Spoiler alert: work-sample tests are the only practical and generally tolerated one to use (for software engineers) that is actually correlated with job performance.
@tptacek: how do you feel about people who have large amounts of open source work that is easily reviewed? This obviously doesn’t add new data to your company’s test but is definitely some kind of work sample, albeit not necessarily in a similar environment to the one being hired for.
If they want to turn the onsite into one big work sample, by all means, that sounds very effective (and something I’ve seen work well). But in my experience, you’re going to deter qualified candidates by forcing them to do take-home assignments.
But there's a right way to do it: give work sample challenges and then, at least for the most part, end the technical qualification part of your process there. You spend 4-6 hours at home instead of spending 4-6 hours in front of a whiteboard doing dumb coding challenges.
If I was looking for a job right now, I'd probably refuse to interview anywhere that gave me take-home problems that couldn't promise that a strong result on those problems would take me all the way through technical qualification. But a company that could offer me take-home problems and conclusively make the technical part of the decision on whether to hire me based on those problem would be a strong prospect.
I really like it so far. The part I'm battling on it is if the current coding part selects against Java developers. Part of the code we want right now requires a unit test with dependency injection to match an interface. So many of our Java candidates simply can't set up a running unit test. They are used to layers of framework already set up in the IDE and just clicking on stuff. They have full access to Google. Maybe it is good we are filtering out these candidates, but I'm not sure. Still thinking on it.
Yes, it does. And let me put it this way: I've used C# and Java at most of my jobs, those theoretically would be my comfort languages, yes?
I do not use those languages on interviews. I often just use C++ (!), or Rust (free unit tests!) if the company tools allow for it, or worst case I'd learn some Python basics. C#/Java are very awkward and boilerplatey in such a small time frame as 45 minutes.
I've been on the reviewer side of a handful of "choose your own language"-style take-homes recently and found that it's really not good for the candidate if they actually end up using something that wouldn't have been the interview committee's first or second choice. There have been cases where choosing a less-trendy-but-still-totally-viable toolkit has effectively disqualified a candidate, with several committee members not even considering it necessary to look at the code. This is very unfair and lame but an unfortunate reality. I asked that the test be changed to constrain the options at least to a list that wouldn't be immediately disqualifying.
You could advise the candidate ahead of the interview something along the lines of "you'll be asked to write a code sample in either Ruby or Python -- you'll have full access to Google, but you may want to brush up on the basics of these languages if you haven't used them recently".
This does two things: first, it prevents the issue you have, where you're essentially not sure if you're correctly scoring the samples produced. Secondly, it really requires you to constrain the problem to things that someone who has barely used language X or Y can do within 45 minutes.
Ah, but there's the rub. Candidates are trying to please the interview panel. If you don't provide guidance, the odds that they'll just use whatever they think the interviewers most prefer are just as good, if not better, than the odds that they'll actually use whatever makes them most comfortable.
You said yourself that since some candidates pick a language that you don't know well, you can't really tell if the failure of a large number of those candidates is reflective of a bad test or just a mismatched candidate pool. IMO, if you're going to stick to the "pick any language" thing, you should at least find out and ensure that any language the candidate picks will have a fair shot.
> it can even be a better interview because we get more insight on how the candidate communicates and their ability to walk someone else through their solution.
> A potential other bonus is less biases leak through from an interviewer on "that is a strange way to do that in language X."
I would say that if you're worried that interviewers will load in biases toward their preferred shortcuts etc in a specific language, that you should be equally worried that some good candidates are being excluded for choosing the "wrong" language in an any-language-goes test.
Above, you mentioned that there'd be a positive response if a candidate used "Rust, Scala, or a lisp dialect" -- these are all relatively trendy. What if the candidate used nim, Pony, or some other language that hasn't pulled in to the hype superstation yet? What if the candidate used a language that's not-so-trendy anymore, like Visual Basic, Cobol, or bash? What if the candidate used a programming language of their own design, and brought a copy of the compiler with them on a flash drive?
