Coding assessments: A definitive guide to hiring the right coder

Among the many challenges thrown up by hiring processes, coding assessments can be exceptionally tricky. A combination of factors—sound technical knowledge, process management, social skills and intuition, to name a few—comes into play when hiring talent for software development. However, several proven methods do exist to help you screen and recruit applicants for hiring the right coders.

Getting started

In the first phase of interviewing, some companies prefer to conduct a non-technical screening in the form of a basic phone chat. This is to help hiring managers understand whether the candidate is a good fit or not for the organisation, in terms of personality, work experience, compensation expected, joining time, etc.

Hiring managers can also query candidates briefly on their technical knowledge and get to know their thoughts on software architecture and teamwork. Candidates who make it through this filtering process should be called for live coding assessments.

Coding assessments: A definitive guide to hiring the right coder

Coding assessments serve a two-fold purpose:

  • They help to verify that the skills a candidate lists on the resume are genuine. In many professions, candidates’ networking strengths help them land jobs regardless of appropriate skill levels. Coding tests render such issues irrelevant. Also, a coder’s technical skills are not always proportionate to their education level, much like a self-taught musician whose innate talent could be superior to that of professionally schooled artistes. A well-designed coding skills test levels the playing field and gives visibility to genuine talent.
  • Once you have identified the right talent, you will want those candidates to come and work for you. This means that your assessment, rather than being an academic exercise, should reflect the nature of the work that they will be doing in reality, with examples of authentic problems and tools that they will use.

An online interview and coding assessment platform (a. k. a. developer assessment platform) is a pre-employment screening tool that offers several advantages to engineering hiring managers, including:

  • Clear insight into candidates’ technical skills and programming abilities
  • Data-based decisions after assessing coding skills
  • Reduced bias during recruiting

Such technology-based platforms are an efficient and time-saving tool for both large-scale campus hiring as well as lateral hiring for middle-level or senior hiring managers.

HirePro’s customised assessments can help you test candidates on personality, aptitude, technical and domain skills and behavioural competencies. Assess your candidates using our pool of standardised tests that are readily available, or customise the tests to suit your enterprise’s unique needs.

Assessing tech skills

Technical skill assessment is arguably the hiring challenge that gives most candidates the jitters. Even experienced coders feel stressed out displaying their skills while racing against time. The pressure on them is worse if the coding assessment is not properly aligned with the job requirements and the candidate’s work experience.

A badly designed coding test can fail to assess applicants correctly, filtering out those with genuine skills and accepting others who may have rote-learned some skills. With that in mind, let us look into the nitty-gritty of conducting an effective tech challenge.


Phase I

The first phase of screening can involve a collaborative coding session lasting from 30 minutes to one hour. The difficulty level should be designed to weed out candidates who have exaggerated their skills on their resumes. At the same time, you should be able to understand the candidate’s capabilities and thought process.

Thus, the challenge in the initial phase is, paradoxically, not to make the screening process too difficult. For instance, while conducting a coding assessment, a company may insist on candidates using a basic text editor or whiteboard instead of an IDE (Integrated Development Environment). This may not augur well. Software developers typically use an IDE while working at their jobs. Why stress them out by denying them the same tools during an interview? Allowing them to use IDEs, on the other hand, will enable them to stay relaxed and work faster. It will cut interview time and allow you to analyse how the coders use these tools during their regular jobs. Remember, a lengthy and overly tough test can demoralise candidates. They may not accept your job offer even if they do make the grade.

Phase II

Follow up the first coding assessment with another, more complex tech interview. The purpose is to replicate a typical workday that throws up several challenges. Candidates should be able to come up with creative solutions to tricky problems, collaborate with group leaders and display the entire range of their skill sets.

Best practices in assessing technical skills

We have discussed how technical interview processes are sometimes flawed in terms of design, the tools used, relevance or duration. Here are some common errors and tips on how to avoid them:

When coding assessments are improperly matched to job qualifications, the chances of hiring the wrong candidate increase. Worse, if hiring managers lack the required technical skills, they may not even know whether they are conducting an effective test. The way out is to develop coding assessments that are customised to your business and the skill sets you require to succeed. Work closely with your in-house coding team or RPO provider to create tests that capture real-life situations in your company. Use a platform that can be customised to develop a good process and recruit the candidates who perform best.

