How to conduct an IT skills assessment of candidates

By Robert Half on 14/12/2023
Estimated Read Time: 4 minutes

Imagine this scenario: an employer wants to recruit a senior software developer for its growing team. The market is tight, and they are feeling the pressure to hire someone quickly. But they also want to find the right person. They could adopt one of two approaches: run an IT skill assessment and interview candidates to expedite the process; or follow multiple steps, including introductory calls and references, taking a more in-depth approach. The first will be quicker; it might even unearth some great candidates, but something important might get overlooked. The second will take longer; it might even be unsuccessful, but it promises to be more reliable.

Why consistency matters

The process of assessing technical candidates varies from business to business. It’s common for them to look at someone’s career history and determine they don’t have the right skills, when they haven’t even spoken to them, or their previous employer. Employers also tend to skip certain steps of the process when they have a higher confidence in someone’s ability.

But it’s important for them to follow a consistent approach with everyone. Why? Because if they run the same steps and gather multiple data points, they will build more reliable hiring data and make better hiring decisions. If they say ‘yes’ to someone, at least they can say it with confidence. So, here are a series of steps to develop a hiring process that is both objective and fair to those involved.

  1. Build rapport: Speaking to candidates at the outset will help to develop a relationship. Employers can understand more about them, beyond their written career history. A conversation will also allow someone to feel heard, engaging them in the next steps of the recruitment process.
  2. Conduct an IT skill assessment: This will be selected in the context of the role, and likely provide an indication of their relevant technical ability. The main thing is to select a test which is robust: it has enough people taking it across the world to create a proper sample size. This means employers can at least see how this person ranks alongside their peers. It’s also important to select a test an employer can interpret and understand. They can ask around among peers for recommendations.
  3. Set up interviews: Just because someone has scored 97 on a coding test, for example, doesn’t mean they will be the right fit for the team. I have seen many examples where candidates have gone to interview, with average test results, but shined with their communication and teamwork skills. The opposite is also true, of course, when technical ability masks poor soft skills; IT skill assessments don’t measure those.
  4. Speak to former employers: It’s a great opportunity to ask questions, eliminate doubts, or reconfirm instincts. A prospective employer might like a candidate but found they stumbled on a coding assessment, for example. A previous employer might confirm they didn’t always get it right but were persistent and asked good questions.

Better data, better hiring decisions

Hiring decisions for technical roles are pivotal because employers often need more than technical skills. They are looking for people with experience who can do the job, of course, but they are also looking for people who will fit their culture: people who can work in a team, work across teams, and adapt in a fast-changing environment.

That’s why consistent hiring matters. Those who choose speed over consistency might reach their hiring decisions more quickly; they might even find some good candidates. But in the long-term, those who follow a robust, consistent and objective process will make better hiring decisions, even if it takes a bit longer.

Nathan Wawruck is a Director of Permanent Placement Services with Robert Half. Nathan manages a team of recruiters who specialize in the placement of highly skilled technology and marketing professionals for companies across Vancouver and British Columbia. Nathan is an active member in the Vancouver technology industry, and regularly speaks at technology industry events, conferences, and his expertise is featured across national media.

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