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Pair programming interviews have the potential to streamline the recruitment process by identifying certain skills in applicants that would otherwise be unknown until after hiring. It’s a relatively simple concept that involves an imitation setting of a real event and puts a person’s social skills to the test as much as their coding expertise.
A pair programming interview (or code pairing interview) is easy to orchestrate and can take the same amount of time to run as any other interview, but there are some ways to maximize its advantages, and knowing what to look out for should give you the right idea of whom to pick, and provide meaningful results with minimal adjustment to your practical interview approach.
We will discuss the benefits in more detail shortly and go over how to run such an interview and what to bear in mind, but first, let’s cover the definition.
Pair programming works under the principle that two developers can function as a team in real-time, using the same computer. Usually, one writes and the other reviews, and it’s designed in a way that promotes collaboration but also allows for more efficient development in many cases.
In interviewing, pair programming, or code pairing, allows the interviewer to get a sense, of not only the coders’ limitations and skills but their capacity for teamwork and personality with other members of the team. It’s run in a way that resembles a pair programming project that would occur in the workplace and, as such, requires the applicant to demonstrate relevant, applicable skills.
Essentially, a pair programming assessment establishes which level the applicant is on regarding professional expertise as an overall objective measure. This includes many of the often-overlooked soft skills that are applicable in the workplace. There are lots of ways this saves time and overheads, and even some ways in which the process results in an increased ROI. let’s take a look at some of them.
Hiring in this manner comes with numerous benefits to the interview process. It’s basically a controlled environment that mimics the real-life work setting that the interviewee is hoping to join. In this way, the interview allows for recruiters to pick up on numerous key competencies.
First of all, interviewing using a pair programming format illuminates skills that are translatable to many other company needs. Pair programming requires higher levels of many of the attributes that make people good team members in general, such as:
As well as the usual requirements of any interview such as coding skills, preparation, and design. This leads to much faster and more accurate hiring cycles. Further, the engaging nature of the interview process, if run well, should result in a better candidate experience, and therefore swifter onboarding and better retention.
So, this style of interview has the potential to provide a much richer and more holistic set of data that covers a range of the applicant’s abilities extending beyond their technical skills.
The fact that the interview is typically designed to represent a real day in the life of the team means it doesn’t have to take up more time than a traditional practical assessment, yet it can provide a much more objective measure of an applicant’s abilities.
This is a step up from whiteboard interviews, since the environment more closely resembles reality, and usually takes place on an interactive coding platform, where the interviewer can directly collaborate with the applicant on the problem provided. This allows the assessors to monitor the quality of the code in the first draft, as they review it the moment it’s laid out.
A pair programming interview can be split into two phases. These represent the planning phase and review phase, but in both, there will be coding done to certain degrees. Before the interview begins, it’s important that the interviewer explains the parameters of the event. This is in no small part an exercise in communication, so it’s important to lead by example.
The interviewer can explain the ins and outs of the interview requirements and explain what they expect in terms of commentary and/or code walkthroughs. Set the tone of the interview, and try to create a comfortable environment that matches the tone of the office.
The first phase will be where the problem or sample situation is presented. From here, the attendee will discuss with the interviewer the plan of attack, explaining the design they want to use and other important information. This is where the applicant should identify and weigh-up different approaches, and voice any anticipated concerns or expected problems transparently. This phase will include drafting a design and some coding, as well as some commentary around what the interviewer is doing.
The second phase should involve the onboarding of a new interviewer. This is another test of communication and reasoning, in which the interviewee has to articulate and explain their approach to the problem. The context of the solution here is as important as the code itself.
This format covers a lot of bases in terms of assessment and it can be tweaked to suit your requirements but it’s perhaps a good idea to follow some interview tips to make sure to get as much out of the session as possible.
With the above framework, you can cover a lot of bases. Still, keep in mind the following tips to really maximize the power of your pair programming interview.
1. Create realistic time restraints – You’re not going to have all the time in the world during a build, so make sure you don’t provide too much time in the interview. Remember, you want to replicate a realistic environment for your coders to respond to, so looking for perfectly finished code, regardless of time, is not a good metric of how well they will do in real life.
2. After the sample, ask the interviewee about some things in their code that they would like to improve in the sample project. Talk about which parts might need to be refactored or otherwise adjusted and how they would go about that.
3. Categorize these responses in terms of how they represent a position of professional expertise. Pay close attention to “quick fixes”; far from being red flags, these can be signs that someone really knows what works and what doesn’t.
For help managing the entire process, consider WeCP. Designed to help talent acquisition teams find the right technical talent, you can source, screen, interview, and onboard with ease. For pair programming interviews, you can record the sessions and the feedback and make data-driven decisions even across remote, virtual settings.
The key to a good code pairing interview is to design a realistic scenario with believable time constraints and to set up the task as an exercise in collaboration and communication. Having a detailed list of criteria to mark the applicant on beforehand is crucial; the interview should give you plenty of information on how they think, how they communicate, and how they work to translate their ideas into reality.
You’ll also see how well they can invent and design solutions to common problems and how agile their thought processes are. From all of this, it’s a simple matter to recruit top talent and have them slide effortlessly into the team.
Contact us for more information.
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