The guide for conducting online code interviews to recruit software engineers remotely

Last Updated: January 2021

Before the pandemic, it was common to invite top candidates into the office for an interview that included writing code on a whiteboard. That’s obviously impossible now, so many companies have moved coding interviews to Zoom and asked candidates to share their screens as they code.

While this may work a handful of times, it is awkward and rigid for both candidates and interviewers. If you’re planning to make a long-term switch to remote interviews, it probably makes sense to set up a seamless end-to-end experience for online code interviews.

How do recruiters and engineering teams partner on creating an efficient, remote-first, and scalable online code interview process? Let’s investigate one step at a time.

What is an online code interview?

Online code interviews will vary based on the roles you’re hiring for, tools you use, and general hiring process. That being said, virtually all online code interviews consist of the following:

  • The ability for a recruiter to create a unique link to an interview environment
  • The ability for candidates and interviewers to collaboratively code in real-time on an online integrated development environment (IDE)
  • The ability for candidates and interviewers to collaborate on a freehand whiteboard
  • The ability for interviewers to privately take notes about the candidate
  • The ability for interviewers to replay the interview session afterward

There are countless tools for conducting online code interviews. Virtually any feature you can think of is available in the market. You can find reviews of the most popular ones on Medium.

What are the factors to consider when selecting a code interviewing platform?

Generally speaking, here are the factors that matter when selecting a platform:

  • A fast and snappy core user experience. The critical aspect of a remote interview is the ability to collaboratively code and communicate in real-time. It’s important for the platform to allow multiple interviewers to join the session and cycle through questions and scenarios as the candidate demonstrates their skills. There also can’t be a lag when multiple people type at once because this can introduce mistyped code and frustrate both the candidate and interviewers.
  • Clear, straightforward, and affordable pricing. Bringing candidates onsite takes a lot of coordination and time, but no explicit price or fee. When moving to remote interviews, there’s a lot less coordination involved meaning that you can finally interview and give a shot to more candidates. However, you’ll want a platform that allows you to interview enough candidates at a reasonable price, otherwise your hiring process can get expensive quickly.
  • Features and functionality. While the most important part of a remote interview is the ability to code in real-time, there are many other features that matter, including whiteboarding, video and audio, and interview templates.

Other important features like text, video, and audio capabilities, custom interview templates, automated grading, and API integrations depend on your business and interview process. Further, you might want to consider platforms that offer an end-to-end recruiting solution beyond interviewing, including sourcing, screening, take-home projects, and even facilitating offer letters and negotiation. Once you’ve selected a platform, it’s important to properly configure online interviews, otherwise you risk not actually qualifying candidates properly.

What are the steps for recruiters and engineers to conducting an online code interview?

In most organizations, recruiters are responsible for coordinating with the candidate and engineering teams to schedule the interview, set appropriate expectations, and then follow up afterward. Engineers are responsible for actually executing the interview and giving feedback. Below is an example of the process if you were using Coderbyte.

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Coderbyte offers interview templates which let you predefine coding challenges for various roles. Once in the interview, you can cycle through the challenges and run test cases against the candidate’s code.

interview template

Steps for recruiters

  • Send a calendar invite to the candidate and interviewers.
  • Include a link to the coding interview session (and video / audio details if separate)
  • Include a brief description in the calendar invitation of what the coding interview will entail
  • After the interview, make sure that the interviewers leave feedback in the coding interview assessment platform or your applicant tracking system
  • Follow up with the candidate about next steps, or lack thereof

Steps for engineers

  • Join the interview session about 5 minutes early to make sure that the coding screen and instructions are configured properly.
  • Introduce the candidate to the platform and experience.
  • Use a combination of coding and whiteboard throughout the interview.
  • After the interview, share the session report and your feedback with colleagues.
code editor

At first, this might all seem like an exhausting process but you’ll get the hang of it quickly. The code interview process has improved dramatically in the last few years. Not long ago, most companies just asked candidates a series of riddles and hired based on vague, irrelevant, and biased criteria. Today’s hiring process is far more equitable, sustainable, and scalable thanks to code interviewing platforms.