I'm asking because I've seen this in practice. Candidates for a devops position who chose to use bash to implement the very simple take-home task they were given were laughed off by several other members of the interview committee, despite being potentially high-value senior people -- they were at least senior enough that they're more comfortable performing sysadmin-style tasks in a shell, rather than using a massive CM framework or an awkward amalgamation of Python scripts running os.spawn.
It feels like this type of thing happens a lot, in the same sense that very often, "unlimited PTO" just means "guess whatever amount of PTO is acceptable around here and hope you get it right".
I tend to give candidates a simple project already to go, with junit and hamcrest, possibly mockito already available, and ask them to go from there using a provided IDE (which I attempt to get set up as near as they prefer to work as I can). This generally works out fine. I certainly don't feel the boiler-platiness of the language gets in the way, mostly because the IDE is generally capable of doing most of the lifting with that respect anyway, but also because over the timescale of an interview question, we're generally only talking about a couple of classes at most.
For 20% of Java candidates, they do it just fine. Heck, a few echew the IDE and are fine working completely from the terminal (these tend to be particularly very solid at coding). Still wrestling with the idea.
The folks that already work with us (who wrote Java in a former role) see no problem with setting up a project nor do the folks that we hired recently (seeing as they likely passed that technical interview). But that all could be bias.
Maybe you are right. Maybe the next candidate or five in Java will get a base project and we can see how it goes.
I think Java depends much more heavily on powerful tooling to do the heavy lifting, and my experience of using that tooling when I haven't had a chance to configure it in advance has been pretty miserable.
If it's remote, I'll ask them to share their screen with me with a project set up and ready to go, having emailed them a copy of the interface we're going to implement about 30 minutes before the interview.
In general, if I'm asking them to code on my (or the company's) hardware, I'd start from an existing project, if only because I wouldn't expect them to be familiar with the installed tools (oh, you use maven? I'm a gradle user ... etc.) On their own laptop, I'd expect them to be more comfortable.
I'm doing a remote interview on Wednesday. That'll be on the candidates machine (because screen-sharing is easy, getting them inside the corporate network, not happening), and they've been told they'll need an IDE ready to go. I'll expect a project set up and ready to go before the call even starts.
What round is this?
Also, how much of their day-to-day work is going to be setting up new projects? I sometimes feel a better test is to be thrown into an existing code base and asked to make a change. It's far more indicative of the sort of work somebody is likely to actually be doing.
What exactly do you mean by this?
Work sample test fraud is one of those things that sounds like a huge deal on message boards, but when you game through what would be involved in doing it in real life, it makes very little sense.
Talk to them about the code they wrote.
Have a conversation, as if they were already your co-worker, with the exercise as the subject. Go through it, ask them -- non-adversarially -- why they did X, what they thought about requirement 2, how they could get better test coverage for Z. If you see something that seems to be a mistake, talk about it. If you see something awesome, discuss it. I can't imagine someone incompetent being able to bullshit their way through detailed discussion of code they were supposed to have written.
And this provides valuable info about how this person thinks and communicates about the work you want them to do.
I'm not sure why you felt the need to come out guns blazing.
My best guess is that there aren't going to be many companies that will give you definitive statements about what their process will be after challenges who are lying about how they digest work-sample responses. But I don't know and am prepared to be wrong about that.
I was co-owner of a startup at the time, the guy I interviewed called me up and said you did really good but I think you really don't want to work here - my wife said 'Wow, that guy was really smart' considering how some things went later it might have been better if I'd said no I really really do
This is why take-home problems are almost completely irrelevant except for filtering out good candidates. Eventually those problems optimize for perfection which help out those who 'cheat' at the process and people that otherwise put in earnest efforts are rewarded with denials. This is something I've experienced before in my job search where I would put in an honest effort and get 90% of the problem solved, but get denied because my solution wasn't flawless.
So allow me to call bullshit on your own claims that this is the right way of determining technical qualifications.
Not all companies handle it like this. I had a take-home exercise as part of an interview last year. I hit a real snag on a fairly small part, I couldn't figure it out, and I ended up leaving a bug in my submission because I simply ran out of time. Very frustrating.
