By: Sharon Florentine
A new tool in the hiring process is proving to be a win-win for candidates and companies alike. Blind skills challenges, in which candidates’ names and email addresses are hidden, place the focus squarely on talent and accomplishments.
For new grads looking to gain an extra edge in a competitive tech talent marketplace, skills challenges can be a great way to refine technical chops and show potential employers they’ve got what it takes.
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For organizations looking to hire, especially internships and entry-level positions, skills challenges can help vet true talent free of biases, enabling you to fill openings more quickly and confidently.
Investigating an internship
As a senior engineering student at University of California, Santa Cruz, Molly Zhang was doing everything she could to land an internship. She practiced basic coding structures and algorithms. She read Gayle Laakman McDonald’s Cracking the Coding Interview.” She’d landed four separate interviews. But the pressure of interviewing and being put on the spot was working against her, making it hard for her to articulate her skills.
Then, after two months of fruitless searching, screening, and interviews that led nowhere, Zhang signed up with CodeFights, a gamified, skills-based recruiting platform for developers. CodeFights and similar platforms, such as HackerRank, allow developers to practice their skills against blind coding challenges and “bots,” and release their results to selected partners, such as Asana, Dropbox, and other Silicon Valley tech companies, looking to find developer talent to fill internships or full-time roles.
Based on her scores, Zhang landed an internship with Asana; now she’s a graduate student researcher at UC Santa Cruz, and plans to use CodeFights next time she needs to search for a new job.
“If I hadn’t done that, I think I would still be on the hunt for an internship today,” Zhang says. “This process helped me consolidate my knowledge base and strengthened my coding skills, especially when it came to thinking of test cases to test my code. Once I competed with — and beat — the ‘bots’ on the site, I could send my résumé to the company’s recruiter with this proof of my skill and avoid the stress and pressure of the interview altogether.”
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Separate the good from the great
Blind skills challenges are not just a boon for those seeking work. They also help hiring companies filter out the good from the great in an increasingly crowded market where many candidates look similar on paper, says Vivek Ravisankar, CEO and co-founder of coding challenge platform HackerRank.
“If you look at college graduates, especially, a lot of the tech talent is identical when it comes to coursework, classes, independent projects, and the like. It’s getting harder to distinguish who’s good and who’s not just by looking at a résumé; that only gets easier when someone has a work history, which most college grads don’t. Even going to a top CS school doesn’t differentiate you in the same way as these types of platforms do,” he says.
And using blind coding challenges on platforms like HackerRank and CodeFights can give your organization access to global talent pools, rather than just your usual geographic area or recruiting from the “same old” schools, says Ravisankar, adding that challenges have also been tailored to fill roles particular companies need.
“Using platforms like this opens up opportunities for talent worldwide to participate and possibly work at your organization. Not to mention the fact that you can find great technical talent at schools that are outside the ‘usual suspects’ of, like, Stanford, MIT, Harvard — the entire playing field is leveled, and you’re basing your hiring only on the demonstrable skills, as it should be,” he says.
Coding challenges can also help your organization fill roles more quickly, since you can see almost instantly if a candidate’s skill level is appropriate for your needs. Sure, you can put together your own tests for potential hires, but today’s favored interviewing process — in which candidates are grilled with puzzles and brain teasers — can cause you to overlook true talent, especially among those just entering the workforce.
The interview process can be stressful and nerve-wracking for anyone, but for new grads especially, as there’s incredible pressure, in addition to the time constraints — most applicants need to land a job before they graduate, says Tigran Sloyan, co-founder and CEO of CodeFights.
“Being able to demonstrate [a candidate’s] skills from the comfort of their own home instead of in a meeting room on a whiteboard in front of the interviewers can help ease the strain. And havinga skills-driven recruiting process where skill evaluation starts at the very beginning, saves time both for talent and companies since it’s easier to match the right company to the right candidate if it’s known up front what skill level is necessary for the specific job,” he says.
Another way that skills challenges can help you surface hidden talent is by busting biases inherent to the hiring process.
Traditional technical interviews can be fraught with unconscious biases, says Sloyan. Removing the human element from the skills evaluation process helps ensure applicants are judged on their skill levels, not on factors like their race, gender, sexual orientation, or age, Sloyan says, no matter how subconscious those biases may be.
“Humans inevitably add bias. It’s a known fact that most interviewers walk into the interview room having looked at your résumé having already made a split-second judgment about you, whether they know it or not, and they spend most of the interview trying to verify that judgment instead of focusing on your skills,” he says.
That’s especially problematic for new college grads, who don’t tend to have the same level of on-the-job experience as more seasoned applicants to possibly outweigh implicit bias. Blind skills challenges can level the playing field and make sure potential employers know exactly what you can do, says Ravisankar, without being obfuscated by other distinguishing factors.
“We hide the candidates name and email ID on our platform so that everything about a person is ‘blind.’ We worked with one particular company to create a challenge to fill some roles they had available; we looked at their diversity stats before the challenge, and then once we’d filled the roles we looked again. Just by incorporating the blind challenges, their diversity in their engineering department increased 4 percent in one quarter,” Ravisankar says.