Hiring Better Through Project Based Assessment

This is a guest post by Talscale.

The hiring process needs an overhaul. In fact, it is long overdue. You sift through endless applications. Book your calendar for interviewing shortlisted candidates. Less than ten minutes into the interview you realize they aren’t suited for the role. The only way to end this loop is to go back to the basics and review your hiring needs and your recruitment strategy.

Two years ago, that’s where we were. We at Goscale helped companies accelerate product build. We helped build and scale tech teams for both startups and MNCs. We routinely processed thousands of applications a week and had interviewed over 10000 engineers at that point.

There were several amazing assessment platforms at that point. None of them helped us achieve the success rates we were aiming for. Not without human intervention. We tried to find a way around it, we really did. We connected with the support teams of these platforms, we spoke to their engineering teams to customize it to our needs. We even went a step further to talking to hiring experts to find a better solution.

The answer isn’t what we expected.

It was the hiring philosophy that needed adjustment. Not the platforms.

Tech hiring involved traditional methods of assessing candidates. Not only are they unsuitable for evaluating tech talent, they barely meet today’s standards and requirements – personalization and scale.

Moreover, the skills required on the job are rarely the ones that are tested. Doing well on the job requires more than just the technical know-how. Problem solving or relevant work experience play an integral role too. It’s not easy to measure or evaluate these skills. Not with the current frameworks.

What’s more, we weren’t even doing a good job at testing the tech skills. You could hire someone that performed well in the assessments and interview, but the job demands, in terms of both the tech skills as well as the domain expertise could be vastly different. Theoretical understanding doesn’t necessarily mean that they can adapt to the job requirements.

The new hire may not be able to satisfy the work expectations, much to your mutual disappointment. What’s worse, both the new and the team have to adapt to the situation quickly or have to part on unsatisfactory terms.

Companies are losing out on great talent.

A bad hire happens more often than companies care to admit.

At this point, we need to emphasize, a bad hire is not necessarily a bad candidate. They just are not a right fit for you. More like a  match gone wrong. It can happen, occasionally.

The frequency at which it happens however suggests underlying problems such as, but not limited to the following:

Broken hiring process

The hiring process is undoubtedly broken.

Dubious screening – check!

Futile interview – check!

Ineffectual assessment – check!

The current day process revolves so much around weeding out the bad apples that it entirely misses the point – finding the right fit.

More and more employers are adopting pointless, expensive, and time-consuming extra steps in a vain attempt to make their hiring effective. Result, the process becomes even slower and more off-putting to candidates.

Poor assessment choices

Testing someone’s employability and skill is not an easy task. But the current technical assessments are far from ideal. Creating a single go-to assessment for almost everyone stems from a misconception of one size fitting all. They don’t reflect the real world programming experience. Skill tests are not enough, they don’t evaluate the finer requirements of the job. They cannot meaningfully translate what they test either. We need better testing methods.

Mismatch of expectations

Recruiters are under massive pressure to find the perfect hire. This leads them to set up absurd high standards where the difficulty of the assessment, and expectations regarding skills and experience become extremely high. They lose many potential candidates who could have otherwise been a great fit in the company.

But that is just one side of the problem.

Consider this: nearly 60 percent of the job seekers admit they undergo poor candidate experience and 72 percent are vocal about it. At a time when there is a war out there for top talent, candidate experience can make or break things for your company. A bad hiring process not only ends with a bad hire, it has the unintended consequence of bad brand reputation too. They don’t realize that they are actively driving talent into the arms of their competitors.

Could it have been avoided?

Hiring assessments have been around in some shape or form almost as long as the concept of employment itself exists. We’re yet to perfect the process of these assessments. We’re far from automating and scaling it, nor did we find the balance between the art and science of hiring tests.

But that’s a wider problem.

The more immediate and pressing concern that companies face everyday, is that a bad hire can potentially mean loss of resources in terms or time or costs. Not to mention the environment and culture also take a hit. The onus is always on the companies to assess better and hire the best.

It definitely could have been avoided.

Companies have to go that extra mile in employing new ways of hiring.

The concept of project based assessments

Project based assessment is a testing methodology designed to test talent on problem statements that parallel those a candidate encounters on the job.

In simpler terms, these are the assessments that determine the job-suitability of candidates by evaluating them on tasks that they would face when on an actual job. One can assess candidates on role-specific projects to make a hiring decision.

It is a holistic approach to hiring that can quantify and measure some very important aspects that traditional hiring assessments fail to capture.

  • Problem solving skills
  • Domain specific knowledge
  • Contextual understanding

For instance, building a small product feature for one of your offerings could be used as a testing parameter of your hiring process.

The concept of project based assessments is nowhere as novel as it sounds. In fact, it has been a part of our hiring strategies .