It was raised at the interview; I admitted that I knew it was there, and that I hadn't been able to figure it out. We discussed possible causes: it actually turned into a pretty interesting, though minor, technical conversation. The interviewer eventually told me that he had figured it out after a little investigation (and I expressed my gratitude for the explanation!)
I ended up getting an enthusiastic offer from them.
It's possible that the company stated the take-home work in terms of non-negotiable deliverables, and their baseline for allowing a candidate to move forward is 100% of those, and they prioritize candidates who take initiative and do more work beyond the base requirements.
... not that I would agree with such a process (it biases towards people with more free time, like people with fewer dependents and people who are currently out of a job / underemployed), but it's very possible that this is what you faced.
As a new immigrant, my wife had trouble finding work as a designer until she was given a take home work sample test. After that, the company that gave her the test hired her quickly and she has been doing well with them ever since.
I’m currently doing the gauntlet thing myself, but none of the interviews I’ve done have asked any technical questions pertaining to the role that they actually want to hire me for. It’s all generic stuff that frankly I would have done better on 20 years ago.
Surely most people would prefer this to whiteboard tasks?
Then I was hired under probation, as everyone there was, and the understanding was that I could be easily dismissed if it was clear that I wasn't working out.
It's rare that people fail probation; so long as you apply for work you are actually capable of doing...
Myself and a co-worker were once let go for "performance reasons" at 10 months - just after project completion (successful). It was beyond my probationary period, and no issues where raised in the 2 performance reviews.
Their notice period was just 1 month. We were effectively cheap contractors.
My advice now is to treat offers with a low notice period (of them telling you) as a red flag. The norm is 3 months, after probation.
Yes, above a certain size, companies typically have some formal procedures. But typically those are a fig leaf.
In many labour markets, there's a legal 90-day probation or equivalent. You bet your boots some people get dismissed at 80 days. Or the job was contract-to-hire, and the contract doesn't "get renewed".
But on top of that, literally every company I've worked at or any of my friends have worked at (including lotsa startups, two of FAANG, and some in-betweens) will terminate when they want to terminate. In most non-European labour markets that I'm aware of, there's a penalty for doing so, and the company just pays that penalty and gets on with it.
Sometimes there's more security than that, I've heard (but not experienced). And sometimes the company puts in large effort to cultivate the underperforming employee first (had that happen to me once; they tried and I tried but it didn't work out). But the overwhelming majority of cases of my first-hand and second-hand experience, dleslie's summary is about the whole story:
> The real interview is always the work you do
Thus, probationary periods can be a time of training and growth for the new employee.
I suppose you do sort of feel a little stressed during the trial period but I've never seen anyone fail it and it applies at every company, so there's no escaping it anyway. When it was introduced some people got quite upset but I can't really say I think it's had a bad effect.
I guess from the companies perspective if they realize they made a grave mistake they can back out of the hire, but they are still very careful and rigorous in the hiring process just like always. It also allows the candidate to bail if they realize the company wasn't what it said it was. It goes both ways. Again, in practice it seems mostly harmless.
Perhaps the US wouldn't do so well with a similar policy maybe even just due to the crazy healthcare situation going on over there. I couldnt say.
I'm not sure what you mean by "it applies at every company". Getting hired and then fired a week later is virtually unheard of. This is not a fear I have, at all.
But if you told me it's probationary, that is totally a fear I'd have, I'd get paranoid, so I'd rather work somewhere else. You're basically telling me it's not a real offer in my eyes, and I should not expect stability.
> Again, in practice it seems mostly harmless.
It's extremely harmful in a place with poor labor protections that is the US, for reasons that I don't feel like expanding on and that you can educate yourself on if you wish.
Not everyone likes it or agrees with it, and I can only comment on the software industry here and not other industries but it's not the end of the world and the sky doesn't at all fall. When they introduced it a lot of people tried to make arguments like it would be abused etc and as far as I can tell there hasn't really been any drama. YMMV depending on country.
What clicked was I was finishing their sentences and knew precisely what they were asking. It was an incredibly rewarding experience which led to a same day offer.
Ideally you would be given guidance on what they will judging you on.
Then they said my work sample was amazing, and they’d like to do an on-site Q&A about it, but when I arrived the engineer hadn’t even seen my work, and proceeded to just quiz me on obscure JS trivia.
