6 Guidelines for Using Technical Assignments When Interviewing Software Engineers

As recruiters and HR Professionals, we understand the purpose of incorporating technical assignments into our hiring process.  It’s imperative that we identify candidates that have the right skill set to do the job we need them to do.  However, there’s a lot more to consider when developing and applying a technical assignment to a job posting for a Software Engineer or a Software Developer.  

Apply the following guidelines to ensure you’re creating a technical assignment that will not only identify whether or not your candidate has the necessary skill set, but will also ensure your candidates have a clear understanding of what exactly you’re asking them to accomplish.

1. Be Specific

This sounds easy enough, but it’s oftentimes overlooked.  Technical assignments shouldn’t be vague or leave a lot of room for interpretations.  If you want an application to be created in a specific library, state that explicitly.  If you want the candidate to use their best judgement to determine how to create a feature, state that explicitly.  

Remember that your technical assignment doesn’t just show you how well the candidate can complete the technical task; it also gives you a chance to see how well they follow directions.  

2. Relate the Assignment to the Job Description

The absolute worst thing you can do is send a candidate a technical assignment that does not require them to utilize the skills and abilities that you’ve listed in your job description.  Before implementing a technical assignment, it is critical that you review the assignment against the job description to be sure that the candidate can see a clear correlation between the two.  

You want to make your technical assignment as realistic as possible.  This means it should be similar to the type of work or tasks that the candidate would be doing in the actual position.  Candidates will not only become confused if the assignment does not relate to the actual job, but they will likely withdraw from the hiring process.  

3. Make the Outcomes Measurable

Before you begin sending off your assignment to your list of potential hires, be sure you know exactly how you’ll measure the results.  Keep in mind that you’ll likely be comparing the assignment with multiple other candidates, so you need to have a predetermined list of what specific outcomes you’re looking for.  It isn’t a bad idea to share these outcomes with the candidates either, depending on the extensiveness of the assignment.  

4. Set Realistic Expectations and Limitations

You should thoroughly understand the technical assignment parameters before distributing it to potential candidates.  Be prepared for questions that the candidate may have and communicate your expectations to them for assignment completion.  

For example,

  • In what format should the candidate complete the assignment?  
  • How would you like the assignment to completed and submitted… via email or dropbox?  
  • How long does the candidate have to complete the assignment?  
  • How many hours do you expect the candidate to spend on the assignment?  
  • How should the application or feature function?  
  • Is there a specific platform on which the application or feature should be able to function?  

Be prepared for questions that the candidate may have about the assignment.  You want to ensure they have a complete and thorough understanding of your expectations so they can perform at their absolute best!

5. Give Feedback

Naturally, candidates will want to know what the next step is in the interview process upon completing the technical assignment.  Keep in mind that if a candidate devotes a great deal of time to complete an assignment, they will expect some feedback if they are not chosen for hire.  While this feedback can be brief and direct, it should ALWAYS be provided to a non-selected candidate.  

As a professional company, you should express your appreciation for the time it took to complete the assignment and provide any relevant feedback regarding areas in which the candidate could have performed stronger.  I cannot stress how important this part of the process is!  

Never send an automatically generated “thanks, but no thanks” email to a candidate that has taken the time to progress in the interview process and complete a technical assignment.  Acknowledge their work and dedication to your hiring process with tailored and specific feedback.

6. Use Testing, if Necessary

In some cases, you may find that creating and implementing a technical assignment is a daunting task that your organization just isn’t prepared for or ready to take on.  In this case, it may be more appropriate to implement testing through one of the many websites dedicated to providing such a service.

These tests are generally very straightforward and easy to score and compare.  However, they do typically require less time and dedication from the candidate and don’t allow any kind of personalized approach.  For this reason, I suggest taking the time to implement a technical assignment whenever possible.  

Remember, candidates will likely disengage from the hiring process if they feel that the parameters are not defined, the outcomes are not measurable, or the expectations for completing the assignment are unrealistic.  This is particularly true when recruiting passive candidates! By following these guidelines, you will ensure that you are being direct and transparent with candidates regarding your expectations for completing a technical assignment.

About Shane Rostad

Shane Rostad is a marketing manager for TriFin Labs that loves to share his knowledge and learnings about tech through writing. When he's not reading you can find him exploring Florida's parks or loitering in a local coffee shop.

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