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Interviews for jobs in tech focus less on skill and more on ability to handle stress

Researchers say many qualified candidates aren’t considered for this reason

Photo (c) Deagreez - Getty Images
Job interviews can be nerve wracking and stressful for many consumers. However, a new study is assessing how some employers may be honing in on candidates’ nerves and stress. 

According to researchers from North Carolina State University, interviews for jobs in tech are often set up to give employers a feel for how well a candidate can perform under pressure -- not how skilled the candidate is in the field. 

Candidates are often required to complete a technical interview in which they walk the interviewer through their thought process to solve a particular coding issue. However, the researchers explained that not only does this not measure a candidate’s skill, but it’s unrealistic in terms of job expectations. However, it still remains as one of the deciding factors in the interview. 

“Technical interviews are feared and hated in the industry, and it turns out that these interview techniques may be hurting the industry’s ability to find and hire skilled software engineers,” said researcher Chris Parnin. “Our study suggests that a lot of well-qualified job candidates are being eliminated because they’re not used to working on a whiteboard in front of an audience.” 

Putting on the pressure 

The researchers conducted an experiment using the technical interview format to understand how it affects job applicants and hiring outcomes. 

They had nearly 50 undergraduate and graduate computer science students participate in the study, with half performing a public technical interview and the other half solving the same problem but in private. Those who completed the problem solving step alone didn’t have to talk the interviewer through their thought process and didn’t have the pressure of the interviewer watching their every move. 

Ultimately, those who could problem solve alone outperformed those who had to complete the problem while explaining themselves to the interviewer. The study revealed that those who completed the problem privately were twice as likely to have better results than those who solved the problem publicly. 

“In short, the findings suggest that companies are missing out on really good programmers because those programmers aren’t good at writing on a whiteboard and explaining their work out loud while coding,” said researcher Parnin. 

Missing out on qualified candidates

The researchers are concerned by these findings for a few reasons. 

For starters, the conditions aren’t similar to what a coder would experience on the job, so candidates spend their time worrying about how they’ll perform in front of a potential boss rather than thinking about what they’d actually bring to the position that’s relevant. The researchers say qualified candidates are often dismissed and are wrongfully missing out on these positions. 

“If the tech sector can address all of these challenges in a meaningful way, it will make significant progress in becoming more fair and inclusive,” said researcher Mahnaz Behroozi. “More to the point, the sector will be drawing from a larger and more diverse talent pool, which would contribute to better work.” 

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