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Why coding challenges won’t get you the best tech talent.

 

Coding was once viewed as a purely technical role with little to no focus on communication. That’s how the “dev in the corner” meme came to be. But things have changed, a lot. Interest in the industry has rocketed and diversity is improving every day. So, why haven’t we changed how we hire for those roles?

Here’s the hard to swallow pill - coding challenges are never going to find you the best talent. Maybe they’ll identify someone who works well under pressure… But let’s be honest, it’s unlikely they’ll ever actually face that ‘test pressure’ in the actual workplace.

Of course, for any job that isn’t a trainee or entry level, you’re going to need to assess how knowledgeable your candidates are and what they’ll bring in terms of skills and experience. But you also need to consider the wider team, too. Almost every other industry focuses on how someone comes across their interview, as much if not more than how they came across on paper.

Going soft isn’t a bad thing.

If a job role requires people to share ideas or work as part of a team, hiring someone who has technical capabilities above and beyond what you need, but the inability to see another person’s point of view, isn’t going to work long term. You can teach tech skills. Languages can be learnt. But if someone lacks social decorum or emotional intelligence? That stuff takes time to change.

Imagine the impact that a group of people who can’t communicate properly will have on a project. Not inspiring, is it? It’ll likely create an atmosphere where nobody feels comfortable, and you’ll struggle to retain your team.

You want to know that everyone in your business is going to feel safe and included, and that requires empathy throughout the team. You need to hire people who understand other points of view and are considerate of opinions other than their own – even if they happen to be right (we’ve all been there). There are endless studies on how the most effective managers are empathetic before all else, and how they have an innate ability to take the complex and relay it in a way their teams can relate to. Those are skills you can’t train and ones you definitely won’t see in a coding challenge.

Think outside the box.

Now consider what happens when you place coding challenges at the front of your hiring process. Those who entertain you and pass will be invited in for the next interview, whereas those who don’t are presumed not good enough and passed up, and that’s assuming they even show up to give so much time and energy to your process so early on.

Not only does focusing on these challenges mean you’re spending less time getting to know your candidates, and in particular, understanding how they’d fit into the dynamic you’ve created - but you’re also narrowing the pool of people coming through your door. Coding challenges will put people off people they’ve even got there - it’s an easy way to decide whether or not you want to apply.  

And here’s a tough truth. When you hire like this - you’re affirming and accepting a bias you’ve created for who you’re going to hire. You skim through a CV and only zone in on what you want to see - missing out on a whole world of potential.

They might have worked somewhere you’re impressed by, or went to a school you hold in high regard, or maybe they’ve got a big list of impressive experiences… That’s all great, but not everyone has the luxury of learning their craft in the same way.

Does learning from your bedroom, spending your own time and money perfecting those skills, and teaching yourself the ins and outs mean you’re less qualified than someone else? In terms of certificates, yes, but when it comes to dedication and genuine enthusiasm for the industry, absolutely not. And this has a knock on effect for everything else - who hires them and what they can ultimately chalk down to experience. So, if you want to improve diversity in your tech teams, be the one to break the pattern.

You know the best way to uncover a person’s drive? Speak to them. Hear them talk about what they know, and more importantly, what they want to know. Because it’s that passion which can drive your business forward.

So, if your hiring team still relies on testing and challenges before you consider an application, just remember that the other companies (your competition) are seeing past how fast someone can work under pressure in an unnatural circumstance. And that means you’ll be the one missing out on some incredible people.