Screening Software Engineers – Tips for IT Recruiters

Although IT recruiters have the same challenges as recruiters of other types of positions and industries, they also face some challenges that are unique to the IT industry and IT candidates. All recruiters needs to find good sources of candidates, find a large enough pool of qualified candidates, attract passive candidates, and find candidates with culture fit. But IT recruiters must find software professionals who can not only pass a technical interview, but that also display the passion and intellectual curiosity that top companies are looking for. And many IT hiring managers seek a 100% match to their position requirements.

There are some complex challenges in IT recruiting. When evaluating a candidate, successful recruiters need to ask these questions:

  • Are these candidates really skilled at everything they have listed on their resume, or are they using their resume as a notepad for every peripheral experience they’ve had in their career?
  • Can these candidates pass a technical interview?
  • For software developers, in addition to passing a technical interview for their chosen skill set, such as Java or C#, can they also pass an interview that assesses their understanding of the foundational, basic software engineering principles that underlie all programming languages?
  • What’s their code like? Is it elegant? (And how will you know?)
  • What’s the best way to engage the top candidates clients want when they may have a long list of employment solicitations for high-paying positions with great companies?
  • How can we find the top candidates faster than the competition?



IT recruiters see a LOT of resumes with a LOT of technical terms. Linux, PL/SQL, C++, Hibernate, and the list goes on. The problem with an overload of technical terms, especially in the technical summary, is that anything in the resume is fair game for the hiring manager to ask about in an interview.

Think that your hiring manager will simply ignore the extraneous technical terms listed on the resume and only ask questions related to the skills that are required for the position at hand?  Think again.  The truth is that hiring managers get irritated when an IT candidate’s resume has upwards of 200 technical keywords that they claim to know.  So, many hiring managers put aside the pre-planned interview agenda and instead call the candidate to the carpet on those trumped up skills, even though they may not be pertinent to the position.  Many a candidate has failed an interview before even getting to the technical questions that they expected would be asked.

That’s a shame, because many candidates are eliminated in this manner even though they may truly be a great match for the position.  Forewarned is forearmed - IT recruiters have to be careful not to present candidates with resumes overloaded with technical terms that are merely resume window dressing. They must go through the candidate’s resume line by line and assess what the candidate’s exact experience is with each technical term on the resume.

Ask probing questions.  If, for example, the skill is Java, then ask questions such as:

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your overall skill with Java?
  • On which projects did you use Java?
  • How long was the duration that you used Java for on each project?
  • What were your exact responsibilities with Java?
  • How many Java projects have you been on full lifecycle from inception through implementation? What was your role on those projects?
  • Were you responsible for architecture or design, or just coding?
  • What unique programming challenges have you solved with Java?
  • What innovative, creative out-of-the box things have you done using Java?
  • Have you ever served as a Java Project Lead?
  • Have you ever mentored other Java developers?
  • How many others besides yourself were involved with Java on each project?


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It’s a big disappointment to hear from the hiring manager that the candidate couldn’t explain basic software engineering principles, let alone answer questions about a specific programming language.

Three areas where IT recruiters have problems with candidates include:

  1. Assessing a candidate’s understanding of foundational software engineering principles.
  2. Assessing a candidate’s ability to answer questions about their chosen programming language.
  3. Assessing candidate’s ability to write elegant code.


IT recruiters can’t always easily discern candidates’ abilities in these areas just by reading a resume, and should therefore do a technical pre-screen before sending an IT candidate to interview with a hiring manager. There are several ways for IT recruiters to evaluate candidates’ technical skills:

  • Do a technical pre-screen using questions developed with input from hiring managers about what they are looking for in candidates. The questions must be simple enough for recruiters to understand but not too simple that all candidates know the answers. Have you hiring manager help you to compile five to ten questions, and then ask them verbally to your candidates.  If you have limited access to the hiring manager, then do a search on the internet for relevant questions and do your best to compile them yourself.
  • If you doubt your ability to technically pre-screen candidates, consider using an outside service. Prove it! and Brainbench offer multiple choice tests that candidates take online.  Services like Codility and HackerRank take online interviewing one step further by asking the candidates to write actual code, and that code is then evaluated and graded.
  • Check out candidates on Stack Overflow, an online community where software developers write, share, and comment on code. On Stack Overflow, developers rate each other’s questions and answers, allowing you to get an idea of their reputation in the Stack Overflow community.
  • Also check out candidates on GitHub. GitHub is the largest online code sharing community, a place where software engineers create, share, and help each other with code.  GitHub can give you a sense of a developer’s skillset because it allows you to view their repository activity—the repositories they follow, the ones they have created, and the ones that they have forked (“forking” basically means copying someone’s code for the purpose of modifying it). This in turn allows you to discover the type of code they write, and gives you an idea of their specific experience and skill level with their chosen software language.   You can also get a rough idea of how well respected they are in the community by how many followers they have.



We all know that screening software developers is no easy feat for technical hiring managers, let alone for recruiters.  However, the reality is that being an IT recruiter includes not just the tasks of finding and engaging top talent, but also the responsibility for assessing technical skills.  Although IT recruiters are….well….recruiters, and not software engineers, the best recruiters will make their best efforts to do what they can to get an idea of their candidates’ technical skills.


1 Comment

  1. Search Recruitment Leeds on April 13, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    Hey. Thanks for sharing this guys. I am not too long in the industry and in this specific field, so I am on the look out for helpful articles like this. I dont usually comment on blogs, but thought as this was so helpful I would let you guys know that it really helped me out.

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