Posted on — Last updated on December 1, 2020

How to Run Software Development Skill Assessment Tests

Recently I had the chance to run my first software development skill assessment test for a Full-Stack Developer position as the evaluator. Here’s what I learned.

Figuring out whether a candidate is actually fit for a software development position takes more than just a couple of interviews.

Interviewing candidates for a software development position (or for any job opening, really) is a crucial part of the recruiting process. However, that might not be enough to get the full picture.

Why interviews alone aren’t enough

Interviews are a great way to quickly gauge a candidate’s soft skills: motivation, resilience, emotional intelligence, teamwork, etc. What they are not-so-great for is to measure hard skills, like the ability to write actual code for example. That’s something that can’t be measured with words alone. This is where Skill Assessment Tests come in handy.

What are Skill Assessment Tests?

Skill Assessment Tests are tests that measure actual skills. These tests provide an unbiased, validated evaluation of a candidate’s ability to meet the requirements listed in the job description.

Typically, these tests include a variety of questions / challenges to see how the candidate performs on-the-job tasks. A good skill test includes questions / tasks that can be answered / completed by someone already doing the job and can provide accurate key performance metrics.

Getting ready for a Skill Assessment Test

To guarantee the validity and the effectiveness of the skill assessment test it’s necessary to make certain preparations first:

  • Review beforehand the resume of the candidate and the description of the job.
  • Determine the critical success factors of the job.
  • Rank the qualities and experiences a candidate must have according to the job requirements.
  • Prepare specific questions and / or tasks to determine whether the candidate can succeed in the position. These questions / tasks must be directly related to the work they’d be doing if they get the job.
  • Schedule a technical interview with the candidate. Let them know with enough time in advance so they can make their own preparations as well.

Things to do during the Skill Assessment Test

As the interviewer, you need to be able to obtain key information from job candidates during the call/meeting. Asking the right questions before the test starts can not only help set the right mood but also give you a hint on the candidate’s ability to complete the test, giving you the chance to manage time more effectively: if the candidate doesn’t seem fit for the position you have the possibility to end the interview sooner and skip the test altogether (be mindful though, we don’t want to offend anyone.)

Open-ended questions can give you a sense of a candidate’s potential since these give them the chance to provide longer answers and to expand on their experience, strengths / weaknesses, and current skills (eg. What management style do you find works best for you?) Close-ended questions -on the other hand- will give you direct answers on specific topics (eg. Do you have any experience working with SaaS applications?) Make sure to mix them up to get the most data on the candidate as possible.

However, don’t just start the meeting asking questions right away. It’s important to set the right mood -as I said before- for the interview to go smoothly. One one to achieve this is to let them talk about themselves so they can relax. Here’s a little script you can follow that’s worked for me so far:

You: Hi, my name is Tywin Lannister, head of House Lannister and Lord of Casterly Rock. Thank you for joining us today, [candidate name]. Before we start and since this is the first time we have seen each other, why don’t you tell me a bit more about yourself?
– [Candidate introduces themselves. Avoid interrupting them and pay close attention to what they have to say, there’s a chance they’ll answer some of the questions you prepared for the interview without you having to ask.]
You: Great, thank you. You mentioned that [refer to something that the candidate said that might be related to any of the remaining questions you prepared], so are you familiar with / what’s your experience with [ask follow up question(s).]

Remember: it’s a conversation, not an interrogation. Create spaces to ask follow-up questions in a way that feels natural for the conversation to flow smoothly (as if you were having a cup of coffee with a friend at a café), otherwise things might feel a little awkward.

Once the questions round is complete, you can proceed to explain in detail what the test is about. It’s crucial to set clear expectations and rules so the candidate knows exactly what’s being asked of them.


  • If possible, record the interview. That way you / the employer can review it afterwards, making evaluation much easier.
  • Avoid questions that aren’t related to the position: things like religion, sexual preferences, politics, race, etc. are not only considered inappropriate but can also lead to legal problems.
  • If the candidate has questions about the test requirements you’re allowed to provide assistance. Don’t give actual answers/solutions though, that’s for the candidate to figure out.

Things to do after the Skill Assessment Test

Once finished and if time allows it, it might a good idea to briefly review the results with the candidate. You can get their insights on why the took certain choices to understand their thought process, something the employer might be interested in knowing.

Next, thank the candidate for their time and inform them on what the next steps are so they know what to expect. Address any concerns and/or questions they may have and leave the meeting politely. Here’s another example:

You: [candidate name] thank you, we really appreciate that you took some time off to talk to us today. If you have any questions or comments about the interview please let me know.
– [Candidate might ask some questions about next steps here so be prepared to answer.]
You: Again, thank you very much for your time. Have a nice day!

You’ll likely need to write a report on the candidate’s performance afterwards. Make sure to include:

  • A summary of the test: requirements, rules, and expectations.
  • A quick interview evaluation: key questions & answers, summary of the candidate’s performance, and other items that might be of interest to the person reading the report.
  • The score of each performed task, and overall score.
  • If the test included a live coding session as part of the evaluation, add a link to the source code (and end result, if available/possible) to the report.

Lastly, while not really required, consider sending a follow-up email to candidates that didn’t pass the selection process as professional courtesy. Maintaining good will between the parties involved is also important and will increase the likelihood of the candidate considering applying for future job openings.