You’re looking to dive into online coding interviews but you’re not sure where to start, what questions to ask or which solution to pick? We’ve got your back!
With companies constantly on the hunt for the best programmers in a finite talent pool, often the biggest obstacle to recruitment isn’t just finding the right calibre of candidates but knowing how to put them through their paces in the quickest and most effective way, while making sure they’ll be a good fit for your team.
What you’d really like to see is how your prospective coders perform under real-world conditions without creating an onerous burden for either interviewer or candidate. Problem is, your usual go-to video conferencing solutions – Skype or Google Hangouts, for instance – don’t lend themselves to discussing code with your candidates and can stall progress.
Help is at hand, thanks to a new breed of online coding interview tools.
What’s an online coding interview?
Unlike a standard question-and-answer format, an online coding interview offers a direct insight into the candidate’s approach to development, replicating – as closely as possible – a real programming environment. From the candidate’s point of view, it’s a painless way of proving their coding skills in a relevant way that prioritises practice and expertise over academic achievements and presents a refreshingly level playing field.
According to Stack Overflow’s 2019 developer survey, only around 15% of coding professionals are actively looking for a job with just under 60% not actively looking but open to new opportunities. This means that if your ideal candidate is already employed and lives in a distant city, they’re much more likely to respond positively to engaging with an online coding interview than a face-to-face one – at least until much further along the recruitment pipeline.
Setting up online interviews is also a good move where tech recruiters don’t themselves have the niche skill- and expertise-set necessary to effectively quiz the candidate on job specifics!
In most online coding interviews, developers are asked to apply their coding skills to a pre-set task. This could be anything from writing algorithms or fixing a piece of code to performing a specified business function. The interviewer can review how the candidate completes the task and ask questions about the decision-making process to learn more about their approach.
What’s the best task to set for an online coding interview?
It may sound obvious – but, hey, we’ll throw it out there anyway: the best interview task to set is one that mirrors the kind of work the developer would be tackling if they landed the job.
A good online coding interview task should be a task that the developer would likely tackle if they started working for you. Although recruiters are often wedded to tricky techniques designed to test ingenuity (how many golf balls can you fit in a 747, anyone?), one of the most reliable methods of assessing someone’s technical capability is to simply ask them to perform a technical challenge under the same conditions they’d face at work. If they can creatively solve problems in a similar environment, they could be a good fit.
This means definitely not springing an academic whiteboard design exercise on an unwitting developer when they’ve put on their best shirt and taken a day off work to attend an interview at your HQ. It’s worth bearing in mind that top-of-the-head questions are not only ineffective for data-gathering purposes but are also potentially damaging to people’s perception of your brand. Keep your focus on screening for relevant tech skills and engaging in a two-way discussion with your developers rather than grinding them down with random coding conundrums that would tax the most saintly of programmers.
In an article penned by Laszlo Bock, the former Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google claims that tests that are linked to real-work situations are the best indicators of a candidate’s potential performance – way ahead of case interviews and brain teasers. So, make sure your coding interview represents an authentic work sample and that your candidate has access to the frameworks, libraries and other online resources they’d normally use to deliver clean code.
A thorough test can be time-consuming and costly, though – here’s where the right online coding interview tool will help solve your recruitment problems, giving you the tools to properly prepare for job interviews and saving everyone stacks of time and energy.
Where to look for the best online coding interview solutions
Google is everyone’s first port of call and will return plenty of results to sift through. But it’s also worth asking your tech team for recommendations, as well as checking out Quora and peer review sites like G2.
What to look for when choosing an online coding interview tool
1. Does it help preselect candidates so you can schedule fewer interviews?
Sounds counterintuitive, right?
While you might assume that more interviews will result in more hires, in practice, restricting interview numbers to candidates who precisely fit your requirements will not only save time but will also deliver a ready-made long- or short-list that’s chock-full of viable employees.
If your applicants-to-interviews ratio is more than 10 or 12%, a coding tool will help you to streamline the selection process. Remember that you’ll likely need to conduct 2 coding interviews on average before making an offer – but any more and you’ll risk losing momentum (and losing out to competitors). Preselecting candidates will help speed up the process and increase your chances of securing a good hire in the shortest time possible.
2. Does it offer a wide range of tests that can be calibrated to suit different roles and technologies?
The best online coding interview tools will offer a variety of ready-to-use online coding tests so you can set up an assessment campaign that perfectly matches your specific needs – whether it’s for front-end, back-end or full-stack development – and will include coding questions and coding challenges across a range of technologies and frameworks such as Java, CSS and SQL.
Make sure you match the task to the level of seniority you’re specifying and the kind of work that your potential employee would be faced with on a day-to-day basis. If you need some real-life inspiration, analyze the technical skills and personality traits of your best staff.
What makes them good? What kind of experience did they bring to your company? In what ways are they resourceful?
3. Does it allow you to manage candidates throughout the hiring process?
Your chosen online coding interview tool should work effortlessly with your own recruitment process, streamlining each stage and making life a whole lot easier for all parties.
At a basic level, it should allow you to prepare, send and follow up on email communications, as well as ranking candidates and creating a short-list based on performance. Recruiters also usually find it helpful if the online assessments can be accessed either remotely or from company HQ, depending on the candidate preference and the interview stage.
While an online interview tool will help to speed up and smooth out the recruitment timeline, it’s not designed to be a complete fix. It will, however, afford you the luxury of spending your time engaging personally with candidates, rather than managing the minutiae of the process – and that’s got to be a win.
4. Does it integrate with your company’s existing system and uprate your performance?
The more functionality your coding tool has, the greater the positive impact on your recruitment goals.
It goes without saying that having access to a wide selection of predefined assessments and operational languages (20 or so) is optimal – as is the ability to prepare and create custom coding challenges and MCQs quickly and easily. Any tool that goes over and above the call of duty by stopping plagiarists in their tracks, benchmarking candidate performance against a real-world global bar or making it super-easy to export and share assessment reports with your team gets extra credit.
Don’t forget to check whether it integrates effortlessly with your own system.
5. Does it have built-in video, audio and text chat functionality?
Online coding tests are all well and good, but you won’t be able to get an authentic feel for your potential employee without some face-to-face engagement.
That said, if you’re interviewing candidates who are located in another time zone, it’s often not practical to invite candidates to your HQ until much further down the line.
The best online coding interview tools will also incorporate their own communications tech so you don’t have to switch out to third-party video chat solutions in order to get a better understanding for your candidates’ soft skills.
Getting it right more of the time
Matching skilled programmers to the right tech roles is a challenging job for recruiters – and with demand as high as it’s ever been, it ain’t getting easier anytime soon. The problem with applying traditional interview techniques to coding hires is that candidates need to be presented with the right questions – questions often only members of your IT team are qualified to ask but who won’t necessarily always be on hand to consult.
By tapping into an online coding interview resource, you can design, speed up and fine tune the process from selecting candidates with the most potential to making a job offer, fairly and objectively assessing coding skills and maximizing your chances of engaging employees and leading to the creation of more diverse and productive tech teams.