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In the last decade, more and more businesses have transformed themselves into technology-centered operations – leaving plenty of non-technical recruiters attempting to hire engineering talent without deep technical knowledge of their own.1

The challenge of navigating a candidate’s fit for the job without knowing what a top-notch programmer looks like can feel a bit like selecting the most valuable bottle of wine without being a sommelier. Pair that scenario with the costly consequences of making a bad hire, and a bumpy road lies ahead. 

In this post, we’ll show you how to structure a stellar coding interview and test programming skills that will land the best developer for the role – and reduce the margin of error in hiring developers. 

How to Structure a Coding Interview That Accurately Tests Programming Skills

Well-structured coding interviews, which typically happen after initial phone screenings, have several significant benefits (aside from not requiring any coding knowledge to run): 

  • they save time
  • they accurately assess skills like language proficiency and problem-solving ability
  • they deter applicant fraud
  • they mitigate inherent bias
  • they analyze performance for you

There are three steps to hosting an effective coding interview for engineering talent without any technical knowledge:

1. Consult With Your In-House Programmers

If you don’t know code, you’ll likely be working with your engineering teams to craft job descriptions. Use this time to refine the candidates you’d like to take a coding interview and pinpoint the type of coding interview you’ll administer to test programming aptitude. 

While you’re working with the hiring manager to craft the job description, ask the following questions:

  • What specific tasks will the new hire carry out on the day-to-day? (For example, is the role heavy on writing new code, or more on scaling and optimizing existing code?)
  • What specific skills does the developer need to be successful in this role?
  • Which languages do they need to know, and what level of experience do they need to have?
  • What skills are not necessary to have already, but they will need to learn on the job?
  • What are the most pressing questions around soft skills and experience?
  • What kind of working style does the team prefer? (Fast, thorough, creative, etc.)

Knowing the answers to these questions will help you select what type of assessments to run during the coding interview.

Tip: Hiring senior software engineering talent? Check out our list of interview questions.

Hosting a coding interview for engineering talent
Communication with engineering talent about what to expect during their coding interview is key. 

2. Select a Strong Skills Screening Platform

Our founder, Greg Jackaki, started Codility because he saw too many companies testing obscure computer science skills that developers never actually use on the job. For this reason, it’s crucial to select a platform that will test the programming skills of engineering talent based on scientifically and mathematically validated practices. 

Your vetting checklist should include:

  • A quality scoring methodology
  • Built-in security safeguards like candidate verification and plagiarism prevention
  • A strong UX that makes it easy for both the candidate and administrator to navigate
  • An extensive library of tests
  • In-depth analytics capabilities and report generation

Tip: Avoid integrating whiteboard interviews. They are not a strong indicator of programming skills because that’s not how developer talent will do their work daily. (Whiteboarding is, however, a great way to assess a candidate’s communication and conceptualization skills.)

3. Communicate Pre- and Post-Interview

Candidate experience is just as crucial as candidate performance when you’re wooing top-tier engineering talent. 

To reduce friction, be sure to communicate thoroughly with the candidate before the coding interview. Explain how it will be structured, how long it will take, what technology and other materials they’ll need, and whether it’s a live programming assessment or something they can complete independently.

Run a test programming session with an in-house engineer to anticipate questions a candidate might have. Will they refer to sources for help, or are they expected to complete the assessment without leaving the screen? This will help engineering talent mentally prepare as well as logistically prepare.

Tip: Encourage candidates to take notes within the testing platform during their coding interview, which will provide more insights about their process to your engineering team. Post-test assessment, ask them to explain the thinking behind their choices (and take notes for your engineering team).

Wrapping Up: Package the Evidence From Your Coding Interview

Compile your notes from in-person interviews, a detailed analysis of the candidate’s performance (generated by your programming assessment platform), and other relevant materials (like a resume) to present a complete overview to your engineering teams.

 Your coding interview platform should provide a detailed list of metrics – like time spent on tasks, the number of corrections or changes made, the accuracy of their solutions, and so, which will help in-house engineers better gauge skill and fit.

Always follow up with the candidate to provide feedback, even if they didn’t make the cut. A strong engineering candidate could be an excellent fit for another role down the line, so be sure to ask for feedback on their coding interview experience.

Over time, it’s smart to use analytics within your testing platform to see what’s working and what isn’t with your coding interviews – do they tend to need to allow more time for specific challenges or fine-tune the types of tasks you are issuing for different roles?

Refining how you test programming skills through your platform will yield data-driven improvements to the candidate experience and the fit of your hires in the long term.

Interested in learning more about how Codility’s platform provides all the essential elements of an effective coding interview? Request a demo and upgrade your tech hiring process.


Jane K. Callahan is a freelance writer who specializes in B2B technology. She, too, does not know how to code.

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