Technical Interviews: You’re Doing Them wrong

By Roxanne Abercrombie

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It’s no secret: the technical interview is flawed. Generally, recruiters hate conducting them and developers hate sitting through them. And more often than not, neither party leaves with a sense of clarity.

Why? Well, firstly, the majority of recruiters aren’t coders. Sure, you can ask a range of technical questions, but you ultimately don’t speak the language. Even with all the personality-based questions in the world, you can never be 100% certain that the candidate is right for the role if you can’t ascertain their level of skill.

The developer isn’t all that happy, either. They don’t want to sit in a tense environment, answering questions that feel artificial. Nor do they want to be grilled on the spot without any of their usual resources.

So, what’s the solution?

First, filter out the inept

Code is no stranger to most of us in the digital age. But knowing or understanding bits of code does not a developer make. And the issue is, there will always be self-proclaimed “developers” who can’t actually write a simple program. Wanting to give someone junior a chance is all well and good… provided they can do the work.

So, weed out the time-wasters before you’re stuck interviewing them. In a real-time online environment – be it via live chat software or via a hosted web page quiz – fire a few simple technical questions the candidate’s way. The phoneys and wannabes will be very simply sieved out, leaving you with a more solid shortlist.

Re-think the interview

There’s a huge difference between a technical discussion and a verbal technical test. The former is a great way to ascertain the candidate’s skills and experiences: the latter is a great way to fill them with annoyance. Don’t throw a range of complex technical questions at the candidate. Instead, chat about past projects, ask them to talk through their portfolio or maybe even their code on Github, and ask some behavioural questions to find out how they generally work.

Not only will the candidate feel comfortable, you’ll also gather a fair and meaningful overview of their abilities. A developer who doesn’t perform well when made to write code on a whiteboard is understandable. A developer who can’t discuss any technical projects they’re proud of is a different matter altogether.

So focus on personality and proven past work examples – not on pointless, pressurised interview tests. Everyone will benefit.

Set a bite-size audition task

You’ve quickly and efficiently weeded out the inept, you’ve managed to avoid putting the candidate through an interview ordeal and you’ve also ascertained the quality of their past work. But could they handle the present job?

A bite-size audition task will tell. For that final assurance, you need to see that they can complete a relevant project with the right tools and the right time. Whether you ask for a mock-up of a website or app or set up a self-contained software project in a specific language, give the candidate a small piece of work within a controlled environment and see how they fare.


It’s as simple as that. No more time-wasting with candidates who’ve fibbed their way into an interview, no more hypothetical problem-solving on whiteboards, no more “If you were a colour, what colour would you be?” type questions – just meaningful assessments of suitability.


Author bio:

Roxanne Abercrombie is copywriter for Parker Software - a UK based software house offering a suite of solutions that brings businesses closer to their customers. 


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