How Recruiters Secretly Evaluate Tech Pros


If you expect an employer to only use phone screens and interviews to evaluate your qualifications, you may be in for a surprise.

Recruiters are increasingly using outside-the-box strategies, tools and stealth techniques to vet potential employees, even those who haven’t applied for a position. The idea is to predict how a tech pro will perform once they join the team and are no longer on their “best behavior.”

Don’t let your guard down. Here are six examples of innovative screening techniques that employers may use to evaluate your technical skills, temperament and cultural fit.

It’s Not All Fun and Games

Coding challenges and hackathons aren’t just for attracting passionate tech pros. Employers may assess your potential by combining simulations and game play with behavioral science and data analytics to evaluate your personality, behaviors and technical skills. In other words, they evaluate not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.

Undercover Evaluators

When is a lobby receptionist not a lobby receptionist? When he or she is actually a behavioral psychologist who evaluates candidates waiting for interviews, said Doug Beabout, owner and president of The Douglas Howard Group, a personnel and training-services company.

“At one major company, the receptionist evaluates a candidate’s actions, body language and which magazines they read while they wait,” Beabout explained. “She submits a report to the hiring manager before the candidate finishes their interview.”

He offered this advice: “If you’re waiting for an interview, don’t pick up the magazines.”

Covert Selection

To save sourcing and screening time, recruiters are using Big Data tools and analytics to determine whether a potential candidate is qualified for a position. For instance, social aggregators scrape information from the web and create a consolidated profile outlining a tech pro’s technical expertise, projects, interests, work history, hobbies, and so on. Some of these tools use an algorithm to score and rank your abilities behind the scenes.

For instance, employers may use a platform such as HackerRank to evaluate your code samples, according to Shally Steckerl, president of The Sourcing Institute. Alternatively, recruiters may judge your ability to garner interest and interact with colleagues by reviewing your open-source projects, including your participation on forums.

“When others join in [on a project], it’s viewed as a show of confidence from your colleagues,” Steckerl noted.

Off-List References

Recruiters like to evaluate potential candidates before they decide to make contact. They may consult your contacts on professional networking sites, including former bosses and clients, to assess your fit and verify the information in your online profile.

Continuity Checks

Does your cover letter express your profound interest in working for a Fortune 500 manufacturing firm? Then why are you following tech startups on Twitter? And why do you have a profile posted on AngelList? Recruiters may search for your presence on job boards, as well as your social-media patterns, to determine whether your information aligns with the information you’ve given them.

Surprise Encounters

Some hiring managers use social settings and surprise encounters to catch candidates off-guard. For example, a hiring manager may call you after hours or begin phone screens late to weed out candidates who are inflexible or easily annoyed. Or someone may burst into the room in the middle of your coding test or panel interview to see how you react.

“A hiring manager in North Carolina takes out-of-town prospects to lunch at a backwoods BBQ joint, just to read the prospect’s comfort level with the local culture,” Beabout said.

5 Responses to “How Recruiters Secretly Evaluate Tech Pros”

  1. The Truth

    All of this aggregate and farmed information is jist pure laziness. There are already reports that technology is making us lazy and socially inept, bit apparently it has affected the HR industry as well.

    What kind of narcissistic HR department would release budgetary funds to hire a behavioral psychologist to sit as a receptionist? In lieu of what… basic decency and common sense? We have to hire people who don’t work on-site to tell us who will mesh well with us?

    This is the same reason the music scene is less than stellar these days: A&R reps used to beat the town’s path, going to unsigned bands’ live performances, speaking with musicians in order to make a connection and determine which artist has what it takes. Now, they just sit at their desks and wait for their nieces and nephews to make a Facebook post about the next big thing. Sad.

    How about not hiring anyone, impeding upon employees’ personal social space and just putting forward the effort to meet with these people and making a decision of on your own devices? Businesses in the 80s and 90s would laugh us out of the conference room for using such ineffective strategies. C’mon, America. Let’s do better.

  2. This is utter nonsense.

    1) Interviewees are told to be a few minutes early to an interview. So lets say traffic is light, or mass transit is unusually cooperative, what are we supposed to do? Stare off into space? play with our phones, ogle at attractive members of our preferred gender?

    2) So applying for a job in a Fortune 500 firm precludes interest in startups?1?1 maybe I am just a well rounded professional who wants to pick up new ideas. I have always been told that my employer wants me to think outside the box. How do they get employees who do that if those employees are screened out for not having the proper ‘herd mentality’?

    3) Calling me outside of business hours is highly unprofessional. If the job requires being available off hours, this should have been mentioned in the job posting, and those not willing to do so need not apply. This should also be part of the total package, including compensation and work from home options. After all, if you can deal with such important matters from home, the day to day stuff should be a breeze. I wonder what the HR person would say if the applicant called him/her back at an equally inconvenient hour to discuss the benefits package.

    If I got disqualified from consideration for the reasons listed in the article, I probably don’t want to work there anyway.

  3. Steve Ponders

    As if the usual interview process wasn’t invasive enough. Seems like a bassackwards process that would consume a lot of effort prior to first contact. Does anyone actually do this?

    Which also doesn’t square with the otherwise minimal effort corps typically put into initial screening, especially those godawful applicant tracking systems.

    Big data analysis hasn’t been proven to be any more reliable than graphoanalysis, astrology, or similar pseudo-science. How is that ATS working for you? Not to mention the potential for actionable discrimination by screening out any diversity.

    Pestering your contacts without your knowledge also strikes me as unprofessional and discourteous.

  4. Rosemary

    Isn’t it interesting how some companies can go through all these shenanigans, yet fail to actually communicate to applicants that they are not in the running, and why. #HireRosemary

    My last interview was in February. (:( Still on the hunt.) But at any interview, I aim to be ~10 minutes early, and I bring my own reading material to amuse myself.

    I don’t do hackathons, because I wish not only to be paid for the work I do, but I want to know where the results are going to end up. Sharing in the name of education is one thing. Volunteering your knowledge and IP to line someone else’s pocket with gold is exploitative.

    As for social settings to discuss business — I think I would be flattered if a potential employer reached out to me in an unexpected situation. It shows some interest in *me* not just a warm body to fill a chair. But be professional about it, and remember my name the next morning when I call you back. I don’t do career fairs because I have had several unpleasant experiences at them — including false job ads presented by models, not your future coworkers.

    So, dear recruiters — I’m waiting to hear from you.