How to Create a Code Challenge
A Guide to Creating Effective Code Challenges to Hire the Best Talents on the Market.
Code challenges have become a powerful tool in the tech industry, allowing employers to assess a candidate's technical proficiency and problem-solving skills in a more realistic and practical environment. Unlike traditional resume screenings and interviews, code challenges offer a clearer and more objective evaluation of a candidate's abilities.
In this article, I will try to explore the relevance of code challenges and discuss how to set clear objectives and expectations, design effective challenges, evaluate success, and provide feedback to candidates. I will also provide some resources that could be useful to craft your perfect code challenge. The overall idea is to help hiring managers create effective code challenges that can provide valuable insights into a candidate's skills and abilities while also offering a fair and engaging evaluation process.
Although code challenges are typically used for technical roles, the same principles can be applied to other roles with some modification of the scope and technical requirements. For instance, you could create a challenge for a Product Manager where instead of solving a problem with code, the candidate is asked to solve a problem with words.
🔑 The Importance of Code Challenges
Overall, code challenges are an effective tool for evaluating candidates and identifying the most suitable applicants for a given role. By providing a more accurate and comprehensive evaluation of a candidate's skills, code challenges can help to ensure that companies hire the best candidates for their technical roles.
Code challenges are important for a number of reasons, including:
🎯 Enabling accurate evaluation of technical capabilities: Code challenges provide recruiters and hiring managers with a practical, hands-on way to assess a candidate's technical skills. This method is more precise than relying solely on traditional interview questions or resume screenings.
🔍 Testing skills that are difficult to assess from a resume alone: In addition to technical skills, code challenges can also reveal a candidate's ability to perform under pressure, manage their time effectively, organize their work, document their progress, and solve problems.
🎉 Providing an engaging and enjoyable evaluation method: Code challenges can be more appealing to candidates than traditional interviews or resume screenings, as they allow candidates to demonstrate their skills in a more dynamic and interactive way.
🎯 Establishing Clear Goals and Expectations
Before crafting a code challenge, it is crucial to establish explicit goals and expectations, encompassing the definition of the role's seniority, the required skills, and the soft skills to be tested.
Define Seniority and Required Skills
To design an effective code challenge, start by outlining the skills necessary for the position in question, including programming languages, frameworks, and tools. The seniority of the role may dictate different expectations regarding the candidate's skill level.
For instance, hiring for a junior developer role may necessitate a candidate with a fundamental understanding of programming concepts and familiarity with a few programming languages. Conversely, a senior developer role may require a candidate with in-depth expertise in specific programming languages and frameworks.
By delineating the necessary skills for the position, you can develop a code challenge that accurately evaluates the candidate's expertise and knowledge.
Define Soft Skills to Be Tested
Apart from technical skills, it is important to identify the soft skills that you want to assess. This may include problem-solving abilities, teamwork, communication skills, and the ability to handle pressure.
Defining these skills can assist you in customizing the code challenge to evaluate particular competencies. For instance, to test a candidate's capacity to perform under pressure, you could set a strict deadline for the code challenge.
Avoid Wasting Time for Both Parties
Make sure you don't waste your time or the candidate's time by creating a coding test that is either too difficult or too easy. This may frustrate the candidate or make them lose interest in the job.
Instead, aim to create a coding test that is challenging yet achievable and appropriate for the job you are hiring for. For example, a coding test for a junior developer should not be as difficult as a coding test for a senior developer.
Also, ensure that the code challenge can be completed within 2-4 hours. This should be sufficient time to showcase the candidate's skills without taking up too much of their time, especially considering that they may be involved in other hiring processes with other companies.
🎨 Designing the Code Challenge
Having established clear goals and expectations, you can proceed to create the code challenge. Consider the following factors during the design process:
💡 Select an appropriate concept based on the role in question
🧩 Define the problem and provide guidelines
⏱️ Agree on a deadline with the candidate
🥳 Make the challenge enjoyable
👉 Select an Appropriate Concept
When selecting an appropriate concept for a code challenge, it is essential to ensure that it is relevant to the job and reflects the type of work the candidate will be doing if they are hired. This means that the challenge should be designed to test the specific skills and knowledge that are required for the position.
To elaborate on this concept, consider the following steps:
Identify the key skills and knowledge required for the position: Start by making a list of the most important technical skills and knowledge areas that the candidate should possess. This may include programming languages, frameworks, libraries, or concepts specific to the role.
Define the problem statement: Create a clear and concise problem statement that outlines the task to be completed in the code challenge. The problem statement should be directly related to the skills and knowledge you identified earlier. Make sure the task is neither too easy nor too difficult for the target audience.
Design the challenge: Design the code challenge in a way that it tests the candidate's ability to apply the required skills and knowledge in a practical, real-world scenario. This may involve creating a sample project, providing data, or setting up specific constraints that the candidate must work within.
For example, if you are hiring for a frontend developer role, you could create a code challenge that involves the following:
🛠️ Working with frameworks and libraries: If the role requires experience with specific frontend frameworks or libraries, such as React or Angular, incorporate these into the challenge. Provide a scenario where the candidate must use these tools to build or modify a component.
🦾 Ensuring cross-browser compatibility and accessibility: Ask the candidate to make sure their solution works across different browsers and devices, and follows accessibility best practices.
🚀 Optimization and performance: Assess the candidate's ability to optimize their code for performance by minimizing load times, reducing file sizes, or implementing best practices for efficient rendering.
This is just an example, but you can apply the same principles to any other position. By selecting an appropriate concept for your code challenge, you can ensure that you effectively evaluate candidates based on their ability to perform the tasks and solve the problems they will encounter in their role.
