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Hiring Tips & Insights: How to Run a Technical Interview to Hire Developers Efficiently

How to Run a Technical Interview to Hire Developers Efficiently

By Karin Bothma

Struggling with developers dropping out of your tech hiring pipeline? A lengthy hiring process could be at the root of your problem. A well-designed technical interview offers one way to streamline the process. Here’s how we approach technical interviews at OfferZen to save time and recruit the best people for our team. Plus, get a downloadable rubric to grade the technical interview!

How to Run a Technical Interview to Hire Developers Efficiently

What is a technical interview?

A technical interview is a discussion that’s used to evaluate a candidate’s technical abilities. The main objective figuring out if a candidate has the required technical skills for the role you’re trying to fill.

There are different ways to conduct this type of interview, for example:

  • Having a standardised list of technical questions or using a tool that enables the discussion, for example, Karat.
  • Ask candidates to talk you through their hypothetical design of a simple system, which will form the basis of the discussion. For example, designing a URL shortener.
  • Providing candidates with a sample of code to review before the interview, which will form the basis of the discussion. This is what we do in our technical interview process at OfferZen.

Whichever method you choose, this will help you decide if the developer applying for the job will contribute meaningfully to your team’s work.

The pros and cons of the technical interview

Developers view a lengthy, poorly communicated hiring process as indicative of bad company culture: a negative experience will likely cost you top talent.

It’s essential that your interview process helps you to get all the information you need, while minimising developers’ pain points.

A cumbersome, poorly designed interview process with too many steps is also the top pet peeve for developers in the Netherlands and South Africa.

This is where the technical interview shines: A well-designed one is a time-efficient way to gauge a candidate’s knowledge. Usually, the discussion can be time-boxed to an hour, and little preparation is needed outside of this time for both the candidate and your team.

How developers communicate in this interview and how they tackle technical problems can also give you an idea of whether they’ll be a good addition to your team culture.

There are some drawbacks, though. The effectiveness of the technical interview will depend on the strengths of the questions you ask. Your interviewer needs to have in-depth technical knowledge and a thorough understanding of the requirements for the role, and sharp interview skills to drive the discussion.

Advantages:

  • Fast and convenient for developers and hiring teams, which can prevent drop-off in the pipeline.
  • It can indicate whether the candidate will be a good addition to your team culture.

Disadvantages

  • The interviewer must have good technical and interview skills for it to be effective.
  • Requires extensive initial training and preparation for the interview team.

How OfferZen uses technical interviews to hire developers

At OfferZen, we’ve recently introduced the technical interview into our process to hire developers for the team. We replaced take-home technical assessments with technical interviews. This reduced the length of our hiring process, which was causing candidates to drop out of our pipeline.

Here’s how we prep before we get to the technical interview to ensure we’re hiring the best people and our candidates have a great experience.

Set up your scorecard and marking rubric

Putting together a scorecard will give you an objective idea of what the role entails and who you think can do the job. It helps your team get on the same page about what you’re looking for.

Use it in addition to a rubric to grade the interview, which can contain the specific questions you want to ask in the technical interview. It should come with guidelines on what the team should look out for in a developer’s answers. In our case, the depth of the explanations we expect is based on the developer’s level of experience (e.g. junior, intermediate, or senior).

Get a downloadable template for grading a technical interview here!

Choose a diverse, knowledgeable interviewing team

The most important part of putting your interview team together is choosing team members who are good communicators.

It’s important to ensure you have enough senior developers on the hiring team. More experienced team members are likely to have a good depth of technical skill, as well as the soft skills necessary for this type of interview.

It’s crucial that the interviewer can dig deeper into a candidate’s answers: For example, you should be able to identify when a candidate has a real understanding of a particular area, as opposed to using superficial buzzwords to answer your questions.

Choose an appropriate problem for the candidate to solve

To assess the depth of developers’ knowledge around specific technical skills, we send candidates a sample of code to review 24 hours before their interview. This code sample shouldn’t be overly complex, as this ensures it isn’t too time-consuming to prep for the interview.

We discuss the problem in the technical interview. Before we get to the session, though, we send the candidate a brief that outlines the task and how they should approach it.

Create and send the candidate a clear brief

Although speed is of the essence when it comes to recruiting top talent, it’s important to ensure that the task and interview are well-structured. When we send candidates the problem, we also send them a brief that outlines the:

  • Aim: What we’re looking to evaluate.
  • Approach: How the candidate should tackle the task and how the technical interview will run.
  • Context: Why this problem is relevant to the type of work they’ll do on our team.
  • Task: A practical scenario that allows them to showcase their skills and thought process.

A strong brief minimises the risk of candidates dropping out of the process because of a lack of clarity.

Preparing the panel for the interview

Interviewing is a skill. Knowing which questions to ask, how to ask them, and what to take from a candidate’s answers can be challenging for anyone who isn’t an experienced interviewer. Because of this, training is an essential part of your team’s preparation.

The best way to train your team is setting up mock interviews with internal and external developers.

Having your interviewers run through the assessment and ask questions helps them prepare for the real deal. This will increase their confidence. Plus, you can provide feedback in real-time to help them hone their skills.

Aside from training, you’ll want to ensure that your interview panel has all the information they need on hand before the session. Provide them with the candidate’s CV and a structure for the interview, and ask them to add potential questions to your hiring document to ensure things run smoothly.

Top tips for conducting an efficient tech interview

  • Know what you’re looking for: Identify the technical and soft skills that your team needs to excel.
  • Create a well-prepared, well-structured interview: Go through the assessment before the interview and prepare some questions to guide the interview.
  • Pick the right interview team: Ensure the interview team is familiar with the topic, technical issue and coding languages that your candidate is working with.
  • Make the candidate comfortable: Ease the interviewee’s nerves by asking general questions about their day, followed by some easier technical questions to build confidence.
  • Be present and listen actively: Make notes while you’re interviewing the candidate to help process everything they’re saying. Set your instant messaging apps to ‘Do not disturb’ and close all tabs that aren’t necessary to conduct the interview.
  • Explore ideas and decisions: Ask follow-up questions to better understand the candidate’s thought process and gauge how well they fit within your team.
  • Don’t ask leading questions: These questions lead a candidate to give you a particular answer. For example: Imagine there’s a data structure being returned, and you’d like the candidate to suggest you reduce the number of fields that are being returned. A non-leading question would be ‘What did you think about what this function’s returning?’ instead of ‘Would you return all of the fields contained in this data structure?’.

Read more

How to Conduct an Effective Tech Assessment

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