A lot of companies already consider relevant industry experience and domain exposure as a prerequisite. We understand where they come from, it raises several concerns though.

  • While previous exposure no doubt makes the job simpler, it is neither practical nor logical to impose that as a prerequisite for tech talent.
  • Relevant industry experience can be somewhat imposed in case of roles like consultancy that require subject knowledge to carry out the job. the same cannot be said for engineering roles.
  • Relevant exposure cannot be the proof of proficiency. It cannot guarantee good performance on the next job.

Project based assessments is an elegant solution that addresses most of the above concerns. It is a better way to evaluate for senior roles too.

Why companies are moving to project based assessments

With the increasing demand for top talent in the technology industry, companies want to have the best employee in their arsenal. Moreover, the pertinent issues of a bad hire have always been haunting companies financially as well as on the productivity front. So there is a strong need for effective ways of candidate assessment methods. The need for project-based assessments stems from here.

The hiring decisions cannot be influenced by the gut feeling or preference based by any individual, rather the output achieved on a task that closely resembles the actual project on the job.

As the companies look to embark upon building better products and grow their business, it becomes mandatory to have a top team. Therefore, hiring the right way becomes prominent. 

We know of about 760 companies globally that look forward to adapting to project based assessments too. This is because these assessments help in determining the ability to work as a team apart from technical expertise.

A lot of companies are already using project-based interviews in their hiring process – Automatic and Basecamp some of the most noteworthy. 

Basecamp has a different approach to hiring, but they’ve fine tuned what works for them. They rejected the industry stables of whiteboards and brain teasers. Showing real code, however, was imperative.

It worked great initially, when they hired most of their programmers from the open source community. But that narrowed their potential talent pool. A lot of great programmers don’t have the time or inclination to open source. Submitting code from the previous job in the application for another job is rarely an option. This led them to adapt to hiring programmers using take home assignments.

Why we built Talscale

The hiring process has always been an ordeal for companies, in terms of time, as well as requirement of preparedness, and most importantly, the low probability of finding a good hire.

The only way to end it was to go back to the basics and review our hiring needs and our recruitment strategy. Two years ago, that’s where we were. 

Goscale helps companies accelerate product build. We helped build and scale tech teams for both startups and MNCs. We routinely processed thousands of applications a week and had interviewed over 10000 engineers at that point.

There were several amazing assessment platforms at that point. None of them helped us achieve the success rates we were aiming for. Not without human intervention. We tried to find our way around it. Project based assessments gave us better results.

But we needed to set up the processes to automate and scale it. A platform lays down a repeatable and scalable alternative that allows companies to adapt it faster. We could build it ourselves.

It’d take a considerable amount of time, but we were convinced that it was worth investing in. A year later, we had our proprietary platform, Talscale. It is currently one of the only platforms that supports project based assessment.

The need for project based assessments

Testing potential versus resume points

Testing potential as opposed to previous accomplishments is one of the classic shortcomings of the resume screening process. A resume is a list of past achievements, it cannot be the sole factor to screen out talent nor can linear projection always work. Not to mention, hiring processes don’t always test the skills mentioned in the resume.

Project based assessment can do a better job. They can help you translate how a candidate’s skills can contribute to your problem statement.

Validating skills versus experience in years

Like we mentioned, the absolute number of years in experience cannot be taken as a measure of expertise. Project based assessments add context to skills to better judge knowledge and understanding of the domain.

Relevant experience is a plus, but it need not be a requirement. Not setting experience as a basic criteria increases your potential talent pool too.

Assessing problem solving and application

It’s near impossible to evaluate problem solving skills and applications without some kind of take home assignment or project. A lot of companies already incorporate this into their hiring process through take home assignments. (Which is precisely what project based assessments streamline.)

The benefits of project based assessments

The biggest benefit and the rationale behind project based assessment is to hire talent with the specific set of skills required to do the job. Bringing in very targeted expertise has the following benefits:

Mutually beneficial

Project-based assessments not only help companies to pick candidates to work closely with the existing team but also gives candidates a glimpse of their future work and tech culture.

Greater expertise

Project-based assessments enable you to bring in talent with the skills and experience you require. Your new hire brings in the expertise gleaned from a range of challenging roles, their exposure and learnings from across several projects, industries, countries and even countries.

Increased innovation

Your project based hire comes with exposure, new ideas and an understanding of best practices. Their value also comes from their ability to see innovation as a part of their working method and catalyse it.

Faster integration

It typically takes a new employee six to ten months to fully integrate into the company’s workflow and the team’s functions. With distinct job functions, roles and responsibilities that come with project based assessment, and better onboarding, the new hire can be brought into fold and made productive faster.

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