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Hiring Best Practices

Fostering Candidate Engagement: A Guide for Coding Assessment Users

Written By Blane Shields | February 18, 2019


Coding assessments are an effective way to gauge developer skills quickly. But to maximize their impact on candidate engagement, you have to know how—and when—to use them in your hiring process.

Designing the right assessment is vital. But finding the right placement for your assessment is equally important. It makes sure candidates are engaging with your assessment when they’re most receptive to it. And that means higher participation rates, and better candidate engagement.

In this walkthrough, we’ll unpack best practices for placing assessments within the hiring process. Then, we’ll arm you with the tools to identify the best workflow for your pipeline.

How coding assessments impact candidate engagement

Coding assessments can have a huge impact on the efficiency of your recruiting workflow. But there isn’t one right way to utilize them.

As Director of Customer Success at HackerRank, I’ve worked with hundreds of customers across the world, from financial services giants to lean startup orgs. Despite their differences, one thing stays constant: their initial assessment placement. At first, almost every team places their coding assessment where they’d normally place a manual tech screen.

While that tactic can work (depending on your current workflow), it’s not universally applicable. Like any step in the hiring process, a coding assessment requires effort and participation from the candidate. Not every candidate is ready to take a coding assessment after one phone screen. On the flip side, others are excited to take an assessment off the bat. The flow of your pipeline dictates the amount of persuasion they need to participate.

The goal is to strike the right balance: a workflow that maximizes candidate participation, but minimizes strain on your team. When it comes to coding assessments, that means considering 3 key factors:

  1. Candidate volume (high or low)
  2. Primary candidate source (inbound or sourced)
  3. Typical candidate experience level (entry-level or mid-level)

Crafting a workflow around those criteria will allow you to engage with candidates meaningfully and efficiently: incorporating touch points where they’re impactful, and simplifying where they’re not. It’s about creating the best possible candidate experience without overtaxing the team.

It means quality candidates stay engaged, participation rates stay high, and your tech talent brand blossoms. And the positive Glassdoor reviews don’t hurt, either!

The 3 main factors that define your pipeline

Designing your ideal workflow comes down to 3 key elements: candidate volume, candidate source, and candidate experience level. Once you understand how your pipeline functions in those 3 elements, you can begin to lay out an ideal workflow.

Read through to determine where your pipeline falls in each of the following categories. Keep track of your answers—you’ll need them for the next phase of this exercise:

1. High vs. Low Volume


Determining candidate volume comes down to one primary question: is your recruiter:application ratio sustainable?

Do you have peak hiring “seasons” (e.g. university recruiting)? Or maybe your team is just inundated with applications they don’t have time to review? If you find your team has to utilize shortcuts just to get through your pipeline (e.g. only accepting applications from specific schools), you’re likely dealing with a high volume pipeline.

On the other hand, if your hiring is evenly paced, and your team is able to sift through applications without excessive shortcuts, you likely have a low volume pipeline.

Generally, high candidate volume is most common amongst software engineering roles (more on best practices for hiring that role here). On the flip side, roles like data science tend to see lower candidate volumes.

2. Inbound vs. Sourcedworkflows_inbound-vs-sourced

Do you get more candidates from your job postings, or from your outreach efforts?

A good rule of thumb: if all your team needs is a job posting to fill your pipeline, your process is inbound-heavy. If you have to utilize outreach to fill your pipeline (via LinkedIn, referrals, or otherwise), we consider it sourced-heavy.

It’s worth noting that candidate source has strong ties to role type, too.  Entry-level are more likely to enter the pipeline through inbound channels, like your careers page. Mid-level+ candidates, on the other hand, will usually require some manual sourcing to get pulled into the pipeline.

3. Entry-Level vs. Mid-Levelworkflows_entrylevel-vs-midlevel

What is the experience level of the candidates you see most frequently? And what’s the experience level required for the roles you usually hire for?

For the purpose of this exercise, focus on the roles you recruit for most frequently. While every organization has its own definitions, we usually see “entry-level” defined as 0-3 years of experience, and “mid-level” defined as 4-8 years of experience.

