Optional Technical Exercise

Learn about conducting an optional technical assessment to help you judge your candidates.

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After the first interview, there’s the option of giving them a technical exercise to take and do at home and then submit it when they’re done. These take-home tests have been controversial, but they can often be useful. They’re optional because sometimes it’s already evident that the person can program well. They may have a solid resume full of senior positions at known and respected companies, or they may have a GitHub full of work that they’re actively contributing to. In this case, a take-home test probably won’t teach you any more about their ability to program. In fact, it might even make them want to work for you less!

However, for many people, it’s hard to know how good their programming skills are. A take-home test is an opportunity for them to do some work in an environment that they are comfortable with, without all of the pressure of interviewers looking over their shoulders. This is especially useful for nervous candidates and for recent graduates. This scenario gives them the best chance to excel.

Requirements for a take-home test

However, you need to ensure that your take-home test meets the following requirements:

  • The scope is extremely clear. One way of doing this is to provide a repository for a project that already performs some functionality and asks them to extend it or fill in methods and classes that have intentionally been left blank. Don’t leave them to set everything up themselves.

  • The time that it takes to do the exercise is short, say, a couple of hours. Anything longer than that, and you’re doing two bad things: you’re not respecting their free time (people have families), and you’re making them work for free (that’s not cool).

  • As much as you can, make the task mirror something that they’ll be doing during the job. If you’re a company that uses social media data, why not set a project up that lets them work on a data set of tweets? If you’re an aeronautical engineering company, why not have them fix some bugs in a toy version of the software that controls airplanes?

Your take-home test, like the interview, should make them feel like you’ve designed it with them and their experience in mind. Put the work in because it’s worth it for your reputation as an excellent interviewer and manager.

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