Written by:
Iain Blair

Is it time to reconsider technical tests?

After speaking to a tech candidate recently, it got me thinking about technical tests. He was telling me that he had to take his ‘Seeking new opportunities’ headline off LinkedIn after being bombarded with job offers. Employers were willing to almost double his current salary with little more than a quick chat. This guy has just 18 months’ experience!

So, yeah, tech candidates aren’t exactly short of opportunities right now. Requesting that they sit a technical test before selling your company to them is like asking your kids to do some chores around the house without the promise of pocket money. It ain’t gonna happen.

That is, unless you’re Google, of course. Candidates will jump through all kinds of hoops to work for a big name like that. For the rest of the market, you need to think about the best way to assess candidates’ skills levels which isn’t going to be counterintuitive to your hiring process.

Are technical tests still a good hiring tool?

In short, yes, they are. In a straw poll in the Revoco office, our team reckoned about 90% of the tech roles we recruit for now come with some kind of technical test.

But, as our Practice Lead in Engineering & Data, Iain Brook explained to me, it’s very much horses for courses.

“Ask yourself if you really need to set tech tests in the first place,” is his advice to clients. “In my experience, interviews with technical questions, rather than traditional tech tests, can still result in great hires.”

“Bear in mind the longer the tech test, the less likely decent candidates are to complete it – especially if they have five or six different interviews running at the same time, with each one lasting, say, half a day.”

When it comes to hiring software engineers, Iain is regarded among the best of the best. So, he’s worth listening to!

To test or not to test?

That is clearly the question here. Tests are often the proof that employers want to see that prospective employees are up to the task. But don’t expect to be inundated with applications if you don’t get it just right.

With that, here are our top tips on designing a technical test:

1. Speak to candidates first
You shouldn’t expect candidates to invest time in completing a tech test without having had a short meeting first. It’s not only a polite thing to do, it’s a chance to sell your company culture.

The whole world and it’s wife is on Zoom now, so set up a short informal chat where you can explain to candidates just how great your company is and why they should come and work for you. There’s no better sales tool than hearing from the CTO first hand.

Having suitably whetted their appetite, candidates will be keen to show you what they’re made of in a technical test.

2. Tailor your test
If you can, make the test not only relevant to candidates’ skills but also your niche. Perhaps you could get them to solve a live, real-world problem? At Revoco, we’re big fans of a code pairing interview, in which a couple of coders write the code, and the assessors (interviewer) guides them through the process to gauge their skills.

Remember, however, if you’re going to get candidates to solve a genuine, live issue, at least tell them that’s what they’re doing. You might even want to consider paying them, if they manage to crack the code! But that’s your call…

3. Make tests fun
Tech candidates, by and large, love their job. So, don’t make them question their career choice with a test that only serves to test their patience.

It’s not a sin to make tests fun, you know… Design something that people will enjoy doing. Candidates who enjoy tech tests will always see your company in a positive light – even if their application is unsuccessful. They might recommend your company to friends or consider reapplying for a different role in the future.

4. Don’t take the mick
Give a clear indication of how long a candidate should (or maybe shouldn’t) spend completing a technical exercise.

Open-ended tests could mean candidates spend a week on a test only to find their application isn’t taken forwards, which can be hugely demoralising.

So, don’t take the proverbial and keep tests short and sweet, where possible – but still giving you the insight you need into candidates’ capabilities.

5. Provide feedback
Feedback on tests is also really important. We regularly see candidates who complete a four or five-hour test and then don’t get through to the next stage, with little more than a ‘thanks but no thanks’.

The feedback doesn’t have to be lengthy or detailed by any means – constructive and helpful will do!

The debate on technical tests and their usefulness is one that will be rumbling on for a little while yet. We’ll be taking a deeper dive into the subject in our September Workplace 2.0 webinar.

Don’t forget to sign up – we’d love to hear your thoughts.


You might also Like

Demand for tech talent set to explode

Read More