Talent Strategy

Using Assessments to Find Better Tech Hires

Many who attended universities in the United States were used to the familiar application process: submitting GPAs, test scores, and a “resume.”  Every now and then an interview could be used as well.  While GPA was an excellent predictor of how one would do in college (unsurprisingly, a sample of your grades across four years quite accurately predicts how you will do grades-wise across another four years), standardized test scores have been shown to often be meaningless and biased, and “resumes” often resembled a hodgepodge of different extracurricular activities which students hoped would show them to interesting and diversified (most who look at these resumes wonder rather when they found time to sleep!).  The process repeats when looking for new hires, particularly in tech, but with different emphases: assessments, previous work history, and interviews.

Assessments

Over and over, both in tech and in other sectors, work sample assessments have been shown to be the “GPA” of job applications.  They are good (but not perfect) indicators of how someone might do in a work environment.  They key is to find a sample piece of work that is similar to something that might be done in the position.  Even better, that sample can (and should) be crowdsourced from the staff to follow a set of interactions that led to a successful conclusion.  The assessment might also offer some wild cards – you might respond that their solution is wrong (when you know it to be right) to see how they respond to being contradicted, for example.  This only brings more reality (and unexpected at that) to an assessment in which they might think only their technical skills are in question.

If you don’t have a “real world” sample piece of work you can offer, the next best option would be to offer general tech assessments in software and competencies, such as those offered by Indeed and Technically Compatible.  We would also suggest personality profiling, as we’ve discussed previously, so that you can get some insights into how these candidates might work with your team. Remember that whatever you end up using, these assessments will provide you with an objective and unbiased view of the candidate.

Previous Work History

Previous Work History is also a sort of “GPA.”  We can see different skill sets a candidate has acquired through different roles at different firms, or occasionally one can see a set of promotions at one firm in particular.  While there are legal reasons many firms will not disclose performance above and beyond confirmation of dates worked, LinkedIn can provide access to 2nd and 3rd degree links.  Taking the extra bit of time to just get a few words from a coworker or even someone in the same department can help give some color to the black and white facts of work history.

Interviews

More than anything, to complement work sample tests or thoughtful examinations of resumes, good interview questions matter.  We don’t mean the silly, “tell me your greatest weakness” questions, but ones that really get at the nature of work.  Here are a few that you might use:

  • Tell me about an ideal working experience and what made it ideal?
  • What do you think most frequently causes conflict in the workplace?  How can teams actively work to avoid it?
  • What do you think successful companies possess?  Do we have it?  Why or why not?

Instead of talking about themselves, candidates will be forced to discuss situations near to them, that they aren’t frequently asked about, and may elicit more truthful answers once you’ve veered off the predictable road of the interview questions everyone else asks about.

Final Thoughts

In general, hiring for any position should include some form of assessment, but for tech hires, such assessments are vital, as the type of software and technical environment candidates will work in (and their competence in it – or ability to gain competence quickly) can make or break the success of the hire.  Such assessments can easily be offered within the hiring platform that we offer here at VocaWorks.


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Stephen writes about startups, hiring and career issues for VocaWorks.

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