Coding Test Strategies for Effective and Efficient Hiring

Coding Test Strategies for Effective and Efficient Hiring

Sugandha SrivastavaDecember 26th, 20237 min read

Bring up the term "coding test" in a conversation with an engineer, and the reaction might not be overly positive. For job seekers, coding tests during interviews can appear arbitrary, unjust, and a drain on their time. Simultaneously, from the perspective of companies, coding tests may also seem arbitrary, unfair, and time-consuming, albeit for different reasons.

If you harbor doubts about the efficacy of coding tests, your skepticism is understandable. Numerous pitfalls can make them less than ideal. Nevertheless, examining coding test instances from leading tech companies reveals that, when executed correctly, these tests have the potential to mitigate bias, enhance diversity, and create a more favorable impression on candidates compared to standard phone screenings. Additionally, incorporating a technical screening or pre-screen skills assessment proves to be one of the most effective strategies for efficiently managing tech hiring in a fiercely competitive job market.

In this blog post, we'll guide you through the process of crafting a coding test that delivers positive results. However, before delving into that, let's explore why coding tests often fall short for both candidates and companies.

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How Coding Tests Go Wrong for Candidates?

When applying for positions at the majority of today's leading and highly competitive tech companies, the initial phase typically involves undertaking a coding test. However, a quick browse through platforms such as Reddit, LeetCode, and Glassdoor reveals engineers advising their peers to decline coding tests from specific companies or certain online platforms. This underscores how easily coding tests can create a negative perception of a company among candidates.

When these assessments go awry, it's often due to one or more of the following reasons:

Challenging Platform Usability: A glitchy online coding test platform or an uncomfortable integrated development environment (IDE) can divert engineers' attention from the questions to figuring out how to navigate the test. This results in candidates feeling they didn't have a fair opportunity during the assessment.

Poorly Crafted Questions: Writing interview questions is an art, involving considerations such as question ordering, phrasing, and content. When professionals aren't involved in developing these questions, clarity may suffer, and the use of culturally specific language and examples can be alienating, particularly for individuals from diverse backgrounds or varying English language proficiency.

Unrealistic Questions: Coding tests often feature generic algorithmic questions for ease of grading and question variation. However, these questions may be more aligned with academic theory than practical software engineering, causing frustration for experienced candidates who feel compelled to spend excessive time studying concepts unrelated to their actual job responsibilities.

Excessive Test Length: Some coding tests are needlessly protracted, contributing to an already lengthy and stressful interview process. Expecting candidates with job and family commitments to pass an extensive exam merely to initiate a conversation with the company can be overly demanding.

Lack of Actionable Feedback: Coding test results are often communicated through a generic form email that provides no insights into how candidates could improve. The absence of a dialogue about the test further contributes to an impersonal interview experience.

In the upcoming sections of this blog post, we'll explore how to address these challenges and design coding tests that yield positive outcomes for both candidates and companies.

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How Coding Tests Go Wrong For Companies?

Coding tests pose challenges not only for candidates but also for engineering organizations, particularly when implemented without careful consideration. Here are some prevalent concerns:

Question Leakage: Coding questions frequently get leaked on platforms like LeetCode and Blind. It becomes challenging, if not impossible, to determine whether a candidate has already encountered the question elsewhere. This compromises the integrity of the testing process.

Time-Consuming Maintenance: Maintaining a continuous supply of questions and their variations, along with replacing questions once they're inevitably leaked, demands significant effort from engineers. This maintenance work is resource-intensive and detracts from valuable time that could be devoted to product development.

Potential for Unqualified Candidates to Pass: An effective coding test should assess the fundamental skills required for a job, allowing subsequent interview stages to delve deeper into these skills and assess the candidate's compatibility with the team. However, coding tests often act as a noisy filter because the questions are not tailored to the specific skills essential for the role. This results in the engineering team investing time in on-site interviews with candidates who may lack the necessary qualifications.

Lack of Validation: Depending on the online coding test platform used, there might be no mechanism to verify that the test-taker's identity corresponds to the candidate or to ensure that they haven't plagiarized their answers. This absence of validation raises concerns about the authenticity of test results.

In the following sections of this blog post, we'll explore strategies to address these organizational challenges associated with coding tests, offering insights into how to implement them thoughtfully for better outcomes.

Doing Skills Evaluation the Right Way

To ensure that teams confidently derive the benefits of coding tests and prevent candidates from declining test participation with your organization, consider implementing the following two strategies:

Skills Evaluation Frameworks

The effectiveness of an assessment hinges on the quality of its questions. Poorly written or irrelevant questions negatively impact the candidate, while questions that are challenging to develop, prone to leakage, or fail to measure the pertinent skills can detrimentally affect the company.

In addressing these challenges, leading engineering organizations are increasingly adopting skills evaluation frameworks. These frameworks serve as the "blueprints" for a coding assessment, outlining the specific types of questions necessary to gauge a candidate's suitability for a given role. Typically crafted and maintained by technical interview and assessment vendors employing industrial-organizational psychologists and assessment design engineers, these frameworks are developed by a team of experts tasked with designing, testing, and validating job-specific frameworks. Moreover, they create a diverse array of question variations to mitigate the risk of plagiarism.

Job-relevant pre-screens

A frequent grievance among candidates is the perception that coding tests often pose questions unrelated to the specific job they are applying for. CodeSignal Pre-Screen addresses this issue by employing validated, role-relevant assessments designed to evaluate the skills directly pertinent to each position. This approach not only assists hiring teams in making informed and expedited hiring decisions but also contributes to a positive candidate experience. By allowing candidates to showcase their job-relevant skills in a realistic coding environment, CodeSignal Pre-Screen ensures that assessments align closely with the requirements of the role, enhancing the overall hiring process.

Know The Skills You’re Hiring For

Recruiters frequently encounter confusion when it comes to hiring for distinct positions such as coding, programming, engineering, architecting, and developing. Each of these roles varies significantly, and accordingly, the hiring process should reflect these distinctions. It's essential to recognize the specific skills required for the role you are seeking to fill.

For instance, posing coding questions related to Java or Python might be irrelevant when hiring for an architectural position. Thus, it becomes imperative to tailor the hiring process to the unique skill set demanded by each role. Identifying and understanding the specific skills associated with the position in question is crucial for an effective and targeted recruitment strategy.a

Final Thoughts

Coding tests can indeed be effective when they are accurate, fair, and provide a comfortable development environment. For candidates, this translates to an opportunity to showcase their programming skills in a natural manner, free from the pressure of verbalizing their thought process to an interviewer on the other side of the screen. Depending on the online coding test platform used, candidates may even be able to take a test once and reuse their results when applying to various companies.

Crucially, this approach alleviates the need for a perfect resume. Candidates can secure an onsite interview based on their demonstrated programming ability, offering a significant advantage. This is particularly beneficial for recruiters and hiring teams aiming to diversify their talent pool, considering individuals with unconventional software engineering backgrounds or those who are self-taught but fully equipped to perform the job from day one. The implementation of structured assessments at the initial stages of the hiring process also results in a substantial reduction in the hours spent by teams on the recruitment of engineers.

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