Which I promptly failed.
They then rejected me even though they were happy about my work :/
Six hour take home tests is fine, but I want $1350 for that in advance as a consultation fee, and if I hit 6 hrs and it's not done yet they can keep paying until I am done or we can just end it, no refunds.
The idea that I should spend six hours doing free programming for random companies that say they are desperate to find anyone qualified is absolutely absurd and insulting. No one should put up with that, particularly anyone with an established and verifiable career.
It's employment, not marriage, guys, lighten up with your strenuous and time-draining processes. We senior employees aren't as, is the word excitable, as the entry-levels about joining your workforce.
The elitism of some engineers is mind boggling, instead of being grateful working in an industry that has so much demand that you can easily find a job at anytime, you complain about the process being insulting to your oh-so-important persona.
If i really want to work for a certain company because what they are doing excites me, then yes, i'd do a 6 hour take home test where I can probably also learn a thing or two and I am willing to bet a lot of other developers would too. As an interviewer, someone charging >$1000 for a take home test would be an immediate red flag and our mindsets probably don't match up.
If this works fine for you, kudos.
I'm not the guy who says he should be compensated for take-home tests above. I am however a senior engineer. I'm spurning any long interview processes because they cost money. I don't think it's entitlement, but if that's what you want to call it, so be it. It's called hours worked, hours paid, and in the West it's been a concept since at least the 18th century.
Individual consultant: loses 5 hours of interview time (and commute time) or take-home exam. Let's call it $800 for the sake of argument.
Company: loses 5 hours of interview time, plus the time it takes to "quiz" the exam.
Individual loses money that he / she uses to pay their mortgage.
Company loses profit because the time spent interviewing the candidate could have been spent working on feature Y of the application. So shareholders / VC's lose.
So you're saying it's fair that the individual contributor who loses half a day's pay in your interview process is equivalent (you DID use the word "fair" so that's an equivalence argument you made) to a company's loss of a few hours out of the many thousands of man-hours they rely upon? It's a .0001% of their profit, assuming the employers don't work a few hours more to make up for the lost time, because they will (they're salaried!)
But I have 0 tolerance policy towards puzzle whiteboarding tests. It is total waste of time.
Large companies are not "highly incentivized" to optimize they're hiring process. Once a certain throughput is achieved, there's very little reason to revisit it, because if they revisit it, "they're lowering the bar", or not "optimizing for recall" or whatever.
Mindlessly copying large companies isn't all that useful. Microsoft famously loved brain teasers. Can't get the fox, chicken, and grain to the other side of of the river? You must not be able to code either. Google, loved asking your SAT scores because, "obviously" someone that got some arbitrary score on a standardized test, a minimum of 6 years ago, certainly means something today.
Large companies aren't immune from bullshit. In fact, they have the habit of metastasizing bullshit, because of "Well, X does it, so it must be good." X only does it, because they had a stupid idea, became successful because of completely unrelated means, and then fooled themselves into thinking their process was good, "Well, I've been hitting candidates with ball-pein hammer for years, and I'm successful, so screw you."
Interestingly enough, eventually both Microsoft and Google abandoned these interview questions, because eventually, they realized that one had nothing to do with the other, but only after years doing it, and others copying them.
The problem is that requiring IQ tests for employment introduces liability that employers do not want.
Neither IQ nor SAT scores correlate with job performance. SAT scores were requested at Google for years. Explicit aptitude tests have been used in the past, and continue to be used. They are quite legal, as long as they are used for their intend use.
SAT is an IQ test:
The TL;DNR: Nuh-uh!
In the future, you really shouldn't link to dueling articles in an opinion section. It makes this all too easy.
Why do you think they are incentivized to get studied? If anything, power dynamics in large hierarchical organizations keep away any studying done that can threaten the power. Sometimes studies do happen though, but large organization can never apply the results to anything on their scale. They are more worried where to even get such massive stream of professionals to hire.
Also have you got any examples of this research that actually proves this correlation I haven't heard of any and I would have as I have spent decades semi involved in IR (industrial relations) in the UK