How to Test Your Developer's Skills Before Hiring

By Joshua Gross, 16 July, 2022

Whether you're looking to hire a full-time, part-time, or freelance developer, it can be difficult to know whether they have the necessary skills before you bring them on board. While you can receive some vital information from a person's resume and portfolio, you likely won't truly know what you're getting until the first project is underway.

You can gain insight into a developer's soft skills through an interview process, but their technical skills won't necessarily be clear from a thirty-minute video chat.

How can you test your developer's skills before you hire them? What are the best ways to determine if someone is the right fit for the job?

Let's take a look at some methods you can use to identify the best candidate to work as a developer for your brand.

Why Should You Bother Testing Your Developer's Skills?

In many industries, it's common to simply ask candidates to fill out applications and send over their resumes. However, when it comes to hiring a developer, these aren't the best ways to find the right person for the job.

There are several reasons why this is the case. First, the best developers don't always stand out on paper. They might not be particularly well versed in selling themselves, and their skills might far outweigh what you would expect from looking at their resume.

At the same time, someone might look like the perfect fit on their application but then not be the right candidate. Hiring the wrong developer is expensive, frustrating, and will likely push your project launch back.

Another reason it's important to test your developer's skills before hiring them is that you can't always rely on their self-reported skills and experience. If you're hiring someone online that you'll never meet in person, the risk of getting duped by someone without the right qualifications increases substantially.

When it comes to finding the right developer, the proof is in the pudding. It doesn't matter what college they went to (or if they went to college) or how well they put together their resume. What matters is whether or not they have the necessary skills (both technical and soft skills) to complete the project in a way that meets (or exceeds) your standards on time.

How to Test Your Developer's Skills Before Hiring

There are a number of approaches you can take to test your developer's skills, and it's probably a good idea to employ several of these in your search for the right candidate.

Ask For a Portfolio (and Actually Look At It)

Any even remotely professional developer will have a portfolio they can send to show off their best work. For someone new to the world of coding, they might just have one simple landing page for a portfolio. If a developer cannot send a portfolio at all, this should be a major red flag.

That being said, don't let the fact that they have a portfolio give you the confidence to hire them on the spot. While it's a good start that they have one, you'll definitely want to dig into it to see what you can find.

Even if a person's portfolio is primarily just personal projects, it can help to show their skills in an invaluable way. You can get a good sense of someone's skills, development level, and career goals from a portfolio.

You'll want to look at the descriptions provided by the developers for each project in their portfolio. This can help you learn more about their process and give you an idea of how developed their communication skills are.

Depending on your own experience with software development, you might also take a look at the source code of some of their projects. Not only can this help you get a general sense of their abilities, but it can also give you the chance to ask custom-tailored questions during the hiring process.

Portfolios are also useful because they let you see if the developer has any experience that is relevant or similar to the project you're working on.

Evaluate Their Activity on GitHub and Stack Overflow

Another way you can work to understand your developer's skills before you hire them is to take a look at GitHub and Stack Overflow.

GitHub is a great resource for people looking to hire developers, as it allows you to see the open source projects your prospective developer is working on.

If you don't have a technical understanding of developing and, therefore, it's not that useful to look at code, you can look for the following:

  • How many followers the developer has, which speaks to their level of reputation
  • The date that they joined GitHub, which helps to communicate their experience level
  • The number and type of projects on the candidate's repository

Stack Overflow, on the other hand, is a platform that exists to help people find solutions to coding problems of all types. You can look at the point system of your prospective candidate to see how many points they've received. You can expect that someone with more points is more trusted, thanks to the answers and comments they've made.

Use Tests and Assessments

Since we're talking about how to test your developer's skills before hiring them, it's only natural that we would mention using tests.

A coding test will lay out a practical, real problem that could be encountered during the development process, and the candidates will have to code their way through it. If you're looking for a way to test your candidates objectively and efficiently, this is a good way to go.

There are also a number of platforms you can use to set up programming tests for developers. When you use one of these programs, the code of the prospective candidate is automatically analyzed, and you receive several performance metrics for each one.

Even if a person seems perfect for your developer's role from a soft skills standpoint, it's important to make sure they have what it takes to handle the project you're handing over to them.

Live Coding Interview

Also known as pair programming sessions, live coding interviews are a great way for prospective developers to show off their skills. While this might sound pretty stressful for the candidate, this can be an incredibly valuable window into prospective developers' skills, thinking processes, and communication styles.

