Conducting a Technical Screening: Checklist and Questions

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Rafael Timbó
By
Rafael Timbó
|
Chief Technology Officer
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Table of Contents

Technical screenings provide a measurable and reliable way to test incoming applicants' technical aptitude, behavioral competencies, and company culture fit.
Published on
September 27, 2022
Updated on
April 11, 2024

Hiring the right IT professional, software engineer, or developer demands critical time and resources from human resources (HR) and hiring teams. Unsurprisingly, many companies have adopted technical screening interviews to streamline the process.

Unlike traditional interviews, technical screening simultaneously tests and evaluates candidates' experiences, skills, and personalities. Depending on your needs and requirements, the technical screening process may include interviews, phone calls, multiple-choice questions, and live coding assignments.

Why is such a process beneficial for companies, and how do you know what works best? Learn more and explore our technical screening checklist and sample interview questions.

What Is Technical Screening?

Technical screening is part of an organization’s talent acquisition process to evaluate a prospective hire's technical abilities and skills more efficiently. It usually consists of interviews, multiple-choice questions, phone calls, and coding exercises. Often, the depth of the tech screening depends on several factors, including the complexity of the role, leadership potential, and the industry of employment. For example, a full-stack developer at a specialized tech company would undergo a vastly different technical screening than a webmaster at a law firm. 

Most importantly, technical screenings must have high accuracy and validity, meaning they correctly measure what is intended to be measured. Because these software developer skill assessments aren’t necessarily standardized, the hiring organization and your hiring team are responsible for developing technical screenings through established software developer KPIs (key performance indicators) and industry benchmarks. Before implementation, it’s important to understand the role of technical screenings alongside technical interviews. 

Technical Interview vs Technical Screen

While both are widely used when hiring technical professionals, technical interviews and technical screenings each serve different functions for HR, hiring managers, and tech recruiters. Technical screenings are typically deployed early in the candidate journey, measuring broad ranges of knowledge such as programming languages, frameworks, and tools commonly used in the position. Screenings focus on quantitative scoring, meaning automated tests are a popular delivery method. The evaluation of a technical screening is meant to highlight candidates with the baseline skills required for the role while eliminating underperforming applicants before they progress in the hiring process.

Technical interviews take a more qualitative approach and, in many ways, resemble traditional interviews. Though the focus remains on technical aptitude, technical interviews provide a deeper, more comprehensive evaluation of a candidate’s practical expertise, problem-solving aptitude, and cultural fit. Because technical interviews require more attention to detail and individual focus, they’re usually reserved for later in a candidate's journey. Depending on how the candidate experience is organized, technical interviews may sometimes be a component of a technical screening at an earlier point in the interview process.

Why Is Technical Screening Important

Because recruiters and HR are the first line in tech recruiting efforts, it’s critical to understand the role beyond its main function, department, and direct supervisors. With technical roles, it’s often difficult to grasp the full scope of the position because of overused tech jargon and poor communication with engineering managers. Though it’s impossible to demand a comprehensive understanding of each role you hire for, technical screenings provide a strong framework to ask poignant technical questions to applicants — providing you with more insight and the candidate with realistic expectations.

Technical screening is a reliable way to test candidates' practical knowledge and experience. By their nature, technical interviews are less standardized in the talent pipeline, but the focus on technical aptitude increases both reliability and validity. When used together, the combination gives you insight into behavioral competencies and technical aptitude. Technical screenings provide several other benefits to human resources and recruiting professionals.

An Improved Talent Pool

The primary purpose of technical screening is to evaluate candidates' practical knowledge and skills. You can use it to quickly weed out applicants who don't meet your basic technical skill requirements, giving you more time to evaluate quality candidates.

To illustrate, if you need a developer with over three years of Rust programming experience, you can use technical screening to filter out candidates who fail to meet this requirement. While their skill set may be strong in some areas, establishing a baseline for applicants is critical.

You can also use technical screening to test soft skills and work ethic alongside technical skills, especially when you opt for pair programming exercises. Attention to these other functional skill areas increases the likelihood of strong engagement and your company’s ability to retain talent.

Reduced Unconscious Biases

Like everyone else, HR personnel are prone to unconscious biases, such as the halo effect and intuition bias. Such tendencies can jeopardize the success of the entire technical recruitment process, reducing fairness, equity, and diversity.

