How To Evaluate Developer Skills Before Hiring

How To Evaluate Developer Skills Before Hiring

Hiring the right software developer is an important step in enhancing your team's capabilities. It involves finding the combination of skills and personality that can effectively transform complex projects into successful outcomes.

This essential guide focuses on how to evaluate developer skills during the hiring process. By doing so, you can confirm that their technical abilities meet your requirements and find a team member who positively contributes to the overall team performance.

We will navigate through various strategies and benchmarks to gauge both hard and soft skills, offering a well-rounded approach to uncovering the full spectrum of a developer's potential.

We aim to provide you with insights that go beyond the resume and tap into what makes a developer truly stand out.

Table of contents:

What skills should a developer have?

In software development, having a well-balanced skill set is highly desirable. A developer should have a mix of technical and soft skills, each supporting the other to build a versatile and effective professional profile.

This combination of abilities helps in navigating the diverse challenges and collaborations in the field.

Technical skills

These are the foundational pillars of a developer's skill set. Mastery of commonly used programming languages is highly desirable, such as Python for its flexibility, Java for its strong performance in various applications, and JavaScript for its role in web development.

Alongside these languages, understanding and applying frameworks like React for front-end development or Django for back-end operations are equally important.

A solid grasp of programming algorithms is also key for a programmer, as they form the core of problem-solving in software development. Algorithms are instructions or rules designed to perform a specific task or solve a particular problem.

Understanding algorithms allows developers to analyze a problem, structure their approach, and implement solutions in a logical, efficient manner. This knowledge helps develop software that is both functional and optimized for performance, scalability, and resource management.

In essence, algorithms enable developers to translate complex problems into actionable, streamlined code.

Soft skills

When hiring developers, you also want to consider their soft skills. Effective communication skills help articulate ideas, foster team collaboration, and make complex technical concepts easy to understand for non-technical stakeholders.

Problem-solving calls for a combination of creative and analytical thinking to address unexpected challenges and obstacles.

Adaptability and a dedication to continuous learning play a significant role in keeping up with rapid technological developments, helping a developer maintain effectiveness and relevance in their work.

The intersection of these technical abilities and soft skills creates a well-rounded developer. Ideal professionals are not merely coders but collaborators, thinkers, and innovators.

They bring a blend of hands-on technical expertise and the soft skills necessary for driving team dynamics and project success, making them invaluable assets in the tech industry.

5 ways to assess technical skills

Evaluating a developer's technical skills is a nuanced part of the hiring process. In this segment, we outline five practical methods to measure these skills, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of a developer’s technical proficiency.

Ways to assess developer technical skills

  1. Coding challenges and assignments
  2. Live coding sessions or pair programming
  3. Technical interviews with subject matter experts
  4. Review of previous work and projects
  5. Automated coding tests and platforms

1. Coding challenges and assignments

Coding challenges and assignments are a practical way to evaluate a developer's ability to debug and write code in scenarios that mirror real-world complexities.

Platforms like HackerRank offer a variety of standardized challenges and include the option to create custom assignments specifically tailored to the job's tech stack. This approach provides a comprehensive assessment of technical knowledge and practical coding abilities.

Some examples of coding challenges include:

  • Algorithm optimization. Challenges that focus on refining and optimizing existing algorithms for better performance.
  • Feature development. Tasks that involve adding new features to an existing code base and testing a developer's ability to integrate and innovate.
  • Debugging exercises. Specific assignments aimed at identifying and fixing bugs in given code, testing a developer's attention to detail and problem-solving skills.
  • System design. Scenarios where developers must design a system or architecture, demonstrating their understanding of complex software systems.

This approach is a technical skills test that also gives a glimpse into how a developer tackles everyday coding issues, ensuring their skills are practical and applicable in real-world settings.

2. Live coding sessions or pair programming

Live coding sessions and pair programming are dynamic ways to assess a developer’s problem-solving skills and adaptability.

In these sessions, potential team members are asked to write code in real-time, often using languages like Python, Java, or JavaScript.

This setup offers a unique window into the candidates’ thinking processes as they navigate through coding tasks. Such interactions are beneficial for evaluating technical skills and understanding how a developer communicates and collaborates under pressure.

Pair programming is another form of coding-skills evaluation. It involves two programmers working together at one workstation. The “driver” writes code while the other, the “observer” or “navigator,” reviews each line of code as it is typed in. The two programmers switch roles frequently.

This method assesses both technical skills and also how effectively a developer communicates and collaborates with others, especially under pressure.

This method ensures the interview process includes a thorough demonstration of the developer’s real-world coding and collaborative capabilities.

3. Technical interviews with subject matter experts

Hiring managers may conduct technical interviews that include an experienced software engineer or technical leads from the development team. This is a great way to assess a developer’s expertise, particularly in specialized areas like data structures, algorithms, and system design.

These subject matter experts bring a depth of understanding that can effectively gauge the developer’s technical knowledge.

By discussing various real-life scenarios or potential problems the developer might face on the job, these interviews provide insight into both their theoretical understanding and also their practical application skills.

This holistic approach ensures that the developer's skills are well-rounded, aligning with the role's technical demands and the team's collaborative dynamics.

4. Review of previous work and projects

Reviewing previous work—such as GitHub repositories, participation on Stack Overflow, or contributions to open-source projects—offers a window into their coding style, the complexity of projects they have handled, and their consistency in coding practices.

Examining these repositories provides insight into how developers approach code organization, documentation, and problem-solving. This review can be particularly revealing of their real-world impact and collaborative skills.

Analyzing candidate involvement in open-source projects, for example, can provide insights into how they engage with community-driven development and handle diverse coding challenges.

