Using Coding Challenges When Hiring Developers

If your startup is hiring software developers, you’re probably using some form of a coding challenge to help filter the candidates who just sound good from the candidates with the skills to actually deliver.

Creating a coding challenge that’s not too time-consuming, or too difficult, can be a challenge in itself and it’s a fine line between creating a challenge that really tests a candidate without it taking so long so they lose interest.

In this post, we’re going to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of a coding challenge so you can decide the role they’ll play when hiring software developers for your startup.

Advantages of a coding challenge

Commitment

If a candidate is willing to commit to completing a coding challenge, it’s fair to assume they’re pretty interested in the role. Some coding tests can take anything from 1 to 4 hours (sometimes longer) so when a great candidate is willing to allocate time to complete your challenge it really shows their interest in the role and your startup.

Assess ability over experience

Reviewing a CV alone can rule out some candidates with excellent skills simply because they may not meet the minimum years’ experience required for the role. If they don’t have “X” years professional experience it can put some companies off immediately. This is where a coding challenge can be useful as it allows the hiring manager to get a real understanding of the candidate’s ability, comparing their solution to other candidates – perhaps with more or less experience.

Saves making costly mistakes

Coding challenges can help you hire the best person for the job. If the coding challenge truly reflects the environment of your startup, the coding test will give you an insight into if the candidate can truly do what you are expecting them to do.

It’s important to ensure the coding challenge doesn’t become your main measure on whether to hire the candidate. You’re not looking for perfection but rather a methodical approach to the problem and a well-executed solution, highlighting areas where the candidate will need to improve when in the role.

Highlights areas for improvement

As above, a coding challenge also provides a useful foundation to assess key areas for improvement should you decide to hire the candidate. It’s very rare to receive a perfect solution to a coding challenge so understanding a candidate’s weaknesses will enable you to get them up to speed as quickly as possible.

Disadvantages of a coding challenge

Losing out on good candidates

Having a coding challenge as part of the interview process can sometimes prevent quality candidates from applying. Often a candidate will need to work on your challenge in addition to their daily work, personal projects and daily life in general and few people will be immediately available to set aside the time needed to complete your test.

Standard challenges skew results

Coding challenges can often feel like a laborious part of the interview process, both for junior and senior candidates, particularly when they’re presented with a standard coding challenge which isn’t adjusted for their level of experience. Less experienced candidates will often find this intimidating while more experienced candidates see it as a waste of time as the challenge won’t show the extent of their abilities.

Creating coding challenges specifically for the level of candidate you’re looking to hire will take more time upfront but will likely lead to a better result during the interview process, keeping potential candidates interested and challenged.  

Longer hiring process

Software Developers are in high demand and there’s a good chance the candidates you’re interviewing are also interviewing with other companies too. This will mean your coding challenge may be somewhere in the candidate’s queue of challenges to complete which can often mean they’ll be offered by another company before they’ve even started it.

A solution we’ve seen work well is to review other coding challenges they’ve completed or review personal projects they’ve worked on instead of setting your own challenge as this will usually give you a good indicator of their ability.

Whether you use a coding challenge or not, it’s important to keep the interview process as short as possible, the longer your process the more likely a candidate is already accepting an offer from your competitor.

Outstanding results but are they are a good fit?

Coding challenges can be extremely valuable and if someone scores well on the technical challenge it’s easy to assume they’re going to be a great fit for the role but that’s not always the case.

There’s so much more to hiring a software developer than their ability to perform on a coding challenge. They have to be a great culture fit and align with your company’s values which you’ll only discover by putting their coding ability aside and exploring who they are as a person.

A coding challenge can be a useful tool in your hiring toolkit and, when used correctly, it can really help you quickly hire the best candidate.

Don’t forget, timing is critical when using a coding challenge – too early and the candidate may not have enough buy-in to spend the time completing it, too late and you can be swayed by a candidate who’s a great culture fit but doesn’t have the level of skill required.

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At Hired By Startups, we help startups, scale-ups and VC backed companies hire really talented people and build teams that are more engaged and productive. Our dedicated onsite hiring service enables startups to see the benefits of having their own internal recruiter, with the flexibility of using an agency.

We’ve helped some of the UK’s best known and fastest growing startups scale their teams whilst saving 50% on their cost and time per hire. If you’re a startup looking to scale rapidly, get in touch to find out how we could help! For more info, check out us out here.

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About the author 

Tom Ladds

Hi, I’m Tom – Founder & CEO at Hired By Startups. You can connect with me on LinkedIn here.

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