That's why HR should use technical screening to reduce unconscious hiring biases. When interviewers assess candidates depending on the technical test results, they leave less room for subjective judging of candidates' skills.

Enhanced Candidate Experience

To improve your company branding and attract first-class talent, you must deliver memorable candidate experiences. In other words, you need to demonstrate that you care about your candidates.

Technical screening improves the candidate experience by:

  • Letting applicants complete assessments on their own time
  • Assuring candidates they are evaluated based on their technical skills and experiences
  • Giving applicants meaningful feedback, such as test scores and constructive criticism

Lower HR Costs and Hiring Time

Hiring mistakes are often expensive and time-consuming. At a minimum, you and the rest of the hiring personnel must:

  • Write and post a job description
  • Promote it on social media and various hiring platforms
  • Use an applicant tracking system (ATS) to scan through all the resumes
  • Conduct interviews or pair programming exercises
  • Carry out background checks

The entire process can easily take weeks or months. A comprehensive study by the Economic Graph team has revealed that the median information technology job requires 44 days to fill.

Fortunately, you can cut costs and time to hire by using technical screening to uncover the best candidates. Unlike non-technical interviews, these provide deep insights into how a candidate will perform on the job, reducing the chances of hiring the wrong person.

How to Conduct a Technical Screening

After conceptualizing technical screenings, it’s critical to adapt the screening to a format that suits organizational needs, provides insight for you, and is accessible to applicants. As a baseline, it’s common to begin with a broad and automated technical screening to prioritize high performers. For specialized positions, a technical interview or pair programming exercise may reveal more insight. 

Technical Assessment

Most companies perform basic technical screening assessments before interviewing candidates. These tests allow employers to see if candidates have the right technical skills and experience to succeed.

Popular pre-employment technical screening assessments include:

  1. Pre-interview online assessments: Some startups use timed coding exercises or online multiple-choice tests to narrow the candidate pool. These assessments usually take less than an hour to complete and don't require candidates to outline their thought processes. Many companies use the best technical skills screening software for pre-interview online assessments.
  2. Phone screening: During this method, interviewers ask general background questions about the candidate's education and work experience. Candidates may also be required to type answers into a shared editor or Google Doc. Some employers use multiple rounds of phone interviews.

Technical Interviews

Some companies use technical interviews to determine whether a candidate is a good fit for the position. During these interviews, interviewers ask questions about a particular product, topic, workflow, or tech stack.

For example, if you're hiring a JavaScript programmer, interviewers will ask applicants questions about JavaScript, such as:

  • What is JavaScript?
  • What are the types of scope in JavaScript?
  • How do you handle exceptions and errors in JavaScript?
  • Is JavaScript an object-oriented programming (OOP) language?
  • What is a pure function?
  • Is it possible to write a multi-line string in JavaScript?
  • What are the most common primitive data types in JavaScript?

Additionally, interviewers may ask candidates to outline solutions to specific problems, give a presentation to the tech hiring team, or write code on a whiteboard or computer. They do so to learn more about a candidate's background and skills. However, interviews can be time-consuming because they usually consist of multiple rounds with various departments, such as human resources and the C-Suite.

Pair Programming

Pair programming is a collaborative process in which two people write code on one machine. In technical screening, the assessor gives candidates a problem or an assignment and evaluates their progress in real time. During the process, the assessor discusses the task with the candidates to understand their approaches.

Pair programming offers many benefits aside from testing programming and coding skills, including:

  • Faster time-to-hire: Pair programming can significantly accelerate your hiring process. You only need one pair programming round after phone screening or online assessments to zero in on prospective hires. In contrast, interviews typically require you to go through several rounds.
  • An objective hiring process: Pair programming exercises are less subjective than interviews because the assessor witnesses candidates' problem-solving ability, work style, and results first-hand. Meanwhile, interviews only show you results and theoretical responses to scenarios.
  • Improved candidate experience: Compared to other exercises, pair programming tests are more fun and interactive compared to simple coding challenges. They also give candidates a better understanding of how your team structure informs workflows.

You can perform pair programming in person, but most companies prefer to do it online to cut costs. Unfortunately, pair programming can be tricky to conduct. For one, you can't just get any HR professional to be the assessor — you need an IT expert familiar with the skills and knowledge you're looking for in the new hire. Your chosen assessor should also conduct interviews professionally and efficiently.