This method of skills assessment is central to the assessment process, allowing for a comprehensive appreciation of the developer's technical competencies as well as their practical application and experience in teamwork dynamics.

5. Automated coding tests and platforms

Automated coding tests and platforms are a scalable method for assessing coding abilities across various languages and frameworks. These tools provide standardized tests, ensuring an unbiased evaluation of programming skills. Here we provide some popular examples of assessment tools:

  • CodeSignal. Known for its diverse range of coding challenges.
  • LeetCode. Offers a comprehensive suite of problems that test a range of skills.
  • HackerRank. Provides industry-specific challenges and tests.
  • Codility. Focused on real-life coding scenarios and efficient problem-solving.

These platforms’ services can be customized to fit the specific technical requirements of the role, making them an integral part of the hiring process.

Their ability to provide consistent and relevant assessments makes them invaluable for evaluating a developer’s technical acumen.

5 ways to evaluate soft skills

Evaluating soft skills is just as useful as assessing the technical abilities of your candidates. In this section, we outline five effective methods to gauge these interpersonal and cognitive attributes, providing a comprehensive view of the developer's overall professional profile.

Ways to evaluate developer soft skills

  1. Behavioral interview questions
  2. Scenario-based exercises
  3. Group interviews or team interaction sessions
  4. Reference checks
  5. Cultural fit assessment

1. Behavioral interview questions

Behavioral interview questions are instrumental in revealing how a developer has previously handled work-related situations involving teamwork, stress, and conflict. By asking interviewees to share specific experiences, these questions provide insight into their communication, adaptability, and problem-solving skills.

Open-ended questions encourage detailed responses, allowing interviewers to gain a deeper understanding of the developer’s approach to professional challenges.

Questions like these are effective in drawing out a potential team member’s ability to adapt and work collaboratively:

  • “Can you describe a situation in which you had to overcome a team dynamic challenge?”
  • “How did you manage a high-pressure task in your past role?”

This method is particularly insightful for uncovering the interviewee’s behavioral patterns and approaches in various work scenarios.

2. Scenario-based exercises

Scenario-based exercises, such as role-playing, are effective in simulating workplace situations, allowing potential team members to showcase their ability to navigate complex interpersonal dynamics and collaborate on problem-solving.

By incorporating typical workplace conflicts or communication challenges into these exercises, hiring teams can observe how developers approach and resolve these situations.

This method is particularly insightful for making informed hiring decisions, as it reveals how the person might react and contribute in a real-world team environment.

Watching how developers handle these scenarios offers a glimpse into their potential as a valuable and harmonious addition to the existing team.

3. Group interviews or team interaction sessions

Group interviews or team interaction sessions offer an insightful approach to observing how developers interact with potential team members.

In these settings, developers are placed in a group environment, either with other interviewees or with current team members, to engage in discussions or collaborative tasks.

This process highlights their ability to participate in teamwork, respect diverse opinions, and contribute effectively to group discussions. Observing how a developer navigates these interactions offers valuable insights into their potential fit within the team.

This also offers an opportunity to assess their leadership qualities and how they handle differing viewpoints, critical aspects for maintaining a harmonious and productive team dynamic.

Such sessions can reveal a developer's approach to collaboration and their potential impact on team cohesion.

Related: Phone Interview Tips and Questions for Employers in 2024

4. Reference checks

Reference checks with former employers or colleagues are a valuable step in gaining insights into a developer's past work behavior, teamwork capabilities, and overall soft skills.

By reaching out to references, hiring teams can obtain a more rounded view of the developer's professional conduct and interpersonal dynamics in previous roles.

You’ll want to ask specific, work-related questions that explore the developer's reliability, emotional intelligence, and ability to handle feedback constructively.

These inquiries can shed light on how the developer has contributed to team projects, managed relationships with colleagues, and adapted to a variety of work environments.

Reference checks are a key element in understanding the nuances of a developer's professional journey and how their skills and personality traits have played out in real-world settings.

5. Cultural fit assessment

In the recruitment process, assess a developer's adaptability to your company's culture, values, and work environment. Questions designed to uncover their motivations and work ethic can reveal how well they might adapt to your organizational culture.

This assessment is a tool to find not just skilled developers but top talent who share your company's vision and approach. Understanding how a developer's values and behaviors align with your team can significantly influence workplace harmony and team dynamics.

Hiring people who are well-suited to your organizational culture can lead to better collaboration, higher job satisfaction, and increased productivity.

Effective questions for this assessment might include:

  • “Describe a work culture where you have thrived in the past.”
  • “How do you approach differences or conflicts in a team environment?”
  • “What motivates you in your professional life, and how does that align with our company values?”

These questions help in evaluating a developer’s potential to seamlessly integrate with your company, ensuring they are a fit both technically and culturally.

Find top developers on Upwork

Finding the right developer for your team is straightforward with Upwork. As the world’s work marketplace, Upwork is your place to connect with professionals offering thousands of skills, including software developers who meet your specific project needs.

With a vast pool of talented professionals from around the globe, Upwork makes it easier to find developers who have both the technical skills you need and also align with your company’s culture and values.

Whether you’re looking for expertise in specific programming languages, innovative problem-solving abilities, or an ideal cultural fit, Upwork offers a streamlined and efficient way to connect with top-tier talent.

Begin your search for top developers on Upwork and take the first step toward building a dynamic and skilled team that can drive your projects to success.


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How To Evaluate Developer Skills Before Hiring
The Upwork Team

Upwork is the world’s work marketplace that connects businesses with independent talent from across the globe. We serve everyone from one-person startups to large, Fortune 100 enterprises with a powerful, trust-driven platform that enables companies and talent to work together in new ways that unlock their potential.

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