. Here are a few of these benefits.

Ensuring baseline technical knowledge 

Technical screening interviews help to confirm that a pool of candidates possesses the fundamental technical skills and knowledge required for the role, ensuring that only qualified applicants proceed to the next stages of the hiring process. Technical screening interviews serve as a crucial checkpoint in the hiring process, as they rigorously assess the foundational technical abilities and comprehension of each candidate. By administering tasks such as coding interview challenges, problem-solving exercises, and knowledge-based questions, these interviews allow employers to determine whether candidates have a solid grasp of the core concepts and skills necessary for success in the targeted role. As a result, technical screening interviews enable hiring teams to advance only those candidates who demonstrate the appropriate level of competence and expertise. 

Efficient resource allocation

Conducting live technical interviews for every candidate can be costly and resource-intensive for engineering teams. Below is a breakdown of the cost of custom-built or homegrown technical screening solutions that rely heavily on a company’s engineers to develop, administer, and maintain technical assessments:

  • Conducting technical screens: A traditional technical screen takes an hour, but that doesn’t include the time engineers must spend preparing for and debriefing the tech screen. A calculation of the time required for tech screening for one engineering role is as follows:
    • (1 hr interview + 0.5 hr interview prep + 0.5 hr interview debrief) x $200/hr salary = $400 per phone screen. If you expect to conduct 40 technical phone screens to fill one position, that’s a cost of $16,000 per hire just for this recruiting stage.
  • Creating coding questions: It takes one engineer 4 hours, on average, to create and test a new coding question for a technical screen or interview. A technical screen should include several coding questions or tasks. To calculate the engineering cost of developing questions for one technical screen:
    • 4 average hours per coding question x 4 coding questions (recommended average) x $200/hr salary = $3,200 cost for coding question creation for just one role
  • Managed leaked questions: Companies who create their own coding questions can expect that their engineers will need to rewrite them
 4 times a year, which requires approximately 400 hours of engineering work. To calculate the annual cost of in-house question maintenance:
    • 400 hrs rewriting leaked questions x $200/hr salary = $80,000 annual cost of coding question maintenance

Asynchronous technical screening like CodeSignal Pre-Screen serves as an efficient method to narrow down the candidate pool, saving companies both time and money. By employing coding assessments and targeted evaluations to measure candidates’ technical aptitude early in the recruitment process, best-in-class technical screening solutions allow companies to focus their resources on interviewing and evaluating only the most promising candidates. Additionally, by ensuring that well-qualified candidates are selected for the role, technical screening reduces the likelihood of costly hiring mistakes.

Selection of experienced candidates

Technical screening interviews facilitate the identification and selection of candidates with the appropriate experience and expertise for engineering roles, leading to better hiring decisions. By using coding assessments, problem-solving exercises, and other targeted evaluation methods, these interviews allow employers to gauge a candidate’s proficiency in essential technical skills. This accurate assessment of candidates’ abilities ensures that only the most qualified applicants advance to subsequent stages of the hiring process. 

Reduction of hiring bias

By focusing on objective assessments of technical skills, technical screening interviews can help reduce hiring bias, resulting in more diverse and inclusive engineering teams. Technical screening interviews help to minimize the influence of subjective factors, such as personal impressions or unconscious biases that may arise during the hiring process. By evaluating candidates based on their objective abilities and knowledge, rather than superficial attributes or the prestige of their background, technical screening interviews enable a more equitable evaluation of applicants. 

To ensure our and Pre-Screen solution minimizes bias, the IO Psychologists of CodeSignal’s Talent Science team conduct rigorous and ongoing validation studies of each of our Certified Evaluations that power Pre-Screen. This includes:

  1. Job analysis to identify the knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics (KSAOs) required of a specific technical role, which is then used to write an accurate and fair job description. 
  2. Engaging subject-matter experts (SMEs) to develop each assessment in line with the requirements for the role.
  3. Conducting validation studies to ensure an assessment has strong validity and fairness metrics, which increases the accuracy and predictive power of the assessment.
  4. Ongoing monitoring and adverse impact analysis of the assessment to address question leaks and ensure the assessment is fair across demographic groups.

With this approach, CodeSignal has developed a technical screening solution that is proven to reduce bias in the hiring process. 

Improved candidate experience

A well-structured technical screening process allows for a more streamlined and engaging experience for candidates, as they can demonstrate their skills in a realistic and role-relevant coding environment. By designing assessments that closely align with the specific requirements of the role, candidates are given the opportunity to tackle real-world problems and demonstrate their expertise in a context that is directly applicable to the position they are applying for. This targeted approach not only allows candidates to better understand the expectations and challenges of the role but also keeps them engaged and motivated throughout the hiring process.

Process standardization

Technical screening can provide much-needed standardization to the hiring process, ensuring a consistent and fair evaluation of candidates across different roles and companies. This standardization not only contributes to a more reliable assessment of skills but also helps to level the playing field for candidates who may have a non-traditional employment background or who did not attend a prestigious college or university.

