Hiring developers? Your interview process is probably doing more harm than good

Recruiters are desperate to hire developers, but old-school interview techniques often fail to capture the best of candidates' abilities - and can put them off the role entirely.
Written by Owen Hughes, Senior Editor
Image: martin-dm/GETTY

Companies may be hampering their own efforts to hire tech talent by using outdated and redundant interview methods.

According to a survey of more than 10,000 developers and 4,000 tech recruiters, more than half of recruiters still use whiteboard coding tests in the developer hiring process.

These contentious 'pen-and-paper' interviews can be an inefficient hiring tool because they often eliminate highly qualified candidates who aren't used to performing in front of people.

The survey, conducted by developer recruitment platforms CodinGame and CoderPad, found that such tests caused needless anxiety amongst candidates, and often tasked programmers with solving tasks that aren't related to the daily requirements of the role.

SEE: It's time to ditch the CV: Why tech recruiters are changing how they hire

Developers were also asked which assessment methods allowed them to best showcase their technical skills. More than three-quarters (77%) preferred technical tests and live coding interviews.

A 2021 survey of 1,108 software engineers by Terminal found that 'broken' interview processes are a key factor in candidates turning down jobs.

Rethinking the interview process with real-life technical assessments could be key to helping employers attract skilled tech professionals as the industry shortage of developers worsens.

Aude Barral, co-founder of developer recruitment platform CodinGame, said technical assessment that simulated the job could provide hiring managers with a better understanding of how the candidate will operate in real-life situations.

Giving candidates insight into the types of problems they will work on can also get them excited about the job, said Barral. To do this, employers should "place the candidate in a test environment that is close to the one they might encounter once on the job."

Barral added: "The closer your technical assessment is to simulating the job, the better you'll be able to understand how the candidate will perform on your team.

"It's highly recommended to tailor your interview duration and test questions to different roles and particularly different skill levels."

Soft skills are a challenge

Ensuring interviews can effectively and efficiently identify the best candidates while removing bias is particularly important for employers who interview and recruit remotely.

The pandemic has accelerated the remote-working revolution and many developers are attracted by the idea of working remotely full-time.

This trend has also seen a growth in remote hiring. And while developers are attracted by the idea of working remotely full-time and are happy to undertake live coding tests remotely, this situation can present challenges for evaluating soft skills.

SEE: Tech jobs: Recruitment is broken and it's adding to developer burnout

Attributes such as adaptability, empathy and open-mindedness are valued by recruiters, who must not only determine a candidate's technical proficiency, but whether or not they are the right fit for the wider team.

When CoderPad and CodinGame asked developers and recruiters about soft skills, 34% of developers said they found it difficult to demonstrate their personalities and soft skills remotely.

More than a third (37%) of recruiters agreed that the most challenging aspect of hiring remotely is evaluating candidates' emotional intelligence and potential culture fit.

Amanda Richardson, CEO of coding interview platform CoderPad, noted that maintaining focus throughout lengthy video calls required a lot of mental effort, and that candidates typically began to feel fatigued about 30 minutes into the call. "This is not an ideal environment to assess candidates' quality of communication, openness, and level of interaction," Richardson added.

Making soft skill evaluations more human and informal ­– such as a walking meeting or a remote talk over a lunch – can make candidates feel more comfortable, Richardson said.

"You could also split the hiring process into shorter parts and throw in other interview formats, such as pre-recorded interviews, where candidates can record a video in which they present themselves as they wish, in an environment that best suits them."

Editorial standards