Interview Technical Testing – the Elephant in the Room…


I think it’s safe to say no-one likes technical tests. Nobody likes sending them out, nobody likes completing them and, generally, no one likes the outcome.

So why is this?

I’ve been racking my brain for the past couple of months, trying not to write something that will offend anyone. Through Slack groups, I’ve been able to speak to a number of different people to get their opinions on technical tests. My initial impression is that asking if we should test or not is very much like asking ‘What came first? The chicken or the egg?’

Like with all recruitment processes, I think you need to start by asking yourself, ‘What type of person are we looking to hire?’

‘Do they have a job currently?’

‘How many other tests are they likely to have in their inbox?’

‘How can we make their application process easier so that they like us best?’

It’s never been more competitive in terms of technical hiring in London – and that’s NOT just a recruiter cliché right now, I promise you.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to how to best test a technical candidate, but during my discussions, a couple of common things arose.

Don’t just auto reply with a technical test – This was a pet hate of Developers and Data Scientists. Interview processes need to be human; you’re dealing with people. If you arrange a short technical telephone call – it only has to be 15-20 minutes – your test completion rates – and the quality of those completions – will increase.

Does the test form part of later interviews? – If the information in the test(s) will be used in later interviews and form a basis for discussion, there’s a higher chance of completion – but make sure you tell your candidates this when you first send the test.

Respect your candidates’ time – Several candidates felt that their time wasn’t respected. 2-3 hours may be a reasonable maximum time to expect candidates to complete the test, but candidates investing this much time will need to know they’re going to receive plenty of feedback for their efforts.

You’re not the only company out there – Developers and Data Scientists have more choice and more access to jobs than ever before. If they don’t like your process, they’ll find someone else’s that they do. Yes, they must show you they’re interested, but in sending their application they’ve already done this – first impressions count, both ways.

Can what you test be covered using Github/StackOverflow profiles? – If you have someone who can read the profile, would that save time for everyone in the process? Could you skip the test altogether and jump to the technical interview, based on prior written code?

When applying for a technical role, a test is generally expected, but it’s important to strike the right balance. Of course, for a specific role requiring a high level of competency in a specific skill, companies need to gauge the level of someone’s skillset. If you were to skip a test and do a face to face interview for every single candidate, this could result in 10-12 hours a week of wasted time. Setting a technical test therefore shares the burden between candidate and hiring company.

So, is there a best way?

Maybe not, but from my research, a process that most people seem to find quite agreeable is:

1st Stage – Technical Telephone Interview – 20-30 minutes to quiz the candidates on the basics of their skills, along with providing them with a little bit of information about the role on offer. If there’s a match on both sides, move them on to the second stage.

2nd Stage – Technical Test – 2-3 hours take-home test. Of course, not everyone will be able to allocate the time, but you’ll get a much higher percentage of candidates doing the test now that you have invested some time into those candidates. This should result in a higher percentage of tests passed.

3rd Stage – Face to face Interview – Your standard interview, covering technical and team-fit questions.

It’s not perfect and never will be. We’re all dealing with human beings, whose circumstances constantly change, but, it’s a start.

What would you suggest is the best interview process, where a technical test is involved?

Saragossa are a talent provider specialising in the Financial Technology, Financial Operations and Data Science sectors. Our role is to match clients with high calibre candidates. Our work encompasses filling temporary contracts along with building permanent teams and resourcing projects. To find out more, please contact or call 020 7871 3666.