Project-based assessments as an evaluation method:
Project-based assessments are increasing in popularity as part of the tech hiring process. They obviously come with their own pros and cons. They are relatively new, and hence are still evolving and consolidating. However, it is safe to say that they will soon be popular and ubiquitous.
Why are they used?
Tech hiring has always been risky. The search for a perfect hire leads companies to reject many candidates that could have been good enough for them. The need arises for a method that can test exactly how good the candidate would be at the position. And a very obvious way to test that is to assign them a task similar to what they would be doing on the job. Enter Project-based assignments.
Who should use them?
They are still growing in popularity, and their use is very sporadic within companies. As a part of the hiring process, they are effective for posts that require multiple skills and consistent visionary thinking as well as problem-solving skills. These posts include software and other developers, product managers, designers, and analysts.
Upsides of Project-based assessments:
PBAs have much to offer in hiring. The multidimensionality of PBAs brings with itself several perks-
PBAs simulate reality:
The most obvious and foremost advantage of PBAs is that if well crafted, they are great imitations of the work actually done in the company. For example, in evaluating developers, candidates can be asked to debug a given codebase or build a plugin or feature.
Unlike an interview situation, where they have to write code on the whiteboard within an hour or so, they get a reasonable timeline, and the liberty of writing code, however, and wherever they want. This enables them to work exactly as they would on a job. It hence provides a better approximation of their actual performances. It also provides the candidates with a better glimpse of how the job would be.
PBAs are hence are a very holistic measure of a candidate’s abilities and working habits.
They save a lot of interview time:
Crafting and evaluating PBAs can be a time and effort-demanding task in itself, but even more so can be more technical interview rounds. The interviewer also has to prepare for the interview, to be in a proper mindset to evaluate a candidate, plus set up the logistics of the interview. Interviewing multiple candidates in a day is exhausting and can lead to many ambiguities. With a well-made assessment, with a proper evaluation method, candidates can be tested more efficiently.
Good inputs and insights
With candidates at the liberty of time and methodology, and the only driving force being to fare better than rival candidates, it is natural for candidates to come up with solutions to the problem which may be unorthodox, ingenious, and insightful. This can always be an advantage for the company, and a great metric to evaluate candidates as well. It should however be kept in mind that the PBA should not turn into unpaid labor, which can not only turn candidates away from you but also lower your credibility in the industry.
Appropriate for experienced candidates
For experienced candidates applying for senior positions, a skill test or a whiteboard test would be pointless. PBAs, however, provide a more role-specific way of testing, which can be used for both inexperienced and experienced candidates.
Downsides of PBAs
As a newly popular method of hiring, PBAs come with their own imperfections and disadvantages. Some of these drawbacks may be eliminated with time, but some of them come inherently as part of PBAs.
Candidates require time and resources
They are difficult to manage for candidates who currently work time-demanding jobs. A whole other task can take a big chunk of their non-working hours, or even lead them to eat into their current working hours. A time-consuming, complex PBA can even drive away highly motivated candidates.
They also pose a huge disadvantage to candidates who don’t have computing/internet resources at home, or outside of work.
Plagiarism is a possibility
With continuous monitoring being impossible, it is obviously easier for candidates to cheat. And cheating is not about googling how to do things, which would be a big part of their jobs anyway. Cheating implies people getting other people to do the task for them, or plagiarizing the entire thing. Obviously, the former is a bigger threat than the latter, because of a good PBA.
Interpersonal interaction absent
The more abstract and qualitative aspects of a candidate can only be judged in a proper conversation. How well the candidate works is one thing. How well the candidate fits in a company or a team is also important. A PBA only paints the picture of the coder, not the person. Only with a proper interview can a candidate be evaluated on a personal level. And that includes their working habits, their personal strengths and weaknesses, and their ability to coordinate, lead, and follow.
They shouldn’t be the sole process
A complete hiring process should involve a personal interview, for any candidate.
As mentioned before, PBAs are by design not a test of character, soft skills, or culture fit. Also, due to the high possibility of plagiarism, it is necessary to have an interaction with the candidate regarding the PBA itself – to know that the candidate is authentic and for real.
They should be well-crafted
Creating a good PBA is time-consuming, but worth it. The PBA should be relevant to the job, with the evaluation parameters well set. The evaluation should align well with the prospective job deliverables expected from the candidate. It should also include the various intricacies that may and do arise within the job. That includes the problems to be solved, as well as the parameters and bounds to be taken care of.
The more specific the PBA is, the lesser is the scope for plagiarism. The PBA should also not be tedious or time-consuming for the candidates.
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