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Submitted by rowe on


When interviewing for a programmer's job, we have a programming task that HR hands out to candidates after the first (HR) phone screen. It's a a total of ~130 lines of code spread over 4 java files, mostly stubs, and we ask people to implement their solution in the context of these classes. I'd think this task would take me about 4 hours and I'd end up with ~500 lines of code total. Someone not familiar with the task may need 8 or 12 hours, depending on how much they want to polish their code.

HR said candidates drop off after HR sends them the programming task. Some candidates complained the instructions were outdated (may have referenced a university class a few years ago). I can see that, but this wasn't the only reference. Others complained the instructions were unclear.

This is frustrating cause the task is a simple implementation of a standard algorithm. There is an RFC and even a Wikipedia page that describe it. It seems to me that people who complain about references and instructions did not bother to do a web search. There is plenty of open source code that does what's asked, so people could research and even compare their code against others' code.

Googling this question a bit, I found hiring managers saying "you need the test cause a bad hire is very expensive" and candidates saying "I am not working for free, and there are plenty of other offers for programmers, so I just move on".

Is it unreasonable to ask candidates to turn in such a programming task within a few days or even 2 weeks?

If it is unreasonable, how else would you gauge the candidate's programming skills? During an in-person interview on paper, whiteboard, or computer?



timrutter's picture


My five cents worth is that timing is everything here. The only interest your organisation has shown in this candidate is a short phone screen, now you're asking them to invest time in a task that benefits the organisation alone.

If you were going to do it, I would be asking after the first face to face interview and not before. At least this way, you have established an interest in and a relationship with the candidate.

The message I get from what you're doing now is that you're not interested in me, you're only interested in the tasks I can execute.

Hope this helps in some way


Kevin1's picture

I agree with Tim,

Perhaps let them know at the end of the phone screen that if they pass their first F2F interview, there is a test of their coding capability.   Those that are confident in their coding capability and are committed, will undertake the F2F and are likely to undertake the coding test knowing they are moving towards towards the shortlist.

Kind regards


rowe's picture
Training Badge

Thanks for your thoughts.
I'll move the task to later in the process.


mrreliable's picture

Our company periodically recruits and hires writers. In the past, once we identified a number of applicants as possible new hires, we would assign a project for the individual to complete on their own time. We expected the time to complete the project would be three to four hours. Since the field was narrowed, and considering the importance of the hire, we would pay a flat fee of $50 per project to the applicant for completing the project. It was worth a few hundred dollars to us to get a real-life example of each applicant's work.

We never received any push back even though the stipend was much less than the market value of their time. It seemed the applicants appreciated the gesture, and it reflected well on our company. I expect that we would have seen some blowback if we had asked applicants to complete the project with no compensation.

Unfortunately, in at least one case, we discovered that the person we hired was not the same person who completed the test project. The most stark example was an individual who turned in a project that exhibited high-level synthesis of information in a tight, professional presentation, only to find the person we hired probably had trouble passing high school English.

We kept the test assignment and the $50 stipend, but we implemented the requirement that the project be completed at our offices under our supervision. The process itself is smoother and more efficient, and we have confidence in the reliability of the results.

snegyK's picture

As a team leader such tasks are always helping you assess a person, but as suggested previously I guess timing is everything. As an HR I can tell you finding IT resources is the hardest thing ever. They are few to begin with and their expectations for salary and accommodation of their needs are off the roof. It is hard enough to find someone interested in the position and if you make them fill unwelcome you are lost. Unclear instruction is the worst thing that could happen with a task - people will always complain and it is bad when they have even some ground for it. 

I support your decision to have some task in the hiring process, but it might be best to be provided during the interview or just after the meeting. Hope you find what you are looking for.