3 Interview Tips for Hiring Outstanding Developers
Chad Lilly is the director of recruiting at Lextech Global Services, a mobile design, strategy and development firm that helps companies optimize workflows with suites of custom mobile apps. Connect with him and the Lextech team on Twitter: @LextechCareer or @LextechApps.
According to the ManpowerGroup’s 2012 Talent Shortage survey, 49% of U.S. employers are struggling to fill open positions. Technicians currently rank as the second most difficult position to fill, underlining the challenges tech companies face in staffing their organizations to meet current and future needs.
The problem isn’t simply a shortage of applicants. In today’s job market, there are plenty of people willing to fill every available position. The challenge is identifying highly qualified developers among the rest of the field.
My colleagues and I have found that incorporating nontraditional elements into the interview process is the single best way to identify the most talented developers. Traditional hiring practices are still beneficial, but a unique interview can effectively separate good developers from the exceptional.
The following are three tips for pinpointing top developers in the interview process.
1. Test Real World Skills
Assessing an applicant’s hard development skills with a coding test is an essential interview component. Put a unique twist on the standard test by leveraging bits of existing code, which forces applicants to create elegant code within an existing development framework. This can be especially challenging for developers because it’s often more difficult to code into an existing codebase than it is to create code from scratch. You can also introduce specific challenges, allowing you to assess their troubleshooting and problem-solving skills.
Your company’s team leads should create the coding tests to reflect your real-world development needs, and the test should take only two or three hours to complete. Assessment criteria include the applicant’s ability to write efficient code, solve the problem and handle challenges. If the applicant passes the test, schedule a phone interview to discuss the results and flesh out the candidate’s development rationale and thought processes. Introduce changes to the parameters and see how the applicant would change their design or handle the new request. This comes up on projects — you should see how the candidate would handle it.
2. Surprise the Applicant
One of the ways we gauge an applicant’s ability to handle unknown situations is with a Lego test. This is not your average Lego-building activity. While the test isn’t ultra-technical, it’s unfamiliar and more in-depth than many may think. To pass with flying colors, applicants must apply logic and endure lots of trial and error.
Inevitably, something will happen during the test to throw the process into chaos, mirroring the way clients unexpectedly introduce new requests or directions into projects. There are also roundabout shortcuts applicants can take to circumvent the test. How an applicant handles this curveball is especially telling and helps determine which candidates may take shortcuts when developing solutions for our clients, which is never a good sign.
Comparing outcomes between present and past candidates and recording an applicant’s reactions during the test are great ways to evaluate the process. Top-tier applicants will stand out during surprising interview situations, like the Lego test, based on their ability to handle adversity, the method they use to create the solution and the amount of time it takes to complete the task. Particularly outstanding candidates will also ask questions and genuinely have fun with the challenge.
3. Evaluate the Applicant’s Ability to Play Nice
Developers must be able to work in collaborative, team-based environments. To test this skill, team up applicants with current employees. For example, try having applicants join your developers in an Xbox game. This part of the interview isn’t about the candidate’s gaming chops –- it’s about measuring the candidates’ ability to work with others in a pressure-filled environment.
Your company can evaluate candidates strictly on their ability to communicate and collaborate with their Xbox teammates -– strangers who may ultimately become the applicant’s real-life coworkers. Look for individuals who proactively contribute to the best of their ability and integrate well with the rest of the team, despite their gaming skills. If the individual is uncommunicative or tries to dominate the process with a know-it-all attitude, it’s a sign he or she lacks the collaborative skills to succeed in your organization.
As opportunities in the development realm continue to expand, the demand for tech talent will intensify, making it even more important for employers to cultivate new ways to identify exceptional developers. Nontraditional interview techniques deliver important insights across a spectrum of personal characteristics and offer a more accurate measure of the applicant’s potential for success in the technology workplace.
What techniques do you use in recruiting and interviewing tech talent? Tell us in the comments.
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