Why your technical assessment needs to be human


Tricia Lincoln, Corporate Technology Recruiting Manager at Lowe’s, shares tips for improving your employer brand by ditching the code test and building a more human technical assessment program

In a recent panel on inclusive interviewing, Tricia Lincoln, made a point to emphasize personal connections when recruiting developer talent. She achieves this by partnering closely with her engineering and DEI teams, and by prioritizing a live technical assessment.

“There’s a coldness to taking exams,” said Lincoln. “When you think about how much your first-round technical assessment impacts your employer brand, it’s critical that that first touchpoint has a human element.”

Tricia has been developing great software engineering cultures for more than a decade, but at one company, she noticed parts of her organization were having a hard time keeping a diverse population of developer talent in the pipeline. As she started to research the problem, Tricia found a number of studies about the cultural differences that exist in how candidates perceive and approach tests.

“Different people think about tests differently,” Lincoln observed. “Some candidates may be afraid to answer a question incorrectly, so they don’t answer a question at all. It’s not fair to assess their technical skills against someone from a cultural background that encourages taking risks because that candidate might guess and get a partial answer or partial credit that winds up making it further in the process.”

Over indexing on code tests as a way of assessing technical skills can have unintended consequences by reinforcing cultural norms hidden throughout the process. Not only can this insert bias into the interview process, but it’s less predictive as well.

“We wanted to find ways to use live interviews to understand how people think about problems. How do they pull in others to solve problems? What questions do they ask? The right answer is fantastic,” noted Lincoln. “But how you get to that answer is so important and that gets lost in coding challenges or take-home tests.”

Building an inclusive technical assessment 

One of the biggest foundations for an enjoyable candidate process is setting expectations and delivering consistency. That builds trust.

“The more consistency you build into your process, the more trust you build between your organization and your candidates,” said Lincoln. “Inclusive interviewing starts with informed interviewers who understand how diversity positively impacts an organization and who look for more than just the baseline skills of a candidate.”

Tricia continued, “candidates react positively to brands where they feel like they’re being treated fairly and feel like they have the same shot as everyone else. I bring all my interviewers together and explain why it’s important to treat candidates the same and fairly, especially in the technical assessment. Once they buy into that philosophy, informed interviewers can really change the narrative and help build more diverse teams.”

Finding champions

Tricia encourages recruiters to diversify their interview loops by finding champions and sponsors across the business.

“30% is a baseline I like to use when it comes to the diverse representation in interview loops,” shared Lincoln. “Make sure you’re representing the full organization, and not just direct peers and hiring managers. Having a diverse interview slate lets candidates see someone who looks like them and they see it as a place they’ll fit in. It also lets employees feel like they have input on who is coming into the org.”

“Partner with your DEI organization,” added Lincoln. “If you’re not just TA, but also HR and also DEI, you can set the standard. Those internal partnerships give you line of sight in the community you want to build and highlight. It’s so important for candidates to see themselves working and being successful at your organization.”

More inclusive technical assessments don’t happen overnight

“We’re still building our engineer interviewing muscle at Lowe’s,” concluded Lincoln. “I’ll hear some folks say “let’s try a code test.’ Then they go through and get the feedback and say, ‘I wish I would have had an opportunity to talk to them.’ It just comes back again to those live interviews that let candidates show their whole persona and how they approach solving problems.”

Building an efficient and inclusive process is especially important for Tricia and her team because they’re actively hiring! You can connect with Tricia by signing up for the Lowe’s Talent Community to receive job alerts and monthly job spotlights featuring job openings across Lowe’s Tech and the Lowe’s Innovation Labs: https://corporate.lowes.com/careers.

More resources for building a consistent, inclusive, and predictive technical assessment:

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