Common Screening Questions to Assess Tech Skills

Now that you know the benefits of technical screening, it's time to think about how to conduct it. If you decide on a technical interview portion, here are some core interview questions you can pose to prospective candidates to learn more about their technical knowledge and skills.

1. Which technology services or tech stack do you use the most?

Ask this question to evaluate job seekers' familiarity with your tech stack, as your company needs an expert in its field of operation. Let's say your company uses JavaScript and Node.js for front-end development. If a prospective hire doesn't mention either of the two in the answer, they may not be the ideal candidate.

2. Have you had any experience with the cloud, databases, and infrastructure?

You only need to ask this question when filling a role that requires candidates to be familiar with these three subjects. When posing it, you can also use the following sub-questions to learn more about your candidates:

  • How do you measure your aptitude in cloud, databases, and data structures?
  • How did you start learning about these subjects?
  • How much experience do you have with the cloud, databases, and infrastructure?
  • What cloud, database, and infrastructure projects have you worked on, such as apps, software, and documentation?
  • Which cloud platforms are you familiar with, such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and IBM Cloud?
  • Which frameworks, databases, and infrastructure technologies do you enjoy using the most and why?

3. What have you been studying lately, and which skill or stack would you like to focus on in the next job?

The answer to this question will show whether a candidate is dedicated to self-improvement and caught up with industry trends. Ideally, candidates should:

  • Constantly research and learn new things: FAANG-caliber hires don't stop studying after graduation. They keep on researching and studying their industry to remain competitive.
  • Be up to date with industry trends: The best programmers for your team should also be up to speed with the latest digital acceleration trends, such as artificial intelligence components, machine learning (ML), the cloud, virtual machines, 3D printing, and cryptocurrency. Even if their position doesn't require it, candidates should have at least a cursory understanding of these topics. Otherwise, they may have a difficult time participating in group discussions.
  • Understand your needs: The last part of this question reveals whether candidates understand the job and its requirements. If the stack they want to focus on differs significantly from what you're looking for, move on to the next person.

4. Which project management or software development methodologies do you prefer?

When recruiting IT professionals, hire someone who uses the same software development or project management methodology as the rest of your team. You can learn whether this is true by asking the question above. The ideal answer should look like this:

“I'm well familiar with Scrum. I've been working on Scrum teams since I graduated from college in 2019, so I have around five years of Scrum programming experience.

Although I've had some experiences with other project management methodologies, such as Waterfall, Scrum remains my favorite. That's because I'm a people person, and Scrum is more people-focused than any other software development methodology. Thanks to Scrum, I've built strong relationships with other developers. I also appreciate how Scrum empowers us to learn from experience.

I also enjoy working on other Agile teams, including Kanban and Scrumban. I've successfully built two iOS mobile apps using Scrumban: a video editor and a special effects app. You can learn more about them by checking out my portfolio.”

5. Why did you choose to become an IT professional?

This question reveals an applicant’s:

  • Motivation for becoming IT professionals
  • Specific interests, such as user interface (UI) design, AI, statistics, and testing
  • Educational background
  • Previous work experience
  • Passion projects

Ideally, the best match for your company should have a solid motivation for becoming an IT professional and a genuine passion for the field. A passionate programmer is much more likely to engage in job enrichment efforts than someone who only seeks a paycheck.

However, a good fit doesn't need a bachelor's degree. Due to the proliferation of open-source tools and technologies, many self-taught developers provide an equally strong set of technical skills and a creative application of those skills that a formal education may not provide. Keep in mind unconscious biases that may affect your thought process so you don’t miss out on top talent.

Connect With Talented, Pre-Screened Developers

Technical screening is a quick and efficient way to evaluate candidates' hard and soft skills. However, you still have to source candidates from tech hubs, job sites, and other platforms. Depending on your industry and company size, this can easily take weeks or months.

Fortunately, there's a way to accelerate the technical screening process — by partnering with Revelo. As Latin America's premier tech talent marketplace, we connect clients with a pool of thousands of tech professionals who have been rigorously pre-tested for their soft skills, technical knowledge, and experience.

After hiring, we’ll assist in ongoing administrative tasks such as benefits administration, payroll, taxes, and local compliance — allowing you to focus on core talent management strategies.

Let Revelo handle the technical screening and testing for you. Contact us to hire tech talent today.

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