How to conduct a technical screening interview

There are two primary methods for conducting a technical screen in the hiring process: technical phone screenings and code assessments using a code assessment platform. Both approaches serve to evaluate a candidate’s technical skills and knowledge, ensuring they meet the requirements for the role they are applying for.

Technical phone screening

When conducting a traditional technical phone screening, the interviewer typically begins with a brief discussion of the candidate’s background, experience, and relevant skills. This conversation aims to confirm the candidate’s suitability for the role, as well as gauge their communication abilities and enthusiasm for the position. The interviewer may then proceed to ask a series of technical questions to assess the candidate’s knowledge of the key skills, technologies, and software engineering topics that are pertinent to the role. These questions will likely be tailored to the role’s specific requirements and can range from theoretical concepts to practical problem-solving scenarios. 

Traditional technical phone screenings, however, have some pitfalls. When they focus on a candidate’s background and experience, they may be subject to bias and fail to objectively assess a candidate’s job-relevant skills. And if they make use of technical questions that are too theoretical or knowledge-based, they face the same problem: they don’t really show how a candidate would perform on the job. That’s why it’s important to conduct technical screenings in a realistic development environment using validated and computer-scored coding tasks that simulate real software engineering work.

Screening assessments

To conduct a coding screen using a code assessment platform, the recruiter or hiring manager may first select a set of coding challenges that align with the skills and knowledge required for the role. These challenges may involve tasks such as debugging, algorithm design, or implementing specific features. The problem with this approach is that custom-built assessments are generally not validated or research-backed, meaning that they may not accurately predict how a candidate will perform on the job. Custom coding tasks are also highly susceptible to question leaks, which can increase rates of cheating and plagiarism on your assessments.

A better screening assessment solution allows candidates to complete the assessment on the platform within a given time frame and with the ability to choose their preferred programming language. The platform should automatically evaluate the candidate’s solutions and provide detailed feedback on their performance, including factors such as code quality, efficiency, and correctness. Assessments in the platform should be validated by IO Psychologists to ensure their job-relevance, objectivity, and ability to predict a candidate’s performance in the role. This data-driven approach allows the hiring team to objectively assess each candidate’s technical aptitude and compare their results, ensuring that only the most capable applicants proceed to subsequent interview stages.

What is technical skills screening software?

Technical skills screening software, often referred to as a code assessment platform or a coding interview platform, is a specialized tool designed to streamline and automate the evaluation of candidates’ technical abilities during the hiring process. These platforms enable employers to administer coding challenges, algorithm problems, and other relevant tasks to assess a candidate’s proficiency in core software engineering skills and knowledge. By providing a standardized and data-driven approach to technical screening, these platforms contribute to a more efficient and objective recruitment process.

How code assessment platforms work

Code assessment platforms operate by offering companies a coding environment (IDE) and a series of questions or programming tasks the candidate must complete. These platforms generally support multiple programming languages, enabling candidates to showcase their skills in their preferred language. Once candidates complete the assigned questions tasks, the platform evaluates their performance, taking into account factors such as code quality, efficiency, and accuracy. This allows employers to objectively rank candidates based on their results, providing valuable insights into their technical aptitude and suitability for the role.

Improved outcomes from code assessment platforms

Utilizing code assessment platforms in the hiring process leads to a myriad of improved outcomes for employers. By identifying highly-skilled candidates early in the recruitment process, these platforms save valuable time and resources for both the hiring team and engineering teams. Additionally, the objective nature of the assessments reduces the likelihood of bias, helping companies bolster their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives. The ability to measure candidates’ technical skills accurately also improves overall hiring outcomes, ensuring that companies extend offers to engineers who are genuinely suited to the role and capable of performing the required tasks. In essence, code assessment platforms play a pivotal role in enhancing the efficiency, objectivity, and overall success of the technical hiring process.

How to accelerate your technical screening process with CodeSignal

This article has covered what technical screening is, different types of tech screenings, why technical screening is a beneficial recruiting stage for companies hiring software engineers, and how to conduct an effective technical screen.  

As the leading technical interview and assessment company, CodeSignal has nearly a decade of experience developing tech hiring solutions for all stages of the hiring funnel—from pre-screening assessments to on-site interviews. We developed our tech screening solutions to solve the issues that arise when a company’s engineers are spending too much of their time on technical phone screens and want to get back to doing what they do best: building great products.

CodeSignal Pre-Screen is a reseach-backed and computer-scored replacement to traditional technical phone screens. Candidates complete a set of fair and validated questions in a state-of-the-art integrated development environment (IDE) to demonstrate their relevant knowledge and skills. Scores and evaluations are immediately produced so companies can quickly advance high-performing candidates.  

Want to see how Pre-Screen can transform your hiring process and save your engineering teams thousands of hours per year? Schedule a call with a CodeSignal expert today.