👉 Define the Problem and Offer Clear Guidelines
Once you have selected an idea for the code challenge, it is crucial to define the problem and offer guidelines. The problem should be challenging yet achievable, and the guidelines must be clear and concise.
Start by providing a detailed description of the problem, including any requirements and constraints. For instance, if the challenge involves building a user interface, you could specify the expected functionality, such as the capacity to log in, sign up, and update user information. Additionally, outline any design or performance requirements that the candidate needs to consider, like responsiveness or load times.
Next, offer guidelines on how to approach the problem. This may involve:
Suggesting a recommended structure for the code, such as breaking the solution into modular components or following a specific design pattern.
Specifying any required libraries or frameworks that the candidate should use, as well as versions, if necessary.
Providing guidance on coding conventions, style, or documentation that the candidate should adhere to, ensuring consistency and maintainability.
Giving any other relevant information, such as how to submit the completed challenge or a time limit for completion.
By clearly defining the problem and offering comprehensive guidelines, you help candidates understand what is expected of them and can better evaluate their ability to meet the requirements of the role. Providing a well-structured challenge also ensures a smoother review process and makes it easier to compare candidates based on their solutions.
👉 Agree on a Deadline with the Candidate
Setting a deadline for the code challenge is essential to test a candidate's time management skills and to ensure that the process is fair for all candidates. You should agree on a deadline that gives the candidate enough time to complete the challenge while also ensuring that it is not too long.
It is important to communicate the deadline clearly and ensure that the candidate understands the expectations. You should also be flexible and accommodating if the candidate needs more time due to unforeseen circumstances.
👉 Make the Challenge Enjoyable with Engaging Elements
Designing a code challenge that is engaging and fun can not only make the process more enjoyable for the candidate but also increase their enthusiasm for the job. To achieve this, consider adding a creative element to the challenge or incorporating interesting components that reflect the company's culture or the nature of the role.
Some examples include:
Gamification: Turn the challenge into a game where candidates must solve problems or complete tasks to earn points or unlock achievements. For instance, you could create a puzzle-solving game that tests their algorithmic skills or a platformer game that requires implementing physics and collision detection.
Visual components: Incorporate a visually appealing aspect into the challenge, such as designing a user interface with a unique theme or creating an interactive data visualization. This not only makes the challenge more interesting but also allows the candidate to showcase their design skills and creativity.
Real-world scenarios: Craft the challenge around a real-world scenario relevant to the role or the company's domain. This can make the task more meaningful and engaging, as candidates will see the practical application of their skills. For example, if the company specializes in e-commerce, the challenge could involve optimizing a product recommendation algorithm or building a shopping cart feature.
Storytelling: Incorporate a storyline or narrative into the challenge to make it more captivating. Candidates can become more invested in the task if they feel like they are contributing to a larger story. For example, you could frame the challenge as a mission to save a fictional company from a cyber-attack or to develop an innovative feature for a new product launch.
By making the challenge enjoyable and engaging, you can create a positive experience for candidates and encourage them to showcase their best work. This not only helps you better assess their skills and potential but also promotes a positive image of your company and the role you are offering.
📊 Evaluating Success
After the candidate completes the code challenge, it is time to measure their success.
You can do this by:
Requesting the candidate to present their code challenge
Engaging in a discussion with the candidate about the challenge
Use an evaluation matrix to judge candidates outcome
Request the Candidate to Present the Code Challenge
Asking the candidate to present their code challenge can provide insight into their thought process, problem-solving skills, and communication skills. The candidate can explain their approach to the problem, any challenges they faced, and how they overcame them.
Engage in a Discussion with the Candidate
Discussing the code challenge with the candidate can provide an opportunity to assess their understanding of the problem, their programming skills, and their ability to follow guidelines. You can ask the candidate questions about their code, provide feedback on their approach, and assess their overall performance.
Provide Constructive Feedback
Regardless of the outcome, providing constructive feedback on the candidate's code challenge is essential. This helps the candidate understand the areas they need to improve and fosters a positive learning experience. Be specific with your feedback, addressing both the strengths and weaknesses of their submission.
Code Challenge Evaluation Matrix
When assessing candidates' code challenges, it can be helpful to use a structured evaluation matrix. To this end, I'm sharing a sample table that allows you to assess candidates across different competencies and assign scores accordingly.
You can download this table here.
Once you've defined your evaluation criteria, you can use this table to evaluate candidates and assign scores based on their performance. As shown in the example, it can also be helpful to have a scale for interpreting total scores. However, keep in mind that this should be just one objective and pragmatic way to evaluate a candidate's work. There are many other factors to consider when making hiring decisions. If you haven't already, be sure to check out my article on "How to Hire Employees Who Will Stay" for more tips and insights.
Creating a code challenge is an effective way to evaluate a candidate's technical abilities and problem-solving skills. It is essential to set clear goals and expectations, create a challenge that is relevant to the role, and measure the candidate's success using presentations, discussions, and a framework to evaluate the candidate.
By following these steps, you can create a code challenge that accurately assess a candidate's skills and provides valuable insight into their capabilities. Moreover, providing constructive feedback and making the process enjoyable and effective for both the candidate and the employer ensures a positive experience for all parties involved.
Incorporating code challenges into your hiring process can help you identify top talent with the right technical and soft skills for your organization. By tailoring code challenges to the specific requirements of each role, you not only streamline the hiring process but also improve the chances of finding the perfect candidate who will excel in their new position.
Here you can find a few more resources that could be useful to take inspiration to create your code challenges.
Codingame (platform to create code challenges)
CodeSignal (another platform to create technical assessments)
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