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Tech Career Insights: How to stand out in technical assessments with the rise of AI tools
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How to stand out in technical assessments with the rise of AI tools

16 October 2023, by Simone Markham

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AI tools have rapidly grown in sophistication, and the nature of how companies use technical assessments during the interview process has changed as a result. It’s now more important than ever to showcase your critical thinking and approach as well as your problem-solving skills to land your next dream job.

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Here are our tips to tackle and stand out in tech assessments following the rise of AI tooling.

How companies have changed their approach to technical assessments

Although not all employers have had the need to make huge changes to their technical assessments, they may be even more focused on effectively evaluating your capabilities for the job.

Employers are closely assessing your ability to grasp the task

Employers like Runninghill Software Development encourage their employees to leverage AI tools to efficiently complete daily tasks at work. We chatted to Theoca Voges, Talent Acquisition Specialist, and Henk Bothma, Head of IT at Runninghill, who confirmed that they use this approach when interviewing candidates as well:

“Developers are warmly invited to employ AI in completing their assessments. However, the crux lies in grasping the nature of their tasks and possessing the ability to troubleshoot and rectify any challenges that arise.”

Your completed assessment should always be original work. Although you can get support from AI tools, which in some cases fulfil the role of developer support communities such as Stack Overflow, having an AI tool do all the work doesn’t showcase your technical skills and won’t assist you in the job itself.

Employers may be checking if you had an AI tool write your code

Writing your own code, perhaps with AI assistance, not only helps you test if you can fulfil the role, but it also helps you avoid giving employers a bad impression.

It can be easy for a company to tell if an AI tool did all the work, especially if you aren’t able to explain the code and how it’s structured during the technical interview.

Runninghill conduct an interview as part of a technical step in their process where candidates are given the chance to showcase their work on the assessment. It creates a space in which the hiring team can engage in detailed discussions on technical topics and test the candidate’s comprehension of their work.

Henk says this part of the process is the deciding factor in their hiring decision:

“Should a candidate heavily rely on AI for the majority of their tasks without fundamental understanding, it would lead us to decline the candidate.”

Some employers may run the assessment through an AI detector, rejecting any candidates if they suspect their code was written by AI. Employers may take note of these individuals, and in a small technical community, these candidates may find they receive less employer interest in future due to their reputation of relying on AI to write all their code.

What you need to prepare for technical tests in this context

To secure your dream job, you’ll still need a strong foundation of developer skills that could be supported by AI tools. You want to showcase these skills when writing your code, but also when you speak about your code to the employer.

Showcase your critical thinking abilities

Since companies are more focused on getting a gauge of your critical thinking and approach, it’s vital to fully explain why you wrote the code you did and how you went about it.

When writing your solution, take notes on the decisions you’re making at every step. It’ll be easier to refer back to these notes when the employer asks you questions about how you approached the problem.

Demonstrate your problem-solving skills

Runninghill’s technical interview includes problem-solving queries to evaluate the candidate’s capacity to tackle the challenge.

Henk notes that “AI can be an invaluable resource in navigating technical complexities” and Runninghill encourages the utilisation of AI tools for addressing technical inquiries. But it’s not as useful for problem-solving questions when you’re trying to demonstrate your skills:

“Occasionally, candidates attempt to employ AI for resolution. However, this approach veers away from our intention. While AI has the capability to solve these problems, our objective is not to assess AI’s prowess, but rather the candidate’s problem-solving abilities.”

When asked a problem-solving question, rather use your unique ideas to answer. This will assist in demonstrating your individual ability to tackle these kinds of problems, which in turn helps the employer assess you more accurately.

How to navigate using AI tools in your technical interviews

Employers like Runninghill are not against the use of AI tools in assessments:

“Candidates should employ AI as a means to ensure timely delivery and to enhance the quality of their solutions. However, it remains imperative for candidates to maintain a comprehensive understanding of the project’s intricacies.”

Relying solely on AI tools won’t give employers a chance to accurately assess your skillset. When making use of them, make sure you can still show employers what unique skills you can bring to the job and the team.

Be upfront about using AI tools in your technical assessment

If you’re planning on using AI tools, first ask the employer if they’re open to you leveraging them to complete the assessment. Specify which tools you’ll make use of and you could also explain why you think it’s necessary: Perhaps it helps you complete a task faster that would assist you in the job itself, or it could be that it helps you battle test ideas when you don’t have a teammate to converse with.

Runninghill encourages transparency within their team, and seeing this value in a candidate strengthens their application:

“If candidates openly communicate their use of AI to enhance solutions or overcome challenges, it speaks positively to their adaptability and use of resources at their disposal to overcome obstacles; qualities we value and wish to see exhibited in our team.”

Not only does being open about your use of AI tools create a good impression for the company on your honesty and communication skills, but it also helps you avoid any suspicion when the employer reviews your code that it is in fact your work.

Document how you utilised AI tools in your solution

If the employer gives the green light that you can use AI tools, document when and how you utilised them. It further prevents any doubt from an employer and showcases how you make use of resources to write your code.

AI tools shouldn’t replace how you showcase your critical thinking. And you’ll likely need to explain the different ways you solve problems and why you chose a particular process. Documenting where and how you used AI tools in your solution will make speaking about it easier.

Conclusion

Technical assessments measure how well you can do the job, and you won’t be able to use AI tools in every aspect of the role. Rather give employers a true representation of how you would do the work instead of showing how AI can do it. It’ll also ensure you don’t land a job that you don’t feel fully equipped to handle.

Although using AI tools in your day-to-day work as a developer is becoming widespread, it’s more useful as an assistant than to write all your code. If you are set on using AI tools in your work, check with the employer on their terms for using these resources. This will help you in securing a job more aligned with how you enjoy working.

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