Technical interview tests as a techie: a freelance contractor’s cheat sheet

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What are the steps any freelance IT contractor worth their salt should take to ensure they pass a technical interview test -- also known as a technical job assessment?  

It’s a question worth asking because as much as 30% of our clients have some sort of technical interview test in place to probe contractors’ skills, to decide if they get hired or not, writes Matt Collingwood, managing director of IT recruitment agency VIQU.

What’s the aim of a technical interview test, and what do such assessments look like?

This goal of selecting the right candidates and weeding out the weakest is always the same.

And that’s whether you (the contractor) need to arrive early for the interview and get sat in a room to take the technical test, or undertake it remotely before the interview is confirmed.

Technical interview test as a techie? They’re increasingly the norm in 2024…

In the challenging IT contractor jobs market which the UK currently finds itself in, clients feel like they need to be more precise with their technology staff hiring.

So they’re setting more hurdles for contractors.

Furthermore, the fact that skills-based hiring is on the rise, means technical interview tests and technical job assessments are here to stay -- and will become more prevalent this year, in 2025, and beyond!

Knowing how to give such tests 100% is therefore vital.

1. Don’t cheat – or at the very least, know how you’ll get caught out!

We’ve entitled this guide, exclusively for Free-Work, ‘cheat sheet’ but clearly don’t actually cheat!

This guide is more about providing you with a set of notes to use for quick reference ahead of a technical interview test, to hopefully aid your performance during the test.

Be aware, most sophisticated technical assessment tools will deliver the client your results with the time taken against each question i.e. how long you took to answer each multiple-choice question.

So if you sit a technical assessment where you take under 30 seconds on average per question to read and answer, however, on one question you take five minutes, it looks suspicious. You might be suspected of looking up the answer.

What a good interviewer will do, assuming you passed the technical assessment and that it was face-to-face (or reflected on with you afterwards), is pick out the questions you took the longest on. And then ask you about them.

If you cheated and used Google because you didn’t know the answer, you’ll fall at this well-placed hurdle.

Remember, that’s this prized contract gone forever, in one fell swoop!

2. If facing technical questions remotely, choose the right time – and place!

Technical interview tests for techies tend to be timed.

So you can’t simply stop the clock if your partner noisily arrives home from work, or the screams from upstairs demand that you ‘Put the kids to bed!’

You also need to consider what time of day you’ll perform best. Three quick questions to help:

  • When are you at your freshest to answer questions?

  • When are you most up for facing dilemmas or problem-solving?

  • When is the best time – according to your experience of ‘you,’ to summon all your intellectual rigour, and patience?

I’m an early riser. So I’m firing on all cylinders earlier that most people. So I would choose to sit a technical test very first thing in the morning.

Choose the wrong time of day, and you could get ‘cognitive fatigue,’ which will show up in the technical interview test’s results. Who knows; the monitored reaction times which you notched up per question could simply be too long for the client’s liking!

The often-overlooked key with a technical interview test as a techie is to find a quiet place, insulated from distractions, and then pick the time of day wisely.

3. Understand what the technical interview test is testing for, and how!

Knowledge is key in these situations designed to assess a technology candidate’s skills, competencies, reasoning, and approaches.

Before taking a technical interview test, speak with the IT recruiter or HR representative you’re communicating with in order to understand what the client is looking to understand from the test, specifically, about your skills.

Also enquire about the format that the test will come in. i.e. descriptive answers / multiple choice.

Then ask them outright – “Is there anything else you [the recruiter/HR rep] believes I should know about the test?”

It never hurts to ask this question. Gaining as much insight into a technical job test as possible will make you feel more confident and will mean you’re not leaving anything to chance. It also conveys to the recruiter/rep you prepare for a technical interview test with the seriousness it deserves.  

4. Don’t jump in feet first. Read the rules / intro page before facing the questions!

Before you ‘click’ to begin the technical interview test, there should be an opening page that provides you with an:

  • understanding of timings;

  • the number of questions to answer;

  • the type of questions (e.g. multiple-choice), and;

  • what you ultimately need to do to be successful in the test.

Forget to read this intro page – or even just skim read it, and you could come unstuck later on.

Getting confused in a technical test, or feeling like you need to go back to the start page, can hurt your concentration and put you off your stride for the entire test.

Worse still, disregarding the start page (which may have a specific instruction like “You need to answer only Q7, or Q8; but not both questions”) risks you doing something wrong entirely.

So, overlooking a technical interview test’s opening page can skew the overall results unfavourably.

5. Good preparation for a technical interview test is Programming 101!

Tech recruiters don’t expect you to memorise every algorithm, but it is advisable to refresh your understanding of the basics.

For example, if you’re a developer, it’s prudent to revisit algorithms and data structures as they can be helpful in understanding and solving tasks.

Generally speaking, whatever your specialism, give yourself a refresher – including of the basics because sometimes contractors end up specialising so much, that they can be rusty on the foundations learned many moons ago.

6. Didn’t perform on the technical interview test? Try to get a second roll of the dice!

It is likely that you won’t know the results of your technical test until the recruiter or HR rep tells you how you did.

It is here that you’ll also be informed whether you are progressing to the next stage.

My recommendation? If you finish the technical test and are convinced your performance won’t reflect your true skill level, assess what you did wrong and note it down.

I had one contractor email me to say he’d not performed well on his online technical assessment. He had scored 65% and the pass rate was 70%. However, he’d taken the time to highlight the questions he thought he’d got wrong; why he’d picked that answer, and what he’d done after the assessment to revise his answer. The client liked this proactive approach -- a lot. So although he had failed by 5%, the client still met him for an interview, and he secured the assignment!

If you want the contract enough, and feel you didn’t represent yourself accurately, come forward to effectively try to get a second roll of the dice.

Technical interview tests as a techie: in a UK contracting nutshell…

In conclusion, I’ve come to regard technical tests for candidates as a necessary evil.

That said, contractors often have the choice to say ‘no’ and turn down this pre-selection skills assessment. Related, we’ll soon reveal to Free-Work the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of technical interview tests for techies who freelance.

But if you decide you’re going to go ahead with the technical interview test, don’t limp into it! Give it everything you’ve got so that even if you don’t get the contract, the recruiter will know that you are a professional contractor with the skills, competencies and attitude required to get the job done – next time if not this time.

Written by

Matt Collingwood

Managing Director of VIQU

Matt Collingwood is the Managing Director of VIQU Ltd. an IT recruitment and project-based consultancy company with offices in Birmingham and Southampton. Matt is also the co-founder of the Recruitment Canaries, a network of West Midlands based recruitment agencies who encourage collaboration, best practice and upholding the standards and ethics of the recruitment industry.

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