Creating a good take-home assessment is challenging but totally worth the effort. It’s a common misconception that senior engineers will not do take-home assessments, however this belief is simply unfounded.
The crux of the issue lies in the quality of take-home assessments that companies provide. Often, these assignments fall short, discouraging not just senior engineers, but many candidates from participating.
This post goes over how to create an effective take-home assessment for senior engineers (and other levels!) that will not only help you evaluate their skills but also provide a positive experience for candidates.
1. Keep the Assessment Short and Focused
A common pitfall in take-home assessments is testing too many skills, resulting in an overly long and tedious process for both the candidate and the reviewer. To keep the assessment short, focus on testing a few key skills relevant to the job.
One way to keep the assessment focused is to provide candidates with a starting codebase. This reduces the amount of boilerplate code needed by the candidate to complete the assessment. In this article about creating a React take-home, we go over some tips on how to make your assessment focused and short. These tips can be applied to any assessment type.
An alternative approach is to have candidates evaluate existing code rather than create new code. This method is particularly well-suited for assessing senior engineers, as it aligns closely with their daily responsibilities and offers a more efficient evaluation process.
2. Mimic Day-to-Day Work
For senior engineers, avoid giving them data structure & algorithm problems. Most senior engineers have not studied these topics for years and would perform worse than new graduates on the subject matter. Instead, create an assessment that closely resembles the day-to-day work of a senior engineer at your company.
By developing a realistic challenge, you not only craft a positive experience for candidates but also offer them insight into the work environment at your company. If a candidate is disinterested in completing a specific task within the challenge, it may serve as a valuable indicator for you, suggesting that they might not be a good fit for the role in question.
Nonetheless, it's essential not to make the challenge excessively practical, such as having candidates work on a live issue in your codebase. This approach would be difficult to scale, as it would require generating unique problems for each candidate and addressing the security and legal concerns of sharing your codebase. Additionally, comparing candidates could become challenging under these circumstances.
3. Compensate Candidates
Offering compensation for the time spent on a take-home challenge is a great way to show respect for senior engineers' expertise. Compensation doesn't always have to be monetary; promising feedback, a follow-up interview, or simply an engaging and well-designed challenge can be valuable as well.
Should you choose to offer financial compensation, it doesn't have to be a significant amount. According to a 2022 survey we conducted involving 122 engineers, the average expected compensation for a take-home assessment is approximately $150.
4. Follow-up Live Discussion
A crucial aspect of a successful take-home assessment is conducting a live follow-up discussion with the candidate. This conversation enables you to dive deeper into the decisions they made and better understand their thought process. It also helps you evaluate their problem-solving skills and detect any potential cheating attempts. Make sure to ask probing questions to gain a better sense of their skills and knowledge. In this article, we go over tips around how to conduct a follow-up discussion on a take-home assessment.
5. Connect with Candidates
Take-home assessments can feel impersonal, so it's essential to connect with candidates and show your investment in the process. One way to do this is by providing a direct line of communication to someone on your hiring team, such as via Slack. This connection allows candidates to ask questions and receive guidance, making the experience more engaging and human.
This approach not only fosters a positive candidate experience but also enables you to gather valuable insights into the candidates' work styles, providing a more accurate representation of their day-to-day performance.
6. Track Metrics
Your assessment is not going to be perfect the first time around. Monitor completion rates, pass rates, and frequently asked questions to improve your assessment over time. Tracking metrics can help you identify areas where the assessment may need to be adjusted to better reflect the skills and knowledge required for the role. Keep in mind though that not all feedback should be acted upon, as you may not want to optimize on candidates who may not be a good fit for your company.
Creating a well-designed take-home assessment for senior engineers is a delicate balance of testing the right skills while providing a positive candidate experience. By keeping the assessment short, focusing on real-world tasks, and following some of the other tips in this article, you'll be well on your way to crafting an effective and efficient take-home assessment that will help you identify and recruit the best engineering talent for your company.