Identifying your ideal engagement workflow

Depending on the way you sorted your pipeline in the categories above, your candidate engagement workflow vary. Use the chart below to determine which workflow your pipeline fits into. Then, click the name of the recommended workflow to jump to its description.

Note: Especially for larger organizations, one workflow doesn’t always perform across the board. We highly recommend that you define workflows on a role-by-role basis.

Example: A team that focuses on seasonal university hiring (high volume, entry-level), and receives most of their candidates through their job postings (inbound-heavy) would fall into Workflow 1.

Quick jump: Workflow 1 | Workflow 2 | Workflow 3

Candidate Engagement Workflow 1

Common criteria: high volume, entry-level & mid-level, inbound


How it works

In this workflow, you send a coding assessment to the candidate as soon as they apply. Like any stage of the hiring process, coding assessments will spur some drop-off—but in this case, that’s ok. Your volume of inbound candidates means you can afford to initiate a coding assessment upon application. Even if you lose some candidates in the process, you’ll still have plenty of quality candidates to pull through the rest of the process.

Why it works

This workflow is powerful because it immediately gauges candidate interest. By choosing to take the coding assessment off the bat—or not—the candidate sends an immediate signal about their level of investment. It lets lukewarm candidates select themselves out of the process.

Weeding out less enthusiastic candidates will bump up participation rates downstream, and make sure your team is only speaking to candidates that sincerely want the job. It also helps identify poor technical fits immediately, leaving a much more manageable pool for recruiters to call on.

Back to table

Candidate Engagement Workflow 2

Common criteria: high volume, entry & mid-level, inbound


How it works

In this example, the coding assessment comes in during the third step. Since the application volume is lower, it doesn’t make sense to initiate a coding assessment immediately; doing so would spur drop-off of precious candidates.

The good news? The lower volume of applicants means you can create a higher touch process from the start—something candidates of all backgrounds will appreciate. Putting the phone screen first helps ensure candidate buy in before asking for additional effort (in the form of a coding assessment).

Why it works

This workflow lets recruiters do what they do best: connect with others. By taking the time to learn about the candidate and share some insights on the role, they can help the candidate feel valued in the process. Spending time with the candidate up front will help maintain strong participation in subsequent steps.

Back to table

Candidate Engagement Workflow 3

Common criteria: low volume, mid-level, sourced


How it works

In this scenario, all possible criteria are stacked against you. You have low candidate volume, very few inbound applications, and an experienced candidate.

Here, a coding assessment isn’t introduced until the tail end of the process. Recruiter phone screens and hiring manager screens are used less as a tool to evaluate candidates, and more as an opportunity to get the them excited about the role.

For a particularly passive candidate, you might even consider swapping the coding assessment with a more interactive experience, like a remote pair programming session (for us, CodePair). Because every candidate is precious, engagement requires a white glove experience from start to finish.

Why it works

In this position, you’re selling the role to the candidate. With any luck, a preliminary phone screen will help pique their interest in the role. Looping in a hiring manager for the next step shows them just how invested you are. After all, your hiring managers’ time is incredibly value—and they know that.

Make no mistake: hiring a candidate in this category is challenging. But making a point to show your investment up front will make a big impact on participation rates.

Back to table

Getting max value from your assessments

Coding assessments can enable your team to significantly simplify your technical hiring process. The key is to utilize them in a way that suits your company, and your open roles: there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

No matter which workflow you choose, remember to be as clear as possible with your candidates. According to our 2019 Developer Skills Report, over 40% of developers say unclear hiring processes are one of their biggest employer turnoffs—explaining your workflow up front will go a long way.

Looking for a more in-depth look at some of our hiring best practices? Check out the free guide below. We cover best practices for aligning with hiring manager, tips for boosting your talent brand, and more.


Blane Shields is the Head of the Customer Success team for North America at HackerRankBlane Shields is the Head of the Customer Success team for North America at HackerRank. His team focuses on making sure that our customers are happy, providing best practices to ensure they find efficiency in technical hiring.

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