The pros and cons of technical tests for IT contractor interviews

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While technical assessments can be beneficial for recruiters and clients to expedite their recruitment processes, they can be a real pain to some technology contractors.

In this article, exclusively for Free-Work, I’m going to look at why technical tests are used and the pros / cons for contractors, writes managing director of IT recruitment agency VIQU, Matt Collingwood.

One in 10 contractors refuse to take a test

I’ll be honest here. As a recruiter, when I let contractors know that they will need to sit a technical assessment to be considered for the opportunity, I know that some will refuse and throw their toys out of the pram! In fact, about one in 10 contractors refuse. That is their right and I fully respect that.

However, there are a number of arguments to suggest that partaking in technical tests is far more beneficial than contractors realise.

Technical interview tests: the pros

1. Standardisation

Alternative tests and assessment methods can be unfair. Using a technical assessment standardises the evaluation process, ensuring all IT contractors are appraised against the same criteria, fostering fairness and consistency.

2. Objectivity

Technical assessments offer an impartial means of evaluating an IT contractor’s proficiency, mitigating unconscious biases often present in traditional interviews. So they remove unconscious bias – at least from the first stage of the interview process.

This is good news for contractors as it means each contractor will be judged purely on their technical expertise instead of through inconsistent interview questions that can vary from interview to interview, depending on the hiring manager and his/her biases.

3. Efficiency

It’s a skill verifying skills – and it’s costly. Technical tests validate whether the candidate possesses the requisite technical competencies, ensuring alignment with the job requirements.

It can be a strain on time and resources when an end-client has to use a member of their internal staff team to evaluate the skills of candidates.

Comparatively, an unskilled individual can look through the results of a technical assessment and decide who to take through to the next stage based on the pass/fail rate. Ultimately, this results in quicker decision-making and reduced timelines between the contractor taking the test and potentially receiving an offer.

4. Less final stage competition, and fewer rate dampeners

Technical interview tests cut the ‘weak links’ out early.

Such assessments expedite the identification of contractors lacking essential technical skills, thereby optimising the interview process for more promising contractors. ‘

This means contractors are more likely to receive an offer and more rapidly too, without ‘the unskilled’ damaging their prospects including by potentially diluting the finally offered rate because, subconsciously or not, the end-user isn’t impressed with the calibre through the door!

Technical interview tests: the cons

1. They reduce your billable time

With the average technical interview test taking 45 minutes, contractors have to commit a fair chunk of time to completing them!

Our agency once had a client who would expect contractors to sit a coding exercise which took an average of TWO HOURS to complete. Notice I used the past tense there; “had” a client!

They are no longer a client for this very reason. No self-respecting IT contractor has two hours to do a test without the guarantee it’ll result in a contract. So it was near impossible to find this client candidates.

2. Cheats abound

We know of a few bad apple DevOps contractors who have recently been standing in for other contractors to sit their face-to-face interviews!

So I don’t doubt that some IT contractors will cheat when it comes to technical interview tests which are carried out remotely.

Nowadays though, some of the sophisticated platforms take pictures throughout (you’ll know because the platform requests access to your camera). The recruiter/hiring manager can then look out for more than just one person sitting at the monitor or any other obvious red flags, but unfortunately there are still many other ways to cheat.

3. Potential for false negatives

I’ve seen this first-hand many times and it's really frustrating.

Technical assessments may not fully reflect an IT contractor's potential or suitability, resulting in qualified individuals being overlooked due to a low score.

However, as I’ve previously advised regarding how to pass a technical test, there are scenarios where end-clients will be happy to listen to the contractor explain why they didn’t perform well on the test, whether they made an actual mistake or not.

In the example I shared previously with Free-Work, I explained how a contractor set out how he’d gone wrong. Even though he was below the pass grade, the client was impressed by his proactivity and he ended up getting the contract.

4. Emphasis on technical skills over soft skills

Technical assessments may prioritise technical prowess at the expense of crucial soft skills like communication and teamwork.

Some roles, although needing strong technical skills, require a strong balance of these soft skills.  

And if the client chooses to heavily rely on the technical test results instead of arranging an interview, they could choose a contractor lacking the much-needed balance of soft and hard skills.

Conclusion: Technical tests for interviews have the edge, so say ‘accept’ to the test invite

As a tech recruiter, I understand why some hiring organisations make the decision to put a technical interview test in place.

A few years ago, we understood this need so much that we developed our own (award-winning) technical assessment platform!

We used it with one product company in the West Midlands. They used our agency, as well as their own talent acquisition team and another recruitment supplier. By using our assessment tool, we sent 40% less CVs, but our conversion from interview to offer was twice as good as their own efforts and their other agency supplier’s. We were able to assert that we saved them time, so renegotiated on fees, and further positioned ourselves as a primary agency supplier after six successful months.

Therefore, although I fully understand and respect some contractors’ decision to decline taking technical tests, there are a fair few positives associated with them which I think negates the negatives for all parties!

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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