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Hiring Technical Talent

How to Begin Screening Software Developers

Written By Nicolette Garcia | October 19, 2018

Illustration of two people shaking heads in front of a giant screen with binary digits on it, with two people standing to its side holding a spanner and a laptop

There are many qualifications to account for when filling technical roles. Attributes like seniority, technical skills, and soft skills may not translate well on a candidates resume. As a recruiter, how can you assess technical candidates in a way that fully captures their true abilities?

It all starts with the screening process. We put together a detailed guide on how to screen software engineers, but if you’d like a high-level overview we’ve outlined the key points below:

Don’t Skip the Basics

Everyone knows the best strategy for screening candidates is to assess for whatever’s important for the job, but simple algorithm questions actually play an important role in uncovering what engineers can and can’t do. If you dig deeper, engineers who can’t complete basic algorithmic code challenges in an interview are actually less productive hires in the long run.


  • They can quickly put together decent code but don’t have a deep understanding of why their programs work
  • Without a fundamental knowledge of architecture, they may not build your products to be easily scalable
  • Having a foundational knowledge of how different components work together is essential when optimizing your codebase

Create Impactful Challenges

So where do you begin when creating your challenges? The following 3 steps will give you a basic framework to get you started, but for a deeper dive, including examples, be sure to download our full guide.

  1. Knowledge vs. Intelligence. Determine which one you need to test for. Both are values of a great engineer, but what most managers don’t realize is it’s better to keep these values mutually exclusive. Testing for both at the same time puts far too many constraints, limiting your pool of talent.
  2. Challenge Type. Select the challenge type that will best capture the skills you are assessing for. These include algorithm code challenges, depth of thinking challenges, knowledge-based code challenges.
  3. Questions. The challenge type you select will then inform the question types to include. Some examples: multiple choice, code completion, open-ended, or multi-step questions.

Bonus guide content: Get the checklist of 5 common mistakes to avoid when creating challenges

Prepare Your Prospective Candidates

Asking your candidates to complete a coding challenge without warning can come off as a way to test their ability to work on the fly, but in fact, you’re actually testing for longevity. Well-designed basic algorithm and data structures challenges are a good way to gauge depth of technical skills needed to build sustainable products. Give your candidates ample time to prepare and let them know what to expect from your coding challenge and hiring process.  

Tip: Learn the art of writing messages to developer candidates

Calibrate Your Process

The screening process doesn’t end once you’ve sent your challenge and received results. You’ve put in all this work to assess your candidates, but what good is a code challenge screening if you’re testing different candidates with different questions? Maintaining consistency can make the data you’re collecting meaningful. All too often, companies change the question after it’s already gone out to some candidates, ruining your data set. After the initial screening, it’s important to mirror your code challenges with the rest of your interviewing rounds.

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