When Hiring Developers, Look Beyond Programming Tests

The demand for software engineers is rising dramatically across nearly every industry.  In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that positions in software development will grow 24% by 2026.   With this kind of demand for programmers, it’s also no wonder that finding top talent in the tech industry has become extremely competitive.  Many companies often use pre-employment tests to determine their candidates’ proficiency in specific programming languages (e.g. JavaScript, C++, Python, etc.) before they hire them.  At first glance, screening candidates for these sorts of skills may seem like the best way to find the right people for the job.  However, focusing solely on a candidate’s learned skills may not deliver the kind of results you’re hoping for in the long run.

The problem with using tests that only assess acquired knowledge when hiring for software developers is that technology is always changing.  Programming languages are constantly evolving, and what your developers need to know now might be different from what they need to learn 6 months down the road.  Static programming tests don’t tell you anything about your candidates’ ability to learn and adapt to these changes.  In other words, though these types of tests can offer some insight into what your candidates know presently, they can’t predict how easily your candidates can be trained on new technology or procedures.  These abilities are crucial for long-term success in any position.  So, if administering programming skills tests doesn’t give you the whole picture on an applicant, what else should you be looking for in your software developers?

One of the most reliable ways of predicting future success in programming roles is by assessing a candidate’s cognitive aptitude.  In fact, years of data have consistently demonstrated that cognitive aptitude is actually the hiring factor that’s most predictive of job performance.   Cognitive aptitude tests measure capabilities like problem-solving, critical thinking, attention to detail, as well as the ability to learn, digest, and apply new information.  All of these abilities are important in a successful developer.  By assessing an applicant’s cognitive aptitude as one of your hiring metrics, you gain insight on their ability to take to the job training as well as their potential to learn and adapt to changing technology in the future.

That being said, it’s obviously important that your potential programmers have a grasp on the technology and programming languages your company is currently using.  A lot of companies evaluate their candidates’ acquired skills by administering tests that are specific to a particular programming language. Many companies also check out code samples from a candidate’s GitHub. However, simply evaluating acquired skills isn’t enough. Standard programming tests can pose a problem since companies often use different programming languages for different projects and undertake multiple software development projects as they grow. This fact compounded with evolving technology means using one or two pre-packaged programming tests may only be partially relevant to what you need from your developers, and it could become out of date quickly.

One solution to this problem is to assess exactly what your candidate needs to know is by creating a company-specific test.  Although this test wouldn’t be predictive of success in the long run, developing your own programming assessment can be useful when measuring a candidate’s current level of expertise in a specific area. By building your own test, you can make the questions specific to your company’s requirements at that moment.  You also have the authority and ability to alter the test as your needs and technology changes.  Building your own assessments can also be helpful when measuring your employees’ training progress as well.  In fact, Criteria offers a TestMaker feature where employers can write their own tests to assess specific areas of knowledge, track what employees have learned in training, and administer surveys.  Because you know your company’s needs better than anyone, these types of tests ensure you’re measuring the right knowledge and skills requirements for your positions.

In the end, the best way to test your developers is with a combination of a specific programming test, a cognitive aptitude test, and often a personality test.  This way, you get the best idea of how your developers are going to perform both now and later, and you can be confident in your hiring decisions.