You can see how the candidate performs in real-time when you have a live coding interview. Not only can you see what they're capable of with only their programming knowledge in their arsenal, but this is also an opportunity to get a sense of their communication skills. If you are putting on a collective interview, it's additionally a chance to see how they work with other people.

Screen sharing is typically utilized to make live coding interviews possible. You can give the developer a brief overview of the problem and process and then watch their screen as they finish the task you've given them.

During this time, candidates can ask questions to grasp the problem at hand better. You can glean a lot of information about the way someone thinks and solves issues just from the questions they ask.

The true benefit of this type of interview is to create a conversational and dynamic setting where both the interviewer and the interviewee can get a sense of what it would be like to work together. You might find that the person you believe is the right fit as your developer wasn't the one who produced the most pristine, clean piece of code, but the individual that you felt had the right skills and worked well with you.

How much does it cost to hire a freelance developer, anyway? This guide takes a look at the average hourly rate for freelance software developers.

What Skills Should You Look For When Hiring a Developer?

Who you choose as a developer can majorly impact your entire brand. Whether you're hiring a developer to design a new app for your company, build databases for internal use, or something else entirely, the success and efficiency of your organization relies on the skills and abilities of the developers you work with.

Let's look at the skills you should keep an eye out for when hiring a developer.

Technical Skills

Of course, when you're hiring a developer, you want to make sure they are technically capable of fulfilling their duties. It's important that you find someone who is up for the task of completing the projects you have in mind. Before hiring a developer, it's a good idea to identify the programming language you'll want to use and ensure that the person you bring onboard is well-versed in this language.

Critical Thinking Skills

In the world of programming, developers are always running up against problems. The fact that there are problems isn't a problem in itself unless your developer doesn't have good critical thinking skills.

The right developer can see your bigger picture goals and break them down into smaller, simpler steps. They are resourceful and know how to use a multitude of different tools to deal with issues as they crop up. At the same time, they are able to deal with a number of different complicated issues relatively simultaneously.

Interpersonal Skills

Even though there is a stereotype of loner programmers, hiring a developer with highly-developed interpersonal skills is ideal. After all, they'll likely be interfacing with many different people while working for you, even if only in a freelance position.

Time Management Skills

Is there anything worse than a developer that gets halfway through a project and then disappears for weeks at a time? No, we didn't think so. The last thing you want is to hire a developer who ghosts you partway through the process because they're overwhelmed or simply because they're unreliable.

The developer you hire should have great time management skills and a solid work ethic. The more certain you feel they are capable of taking on the task you've assigned them, the less you'll feel like you constantly have to stay on top of them to ensure the job gets done.

A reliable developer will clearly understand how long a task will take them and keep you informed if they bump into issues that will delay the process.

Learning Skills

Developers have to be able to constantly learn new skills, no matter how many years of experience they have. This is because the industry is always changing, and new tools can be used to keep your brand on the cutting edge.

Keep an eye out for candidates that spend a lot of time working on their professional development. You can also watch for signs of a growth-oriented mindset rather than a fixed one. A developer with a growth-oriented mindset will be much more willing to adjust their typical process to fit your needs and will be eager to learn new, necessary skills to complete a project.

Communication Skills

Finally, communication skills are key when hiring a developer. If they aren't able or willing to clearly communicate with you about the status of a project, you'll be left in the dark about their progress and whether deadlines will be met.

When dealing with an issue, they should be able to describe it to you in a clear, understandable way, even if you don't have experience as a programmer yourself. They'll also need to collaborate with your entire team, which requires interfacing with individuals in a number of different roles. If you're constantly struggling to communicate effectively, it will slow down your process significantly, not to mention feeling like pulling teeth the whole time.

Once you've hired a developer, you might be faced with a new quandary: are they charging way too much? Check out this article to learn how to know if your software developer is overcharging you.

Are You Looking For the Right Development Partners?

Hiring a developer can begin to feel like a full-time job in its own right. You find yourself spending countless hours digging through GitHub and Stack Overflow posts, even if you have little technical knowledge in the realm of programming. For someone that knows that a digital product will help their brand but also knows that their time is better spent on tasks other than learning how to code, finding an individual developer to get the job done often seems like the only option.

Another choice on the table, though, is hiring a professional development team that is comprised of top talent from around the world. If you're looking for the right partners to help you develop your new digital product, say hello and tell us about your project.