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Whiteboard interviews should not be used during the technical interviewing process with software engineering candidates.

See why coding online tests and online whiteboard interview platforms are a better choice instead of in person whiteboard interviews.

For all of its quirks, the tech community is its own ecosystem with many unspoken rules and conversation points. But sometimes, you have to go against the grain and challenge the industry norms. In person whiteboard interviews is the norm but do candidates even know how to prepare for an interview using a whiteboard? Interview preparation is an important part of the process especially for the candidate.

For coders, the notion of being “whiteboarded” has become such a controversial topic in the technical interviewing process. There are lists dedicated to software engineers knowing which companies make interviewees write working code with an Erase-All marker. Times have changed and in person interviews have been substituted with remote interviews and with the technology available today, candidates can now do interview preparation with code challenges and get comfortable with video interview platforms.

Think about it: you’re asking someone who’s made it all the way through the technical interviewing process and into your conference room, and now they have to code in an environment that doesn’t represent their actual working environment. The whole thing is a nightmare when instead the applicant could have been given a coding online test or an online whiteboard interview to turn something out that’s much more reflective of their capabilities. All this can be done through a remote interview utilizing a video interview platform.

In person whiteboard interviews are out, remote interviews are in

Right now, every tech company from startup to enterprise is looking for someone to write code. One would assume that the big companies would have these scientific, broken down systems to check code quality, but it’s the exact opposite, they’re asking someone to scribble on a board error-free. Instead, why not ask the candidate to perform a coding online test or do an online whiteboard interview? Remote interviews and video interviews with Google Hangouts and Zoom are the new normal now.

The problem lies within the execution: the candidate is typically tasked with solving a problem, transforming it into something usable. But whiteboarding interviews don’t necessarily test for engineering aptitude and interview preparation for such a task is a nightmare. Candidates wouldn’t even know where to start.

And there’s also the issue of time limit or if the candidate is asked to write something they’ve never encountered before. This person who might’ve done well in school is suddenly put on the spot for a potentially outdated scenario. And for what? To see how they perform under pressure? That’s not a good indicator of coding skills. And then, the whiteboard isn’t a code editor, either. You can’t check to see if the code actually works, or benchmark it. Plus, the candidate would not know how to prepare for an interview using a whiteboard and the resources they can turn to are outdated. Interview preparation means everything to a candidate who is asked to have their skills tested live and in person but with no way to prepare, it’s hard to walk in with the confidence to perform well.

There’s a bunch of books for sale on whiteboarding interviews, but they feel so archaic. Basically, everyone copies the formula and the problem-solving questions found in Cracking the Coding Interview and uses that to judge how ability is perceived and tested. Because the information is based on how software engineers at Apple, Microsoft, and Google are tested, it’s become gospel. There really is no guide to learn how to prepare for an interview using a whiteboard.

It’s time to turn to coding online tests and remote interviews

One thing that a lot of people get wrong with whiteboarding is that the interviewer can lean on internal jargon or scenarios they’d like to see replicated but aren’t realistic to someone coming off the street. It’s crucial to know how someone would solve specific problems, and even look at a string to check it for errors, or if it was written poorly. This helps establish if the candidate understands the necessary use cases before going complex. But, anything more than this is problematic.

What if there’s a difference of opinion on whether or not something works? The writing on the board accomplishes nothing, but if a coding online test was completed or an online whiteboard interview was conducted by using a platform like Canvas in CodeLive, and the solution was proven to work, isn’t that what matters vs. perception of “showing critical thinking ability?” And the bets part is that candidates can actually learn how to prepare for an interview since it’ll be a remote interview where they can Google things during the exercise.

Giving a candidate a hands-on coding exercise makes more sense. Allowing someone to Google things during the exercise is fine, that’s how software engineers actually work today. If whiteboard coding comes into play, it shouldn’t be about writing code, but for discussing core Computer Science knowledge and intuitions. You can do that now by conducting an online whiteboard interview with a video interview platform like Canvas.

Maybe instead of obsessing about whiteboard interviews, why not dive into BitBucket or GitHub for software engineers? Take a look at what candidates are working on, what their ideas are. Companies like Atlassian and Google hold events where passion projects are worked on for 24 hours, with some leading to significant breakthroughs and even new tools or company-sponsored projects.

Final thoughts

In terms of assessing developer candidates’ hard skills, in person whiteboard interviews just aren’t cutting it. They can be useful for conducting a brainstorming or idea-hashing session but not for writing actual code. Coding online tests and online whiteboard interview platforms like Codility are your best bet for running software engineers through coding exercises during the hiring process and this can be done as part of a remote interview process.

Conducting half-hearted exercises during whiteboarding interviews only goes so far. Check out our guide on how to run a better technical interviewing process for your hiring success.

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Marketing Specialist at Codility, Jeff is passionate about empowering hiring teams to connect with candidates. He draws on his own experiences as a recruiter to create meaningful content. Outside of work, you can find him on the soccer field or catching the latest Sci-Fi flick.

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