A candidate’s technical savviness is based on nuances that go beyond a particular programming language or technology. While these are undoubtedly important, they are not the most crucial elements of the assessment process, the reason being that highly competent software developers do not waste their time rote learning what can be accessed easily from, say, an API document. Therefore, the assessment should focus on the coder’s basic technical strengths, understanding of computer science and problem-solving capabilities. So, present the coders with a problem and ask them to resolve it in a programming language of their choice. If you are using online tests, do not focus too much on the site-generated scores. Rather, look at the specifics of the candidates’ solutions.

Assessing language skills

Verbal communication skills are easily assessed in an interview, either in-person or over a phone call. While verbal skills are relatively less important if the job requirement does not involve user contact, they still play an important role during a coder’s interactions with the team or while brainstorming ideas.

To evaluate writing skills, ask the candidates to provide writing samples, ideally before the interview, so that you can analyse their work and be prepared to critique them during the interview. Written samples on technical subjects give you an opportunity to evaluate both writing skills as well as the candidates’ level of understanding of the topic. Sometimes, technical candidates express a dislike or hesitation when asked to submit writing samples: this itself is a useful filter in your hiring process.

Assessing behavioural skills

As a means to analyse a candidate’s personality and temperament, interviews are inherently flawed; you will only get to know an individual while working with them. Nevertheless, it is critical to get some insight into candidates’ personality traits and behaviour patterns before hiring them. Here are some suggestions:

Before the interview, get a non-technical employee, say an administrative assistant, to chat briefly with a candidate. Later, ask the employee how the candidate responded when it became known that the employee was a non-technical staff member. Was the candidate respectful and cordial or condescending and impatient? The staff member’s feedback can give you an insight into the candidate’s attitude to others, regardless of their position.

Start the interview with a few minutes of informal, non-technical conversation. This will encourage the candidate to open up, allowing you to observe considerable details about the individual’s personality.

During the interview, offer constructive feedback whenever possible to the candidate. Observe whether the candidate appreciates your feedback or becomes defensive.

Here are some sample behavioural questions you can ask a programmer:

  • Tell us about the first time you were made the leader of a project. Describe the challenges you faced. What was your learning?
  • Describe a critical problem situation you faced at work where nothing went right. How did you manage it?
  • What do you think are your biggest strengths? Why should we hire you?

Assessing values and moral code

The hardest part of the hiring process is being able to establish a candidate’s moral code and ethical behaviour. Nevertheless, this is an important aspect of hiring, one that must be given due importance considering that a software developer can cause immense damage to a business if there is no clear sense of right and wrong.

Here is an example of an assessment based on a work scenario involving an ethical dilemma:

Ram urgently needs information stored on Hari’s computer, but the latter is on medical leave and temporarily inaccessible. Company policy states that employees cannot access other workers’ computers. However, Ram and Hari are good friends. In fact, Hari has shared his password with Ram on occasion. Ram decides to log in using Hari’s password. To his dismay, he discovers that Hari has been storing customer credit card data on his computer, a clear violation of company regulations.

  • If Ram informs his seniors about Hari, his own position could become shaky for logging into Hari’s computer in the latter’s absence.
  • If Ram does not inform his seniors, the customers whose card information Hari has retained could become victims of card fraud or theft.
  • To whom should Ram be loyal—his colleagues or the company and its customers?

As in real life, present problems to which there is no obvious answer. The candidate’s responses will give the interviewer a good insight into the individual’s thinking, priorities and values.


Post-interview feedback 

At the end of the assessment process, provide some brief feedback to candidates along with a job offer or regret letter. This is one way to stand out from other organisations. It also allows you to be seen in a positive light, even by candidates who did not make the grade, and keeps the door open for them—and their cohorts—to consider your company in the future.

Effective recruitment is an evolving process, one that needs constant re-evaluation and adjustment. Every organisation has its own culture and preferences. Inevitably, there will be successes and setbacks. Learn from past failures, tweak your systems and move forward.

HirePro’s combination of cutting-edge technology and passionately committed people helps customers recruit the best talent and build outperforming teams.

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