Test the Right Skills With Your Coding Assessments

Creating coding tests to assess developers

The initial coding assessment is a crucial component of any technical recruiting process. It allows you to weed out unqualified candidates at the top of the funnel. In turn, this gives you and your team more bandwidth to concentrate on the qualified ones. It also lets your candidates learn a little more about the role and your company. This leads to a better candidate experience, which is a key component of keeping top talent engaged in your process.

But it can be surprisingly tricky to put together an initial assessment that actually tests the skills necessary for the role at hand – without creating an undue time burden for your engineering team. There are four major factors to consider when you’re creating a coding assessment: format, content, length, and ease of management.

Here’s how to use these four considerations to create a coding assessment that tests for the skills that actually matter for the role.

Formatting the assessment

When it comes to the format of the initial assessment, there are a few common options:

  • Phone screens: Many companies do a technical phone screen as their initial coding assessment. This works, but it takes a lot of time and energy away from the engineering team in 30 to 60 minute increments! And since this is very close to the top of the recruiting funnel, the possibility that these candidates won’t meet the necessary technical bar is very high. Another issue is that it’s difficult to standardize the phone screen process. Most engineers have a preferred way of asking questions, and many have their own off-book questions that they like to ask as well.
  • Take-home projects: Some companies head straight to sending candidates a take-home project. Though take-home projects require less direct candidate interaction, they take as much time and energy from your engineering team as phone screens – if not more! Consider the time involved in managing and scoring these candidate projects. Take-home tests are great, but it makes much more sense to send them later in the process, when the candidate pool is much smaller.
  • Coding tests: For sheer ability to weed out unqualified applicants with minimal hands-on management, the ideal initial technical assessment is a take-home coding test. An engineer can set up the test initially, then recruiters can send them out to applicants at scale. This saves both recruiter and engineer time, while still testing for the skills necessary to succeed on the job. For most roles, this should take the form of solving a coding task, debugging some existing code, or both.

Creating the assessment

When you’re screening candidates, it can be tempting to test whether they can reverse a linked list and leave it at that. But is someone in the job you’re hiring for ever going to need to reverse a linked list? For many roles (think front-end, database, DevOps, and more), the skills that the role requires might be miles away from the ones you’re currently screening for. This means you could be missing out on some amazing candidates.

In order to create a meaningful coding assessment, the obvious (but often overlooked) first step is to figure out what you should be testing candidates on! Align with the rest of the hiring team on what the role actually entails. What skills does a candidate need to have in order to be successful in this role? Be careful not to get bogged down in nice-to-haves – focus on the fundamental need-to-haves instead.

Once you’ve got a solid list of these skills, think about how to test for them. If you’re sending out a coding test, which is our recommended initial assessment step, then you should identify 2-4 coding tasks that directly correlate with the necessary skills. Your aim here is to establish a baseline level of skills that a candidate must exceed in order to move to the next step. So your assessment doesn’t have to test for every single skill that you listed earlier – just the core ones. You’re creating a threshold that will weed out the unqualified candidates while allowing the qualified ones through.

Assessment length

There’s a common idea in the tech world that long or involved assessments will automatically weed out applicants who aren’t serious about the role or your company. But the reality is that these people are busy! They’re probably working full time at a job, or are already working on multiple assessments for other companies. Or both! By creating assessments that take forever to complete, all you’re really doing is driving potentially great candidates to other companies that have less onerous screening processes. Keep it short and sweet. For the initial screening, create a test that will only take the applicant about 30-60 minutes to complete.

Ease of management

Think about how you’ll send, receive, and score these assessments. Ideally, you won’t have to spend a lot of time managing them. Some companies ask their candidates to email them code snippets or to upload them to GitHub, but this typically requires a lot of oversight and management. Then, of course, there’s the time that someone on the engineering team will spend looking the tests over!

For maximum ease of use, send out tests that get automatically scored when the candidate completes them. Ideally, the testing system would also show solution replays and flag instances of potential plagiarism. (Oh, wait, there’s an application that does all these things already – CodeSignal Recruiter Test!)

Next steps

Sending a coding test as the initial assessment is an amazing time-saver for both your company’s recruiting and engineering teams. Since you’ll have already weeded out people who don’t exceed the technical bar for the role, you won’t have to worry about passing unqualified candidates along to your engineering team. Different companies will handle the subsequent steps differently, but in general the next step should be to either get the candidate on a phone screen with an engineer or send them a take-home project. Both of these methods have pros and cons, with the cons chiefly being the time necessary to manage them.

The future of technical assessments

Luckily, we’re extremely close to a future in which any of these intermediate steps will be unnecessary. Once skill verification scores like the ones provided by CodeSignal become more familiar to recruiters and hiring teams, companies will feel comfortable sending candidates who pass their coding assessment straight to onsite interviews. Since they’ll know that the candidates have the skills they need, at the level they need, they won’t need to bother with any intermediate skill verification steps like technical phone screens or take-home projects. This will save everyone in the company time and will make candidate experience much faster and simpler.

CodeSignal Recruiter is a skills-based recruiting tool for modern hiring teams that helps companies source, test, and measure technical talent. Founded in 2014 and based in San Francisco, the CodeSignal mission is to make sure that you’re only talking to the best candidates at every part of the recruiting funnel.

CodeSignal Recruiter gives your hiring team the tools you need to create, send, and manage coding assessments quickly and easily. Interested in seeing what CodeSignal Recruiter can do for your company? Sign up here for a free demo!

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