Best Approach for Hiring Software Engineers
Jeff Butler, ere media 2244 Times 1441 People

The lack of skilled IT workers is hurting the deployment of emerging technology, according to a new survey from Gartner. In areas from cloud to cybersecurity, this crisis is expected to last for years to come.

Some job openings receive hundreds of applicants, so you need to filter through the candidates to find the strong ones without spending too much time.

The most common approach to filtering candidates is by conducting a phone interview to assess non-technical skills. But in the case of software engineers what is the best approach that will help you select the right fit for the open position?

Here are some insights into which method should be used in what circumstances.

The three most common approaches

1.    Behavioral Phone Interview

Behavioral Phone Interview— A recruiter talks to the candidate on the phone screening for culture fit, communication skills, and evidence of technical competence.


  • Tests communication ability

  • Validates points on a resume

  • Assesses type of personality

  • Eliminates candidates with high financial expectations quickly


  • Can eliminate extremely strong programmers. For a software engineer whose work is solitary, communication though important may not take precedence over technical expertise. A software engineer with more introverted characteristics tends to find phone calls more uncomfortable than a recruiter, resulting in a less than perfect impression on the recruiter. Majority of technical professionals prefer email as the mode of communication over phone calls.

  •  Very time consuming on the recruiter’s part

  •  Incompetent programmers who communicate well can pass

When to Use It:

  • When the hiring manager too has already seen the resume. A call can go great with recruiter, but then the recruiter has to reject the candidate because the hiring manager didn’t think the candidate was a good fit after looking at his resume. Notonly is this rough for the candidate, but it also wastes the recruiter’s time. It can easily be avoided if the manager first looks at the resume to make sure the candidate seems suitable on paper.

  • If the hiring manager highly values communication and “personableness.” If this is the case, a phone call can be appropriate. However, a hiring manager and their team should weigh in the most on whether a candidate is a good fit for the team.

2.    Coding Challenge Approach

Coding Challenge— Candidates are emailed a timed coding challenge that they need to complete online. These can range from 30 minutes to two hours.


  • Verifies that the candidate can code

  • Saves time for the recruiter


  • Does not simulate working coding environments. Usually coding problems are algorithms and data structures, both of which are really used on the job unless the role is in a field such as artificial intelligence. Plus, it’s timed. Real life coding is never to be completed in 30 minutes.

  • Easy to cheat. The fortunate thing for programmers and unfortunate things for recruiters is that the world of programmers is highly collaborative. What this means is that the solutions to a lot of algorithmic problems can be found within a couple of minutes. While interview tests ask candidates not to cheat, there is no way to be sure that they do not. 

  • Can eliminate very strong programmers. As mentioned earlier, these tests are very heavy on algorithms. Since people who have not graduated with a major in computer science are a lot less likely to know algorithms, a lot of candidates who are self-taught or have taken boot camps will struggle on these problems. It does not mean that they are poor programmers; it just means that these questions are not common in the world of programming. By having this phase you can easily miss a large pool of qualified candidates.

When to Use It:

  • If you have an enormous amount of applicants. This way you can easily filter for who is serious about the job. When you get them on the phone, you’ll already know they have some coding chops. However, please make sure that there is some thought put into the coding questions. For instance, if you are hiring front end developers, have front-end questions, not a generic software engineering test.

3.    Take Home-Project Approach

Take-Home Project— Candidates are given a take home project where they need to code according to the specifications decided on by the hiring manager. These can range from two hours to however long it takes the candidate to finish, which could be up to 12 hours.


  •  Simulates actual work

  •  Can filter the amount of desire the candidate has to work for your company. Many  applicants will filter themselves by not completing the project, making the recruiter’s job  easier.


  • Takes time and resources to create and review the exercise. When a take-home exercise is created, that means that someone in the company has to decide on the appropriate take-home assignment. However, the big time component that comes in when the candidate finishes the assignment. Once the candidate finishes, several employees need to look over the code and evaluate whether or not the candidate passes. It takes a good amount of effort to get several programmers to stop what they are doing and evaluate, so you can expect some lag in time before the team gets back to you.

  • Take as long as you want, but not really. Often, recruiters will ask software engineers to complete the project in about X hours. The issue here is that the more time that the coder spends on the project, the greater the chances are of them moving onto the next round. This can really put a candidate in for a spin, especially if the project is difficult … which they usually are. The consensus among software engineers is that “X” is usually the least amount of time it will take, and if you really want the job then you are probably going to need to put in a few more hours. This increases the likelihood that the candidate will not finish the project, especially if they are hot on the job market and another employee has a shorter first-round process.

  • Hard Ask for First-Round Interview. Normally, the interviewer and the candidate gradually invest more in one another with each subsequent round of interviews. When a company asks a candidate to do a take-home project, they are demanding a large investment from the candidate. The candidate is much less likely to complete it because they haven’t yet received an equal investment from the company.

When to Use It:

  • To get a feel for the candidate’s coding skills

  • To screen for candidates who really want to work at your company 

Hopefully seeing the pros and cons to the different screening approaches can help you with your hiring process. Some of the biggest mistakes are that different companies pick the wrong first round. Maybe it’s a really small unknown startup and they require a candidate to do a large coding assignment when the candidate has not been sold on the company yet, or a recruiter who has a copious amount of potential candidates screens everyone on the phone, leaving more qualified candidates to competing companies. With a bit more tweaking to the first part of the interview process, you could see an increase in the quality of the candidates who make it onsite.



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