The dreaded technical exercise

We’ve been recruiting for a number of roles in Engineering and as with every time we recruit, we’ve got that dreaded technical exercise to think about.

Over recent years I’ve been heavily involved in our Engineering recruitment. I’ve met countless people through this, screened dozens of CVs, assessed people against our values, and had to develop a process with the team. Our focus in this process is to ensure we identify great people who will thrive at Reward Gateway, and to leave a great impression even if the candidate doesn’t succeed.
I read a lot of technical blogs, forums and other sites on my commute in the mornings and am always intrigued at how other people do this. It seems to be quite a conversation starter and you don’t need to read very far to discover horror stories:

  • Candidates (in effect) building working prototypes for the company they are interviewing with
  • “An interesting problem” being used as a neat but unethical way of crowdsourcing solutions
  • Or.. just a task that takes a whole weekend!

We know our process is not perfect (feedback always welcome) but we have tried to make this part of our interview process simple, yet interesting and measurable.

We ask candidates to call into a mock API we’ve published and create something a bit like LinkedIn using it. This can be done using any resources the candidate desires, from anywhere, with variable difficulty depending on the candidate’s experience and the time they invest. We estimate it takes about an hour or two to complete.

The results from this then give us a great starting point for a more topical technical conversation. We may ask a back-end Engineer how they defend against flaky APIs, a front-end Engineer about AJAX and CORS, or a QA about their view of the testing pyramid. It lets us get a real feel for the candidates expertise in what we think is a realistic situation that we encounter frequently here.

We’re keen to hear how others approach this exercise and learn how we can make it more meaningful and impactful for both us and the candidate.

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