Could Technical Screenings Suck Less for Job Applicants?

Putting job candidates through a battery of technical screenings and assessments has become very costly and time-consuming for employers and job hunters alike. In fact, in order to attract highly skilled technology employees, many employers have started distancing themselves from the “dreaded whiteboard coding test,” and some are even paying applicants to complete lengthy take-home projects.

We’re on the cusp of an “assessment renaissance” of sorts, with new platforms and processes on the horizon. Here’s a look at these rising trends in technical screenings and how they might affect you on your search for a new job.

Increasing Adoption of Technical Screening Platforms

It looks increasingly likely that technology job hunters will have to pass some sort of online technical screening, usually of baseline technical or coding skills, in order to advance to the next stage of a given hiring process.

Adoption of technical screenings is also increasing because employers now have a plethora of platforms to choose from.

For job seekers, the trend means no more waiting in limbo for test results, because the online format supports immediate feedback with auto-scoring. While employers often have the option of creating customized coding challenges or problems to assess applicants, most platforms use standardized tests for basic proficiencies, which means you may be able to raise your score by taking practice tests.

Asking engineers who don’t regularly interview candidates to screen applicants can lead to different assessment methods and conclusions about the results. By contrast, online tests are more consistent and unbiased, as well as less time-consuming; a typical test should take about 10 to 20 minutes to complete, noted Geoff Roberts, head of Growth at Qualified.io.

The bad news is that the growing adoption of online technical screenings may add one more step in the hiring process, especially for senior developers.

Many employers administer an advanced online coding test or assign a small project or task to assess the skills of experienced developers and engineers. While having to pass a second test may seem like just another hoop to jump through, there’s a bit of good news here, too: tests are becoming more realistic.

Realistic Tests

Yes, employers are (finally!) coming around to the notion that technical screenings and coding challenges should reflect the most common problems programmers face. Those tests must mimic (in a consistent and unbiased fashion) the way that developers actually work.

To that end, more companies are ditching brainteasers and whiteboard tests in favor of “open book” coding tests and pair programming exercises, Roberts noted. A realistic test adds credibility to the hiring process and gives candidates a chance to build rapport with the engineering team or evaluators.

“If the assessment isn’t tied to real-world contexts or you aren’t allowed to pull information from the internet, I would think twice about joining the company,” Roberts cautioned.

More Respect for Your Time

In theory, asking tech candidates to complete a short take-home project provides a realistic preview of how they are likely to perform on the job. But lately, candidates have been refusing to devote long hours or an entire weekend to completing projects for free. Moreover, courts have ruled that employers must pay someone for their time if they perform actual work, whether or not that’s in the context of technical screenings.

Companies are starting to figure out that they must pay attention to these issues if they want to be “employers of choice” and attract top applicants. Plus, they are concerned about the risks associated with conducting what could be construed as “working” interviews. With all that in mind, what is a reasonable amount of time to spend on a take-home project?

While the answer to that question is still up for debate, the trend is toward shorter tests, with some companies paying applicants for time spent in technical screenings. “I think an in-depth technical assessment or project shouldn’t take more than two hours to complete,” Roberts said. “That is an adequate amount of time to determine whether the candidate has the expertise to do the job.”