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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Bentivegna

Code Challenges: Effective Assessment Tools or Gargantuan Time Wasters?

In the fiercely competitive IT industry, assessing the skills and experience of potential tech recruits can be a daunting task. In my time as a Recruitment Consultant, I have seen many clients get creative about the way that they assess the technical skills of their engineering applicants.

The most common of which, include various forms of coding tests, namely the infamous take-home coding challenge and the more modern online coding assessments. These assessments offer insights into a developer's technical prowess, problem-solving capabilities, and coding expertise, going beyond theoretical knowledge to gauge their practical skills in real-world development scenarios.

But how effective are they? Do they efficiently assess a candidate's skills or are they just another barrier preventing you from hiring effectively? It’s a topic I’ve debated over with clients for quite a while, so I wanted to take some time to explore the pros and cons of the two most common types of coding challenges, take-home & online assessments, to see which comes out on top!


Take Home Coding Challenges:

Pros of take-home coding challenges:

  1. Real-World Simulation: Take-home code challenges allow candidates to work on a real-world problem at their own pace, simulating the actual tasks they would perform in the role. This can provide a more authentic assessment of their skills.

  2. Reduced Pressure: Candidates often perform better when they can work in a relaxed environment without the pressure of a time-constrained interview. This can lead to more accurate evaluations of their abilities.

  3. Assessment of Problem-Solving: These challenges can effectively evaluate a candidate's problem-solving skills, coding style, and ability to think critically and logically.

  4. Flexibility: Candidates can complete the challenge at a time that suits them, which accommodates those with busy schedules or time zone differences.

  5. Diversity and Inclusion: Take-home challenges may reduce bias in the interview process, as candidates from diverse backgrounds and with different communication styles have an equal opportunity to showcase their skills.

  6. Deep Dive: Reviewing the code challenge provides an opportunity for an in-depth discussion during the follow-up interview, allowing the candidate to explain their thought process and choices.

Cons of take-home coding challenges:

  1. Time-Consuming: Preparing and evaluating take-home challenges can be time-consuming for both the candidate and the hiring team. Candidates may invest significant time and effort into a challenge without any guarantee of success

  2. Lack of Real-Time Interaction: Take-home challenges do not provide real-time interaction, making it difficult to gauge a candidate's ability to collaborate, communicate, or adapt to feedback in a team setting.

  3. Plagiarism and Cheating: There's a risk of candidates plagiarizing or receiving unauthorized help on their take-home challenges, which can lead to inaccurate assessments.

  4. Candidate Drop-Off: Possibly the most significant Con, I encounter, candidates may drop out of the process if they find the challenge too demanding or time-consuming, potentially causing you to lose qualified candidates.

  5. Inconsistent Evaluation: Different team members may evaluate the challenges differently, leading to inconsistent assessments and potentially overlooking strong candidates.

  6. Lack of Time Pressure: While reduced pressure is a pro, it can also be a con in situations where the ability to work under time constraints is critical for the role.

  7. Limited Feedback: Candidates may receive limited feedback on their performance, which can make it difficult for them to improve or understand where they fell short.

To mitigate some of the cons, it's essential to provide clear instructions, set reasonable time limits, and follow up with a structured interview to discuss the challenge and assess the candidate's thought process. Additionally, combining take-home challenges with other assessment methods, such as technical interviews or pair programming sessions, can help provide a more comprehensive evaluation of candidates.


Online Assessments

Pros of online assessments:

  1. Efficiency: Online code challenges are typically quick and efficient, allowing candidates to demonstrate their coding skills in a short amount of time, which can speed up the hiring process.

  2. Real-Time Assessment: These challenges offer real-time assessment, enabling hiring managers to observe a candidate's problem-solving and coding abilities as they work on a task.

  3. Standardization: Online platforms can provide standardized challenges, ensuring that all candidates face the same coding tasks, making it easier to compare their performance.

  4. Timely Feedback: Quick code challenges allow for timely feedback, as hiring managers can provide immediate assessments or follow-up interviews based on the results.

  5. Scalability: Online challenges are scalable and can be used to assess multiple candidates simultaneously, making them suitable for high-volume recruiting.

  6. Diversity and Inclusion: Online challenges can help reduce bias, as candidates are evaluated primarily based on their coding skills, regardless of factors like gender, ethnicity, or communication style.

Cons of online assessments:

  1. Stress and Pressure: Quick online code challenges can be stressful for candidates, as they must perform under time constraints, which may not reflect their true capabilities.

  2. Limited Insight: While these challenges assess coding skills, they may provide limited insight into a candidate's ability to work collaboratively, communicate effectively, or adapt to feedback.

  3. Risk of Cheating: Candidates may be tempted to cheat by using external resources or seeking help from others during online challenges, potentially leading to inaccurate assessments.

  4. Lack of Real-World Context: Some quick challenges may not accurately reflect the real-world tasks and complexities the candidate would encounter in the role.

  5. False Positives/Negatives: Quick assessments may yield false positives (candidates who perform well but lack practical skills) or false negatives (candidates who underperform due to test anxiety but are otherwise capable).

  6. Technical Issues: Technical glitches or issues with the online platform can disrupt the candidate's experience and affect their performance.

  7. Lack of In-Depth Exploration: Due to time constraints, online challenges may not allow candidates to showcase the depth of their knowledge or tackle complex problems.

  8. Candidate Experience: Candidates who find online challenges too challenging or stressful may have a negative experience, potentially impacting their perception of the company.

  9. Accessibility: Some candidates may face accessibility issues, such as limited internet access or unfamiliarity with the online platform, which can create barriers to participation.

Quick online code challenges can be a valuable tool for assessing technical skills but they should be used in conjunction with other assessment methods, such as interviews and portfolio reviews, to provide a more comprehensive evaluation of candidates. Additionally, providing clear instructions, setting reasonable time limits, and monitoring for cheating can help mitigate some of the challenges associated with online code challenges.


So, which form of evaluation is superior?

The Take Home Challenge or the Online Assessment? I guess the short answer is … It depends! The solution that is best for you will depend on many factors, including your specific hiring needs, the nature of the role, the urgency of the roles, the team/hiring managers' priorities, and the resources available for assessment.

If you’d like to go for a coffee to further explore the best solution for you and your hiring team, feel free to get in touch 😊

In the next instalment of my blog, I’m going to deep dive into the top 10 best online coding assessment platforms for putting software developers through a hiring process. Drawing from my experience in recruiting engineers in the tech space, I’d love to provide more and more guidance on whether these tests are worth incorporating into your tech recruitment process.

What's your preferred method to test technical abilities?

  • Take-home coding challenges

  • Online coding assessments

  • Technical interview


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