Hiring technical staff can be a minefield. This is especially true if you’re hiring for highly specialist positions such as developers and software engineers.

You can’t rely entirely on academic qualifications, industry certifications, portfolio items, GitHub account activity, or references from previous employers.

All these things are great to know, but they don’t tell you whether a candidate will be a good fit to meet your specific needs.

There’s only one way to get a solid idea of how well they’ll fit into your operations – carrying out some form of technical assessment to test a developer’s coding skills before hiring them.

Types of technical assessments

In general, there are three main types of technical assessments that you can use to determine a developer’s coding skills:

  • Coding Tests

  • Live technical interviews

  • Take-home coding assessment

Let’s take a look at each type of technical assessment in turn and weigh up the pros and cons of each.

1. Coding Tests

We’ll begin with the most common way of testing a developer’s coding skills – a coding test.

A coding test is a timed assessment that invites candidates to code a solution to a problem within the boundaries of a timed test.

These days, coding tests are mainly carried out remotely via a link that is emailed to the developer in advance of the formal interview. The coding test acts as a filter to find the most skilled and suitable developers early in the recruitment process and eliminate those that are not sufficiently skilled.

Most coding tests are generic and aimed at a basic or intermediate level, rather than testing advanced coding skills. In other words, if you are recruiting for higher level or senior developers, then a coding test may not be appropriate.

One of the plus points is that you can use a specialist code test website to provide the coding test, to save you the time and effort of creating your own technical assessment. The most popular coding test sites are Codility, HackerRank, CoderPad, and Coderbyte.

Advantages of coding tests:

  • Effective way to test fundamental skills

  • Filter out unsuitable candidates early on

  • Save you time and effort

Disadvantages of coding tests:

  • Not ideal for testing highly-specialist or senior developer’s skills

  • Less reliable than some other methods, as it is performed remotely

  • Some skilled candidates may struggle with the time pressure and test conditions

2. Live technical interviews

A live technical interview involves testing a developer’s skills face-to-face (either in-person or by video chat). A coding task is assigned and you ask questions to understand their approach and decisions while they complete the task.

As the hiring or recruitment manager, you should prepare a set of interview questions to ask during the live technical interview, which typically lasts for around one hour or less.

Prior to the live technical interview, you should create a list of competencies and skills that you want to assess, then build a coding task and rubric to suit. You should also plan the interview questions you want to ask carefully as they give you the chance to really probe their knowledge and assess their skillset.

Advantages of live technical interviews:

  • You get an in-depth insight into a candidate’s skillset

  • Assess specialist skills more effectively

Disadvantages of live technical interviews:

  • May be stressful for more introverted developers

  • Takes up more of your time to prepare the interview rubric and questions

3. Take-home coding assessment

Also known as a take-home technical assessment, this method involves assigning a test task or mini-project for web developers to complete in their own time, as long as it is submitted by a specified deadline.

The good thing about a take-home coding test is that it enables you to explore their specialist skills more in more detail. You can set tasks that require advanced skills in programming algorithms or handling large datasets, for instance.

However, take-home technical assessments are time-consuming for candidates and mean that you won’t get the results as quickly as the other methods.

Advantages of a take-home coding assessment:

  • Less stressful for developers

  • Allows you to assess a wider range of skills and specialist knowledge

Disadvantages of a take-home coding assessment:

  • Takes more time to get the results

  • Some applicants see them as off-putting as they are time-intensive

  • Less reliable as developers can discuss with peers and get external support

Combine take home coding tests with a live interview for the best results

As a technical recruitment agency, we recommend using a combination of the take home coding assessment & live technical interview.

The take home coding assessment should have a maximum time limit of two hours & bare some relevance to your technical environment. (If the role requires good experience with Restful Webservices, a relevant technical test would be to build and architect a Restful API etc).

The final part of the testing process would be the Live Technical Interview, this should then be for the applicant to talk through their solution & thought process when completing their technical test.

That’s what we do here at YNH and it helps us to find the best people for the job.

We are leading technical recruitment consultants, so if you need help to find technical staff such as web developers, software engineers or build a strong web development team, get in touch today.