"How do you develop the best take-home challenge?"
This is a question that many businesses face when they are looking to assess the skill of their candidates. However, it's not the easiest one to answer.
You want to make sure that the take-home challenge is comprehensive enough that it accurately assesses the skill of the candidate but, at the same time, you don't want it to be too difficult or time-consuming that it becomes a deterrent for candidates.
You also want it to be specific to the skill set that you're looking for and that is engaging enough that the candidate will actually want to complete it.
As you can see there are a lot of factors to consider and many different ways that you can approach developing a take-home challenge, so it can be difficult to know which route to take and which one is the best for your business.
To help you out, we decided to write this article in which we'll cover different things you need to think about when developing a take-home challenge as well as some tips and advice to help you create the best one possible.
So without further ado, let's get started!
How do most companies develop their take-home challenge?
Before we get into how you can develop the best take-home challenge, it's important to understand how most companies develop their take-home challenges.
Oftentimes, businesses will simply come up with a challenge on their own without much thought or planning involved.
Most of the hiring managers will check what was a previous challenge, they'll ask Google and maybe talk to a few people and a couple of team members. Then they sit and develop it in one shot.
As you can guess, this is not the best way to approach developing a take-home challenge.
Not only is it more likely that the challenge won't be comprehensive or accurate enough, but it can also end up being too difficult, not specific enough, or simply unengaging for candidates.
Now, you might be wondering why most companies develop their take-home challenges in this way if it's not the best way to go about it.
Well, the answer is actually simple: because they don't know any better.
You see, most people are not professionals in developing challenges to test skills. How many challenges have seen in your life? How many you have personally developed?
Chances are, not many.
And so, it's only natural that companies would develop their take-home challenges in a way that is less than ideal because they simply don't have the experience or expertise to do it any other way.
Fortunately, you're not like most companies.
You're reading this article, which means that you're already ahead of the curve and are looking to develop a take-home challenge the right way. Whether you are just starting to develop your take-home challenge or you already have one and you're looking to improve it, this article will definitely be of help.
It's important to note here that there's no one size fits all solution when it comes to developing a take-home challenge. Every company is different and as such, every take-home challenge should be different as well. What works for one company might not work for another, and vice versa.
Because of this, no one can tell you exactly what your take-home challenge should look like and you can’t copy someone else's take-home challenge.
You'll need to put in the work to develop your own unique take-home challenge that is tailored specifically for your company. This is the only way to ensure that you're developing the best take-home challenge possible.
However, even though there's no one size fits all solution, there are still some general principles, guidelines, tips, and things that you need to think about and consider when developing your take-home challenge to make sure that it's the best it can be.
If you can keep these things in mind, and carefully consider each one as you're developing your take-home challenge, you'll be well on your way to developing a top-notch take-home challenge that will serve its purpose well.
How to develop the best take-home challenge
Now that we cleared that up, let's get into the specifics of how you can develop the best take-home challenge.
Define your expectations
When it comes to developing a take-home challenge, the first thing you need to do is sit down and define your expectations.
You need to ask yourself what exactly it is that you want to achieve with this challenge.
- What skills are you trying to assess?
- Are you looking for candidates who can code well?
- Are you looking for candidates who are good at problem-solving?
- Are you looking for candidates who are good communicators?
- All of the above?
It's important that you have a clear understanding of what it is you're trying to assess before you start developing your take-home challenge. This will make it much easier to develop a challenge that is comprehensive and accurate enough to assess the skills that you're looking for.
You also want to set priority levels for the skills that you're trying to assess.
For example, if you're looking for candidates who can code well, but their design skills are not as important, then you would want to set a higher priority for coding skills than design skills.
This will help you focus on what's most important and ensure that your take-home challenge is comprehensive enough to assess all the skills that are necessary.
When defining expectations, another important thing to consider is the level of skill that you're looking for.
Are you looking for entry-level candidates or are you looking for experienced candidates?
This will also influence the difficulty of your take-home challenge and what types of skills you'll be assessing.
For example, if you're looking for entry-level candidates, then you might want to focus on
assessing basic coding skills.
On the other hand, if you're looking for experienced candidates, then you'll want to make sure that your take-home challenge is more difficult and comprehensive, testing a wider range of skills.
(We wrote a great article about how to prepare candidates for the skill assessment process, which can help you manage expectations and ensure that your candidates are well-prepared for the take-home challenge. You can check it out here.)
Think about timing
Another important thing to consider when developing your take-home challenge is timing.
How long do you want candidates to have to complete the challenge? Do you want to put pressure on candidates and see how they deliver in strict time frames, e.g. 3 hours? Or you want to assess what they can deliver without pressure, e.g. 5 days.
This is entirely up to you and will depend on the type of challenge you're looking to create.
However, it's important that you think about this in advance and set a clear timeframe for candidates to complete the challenge.
Keep in mind that not all candidates are the same, some need more time to get into the zone and do their best work while others perform better under pressure. It's important to give all candidates a fair chance and not put them at a disadvantage by setting an unrealistic timeframe.
The best option is for you to sit down and complete the take-home assessment yourself before setting a timeframe for candidates.
When you do complete the challenge yourself, what you will probably find out is that you needed 2x the time you thought you would. All of us tend to underestimate how much time things will take, so doing the challenge will give you a realistic idea of how much time is actually needed to complete the assessment.
However, don't forget that:
- You are not under pressure
- You know exactly what needs to be done
- Your skill is 100% in line with the job description. If you are a senior developer, you cannot expect a junior will complete the challenge in the same time frame.
You should also keep in mind that the candidate is under pressure. They are maybe working on the challenge late at night or during the weekend when their children are playing next to them.
So, cut them some slack and give them a reasonable timeframe to complete the skill assessment. Adding 20% more time to what you thought is a reasonable timeframe should do the trick.
Put yourself in the candidates' shoes
As you're developing your take-home challenge, it's important to put yourself in the candidates' shoes.
This means thinking about what it's like to be a candidate and taking into consideration all the challenges and obstacles that they might face and questions they might have.
- Is everything clear and concise?
- Are the instructions easy to follow?
- Is the challenge too difficult or too easy?
- Are the expectations realistic?
- Is your challenge fair?
These are all important questions to ask yourself when creating your take-home challenge.
If you can answer all of these questions with a resounding "Yes!", then you're on the right track.
If not, then it's time to go back to the drawing board and make some changes.
The goal is to make the take-home skill assessment as easy and fair as possible for candidates while still being able to assess their skills properly. The last thing you want is for candidates to get frustrated with your take-home challenge and give up before they even start.
Doing the challenge yourself will not only help you with timing but will also help you to see the challenge from the candidates' perspective and what are the things that need to be improved.
What is extremely important to mention here is that you shouldn't avoid removing or changing parts of the challenge that you think is unfair or too difficult.
It's better to have a fair and easy challenge that assesses the skills you're looking for than a difficult and unfair challenge that doesn't do anything good for you everyone included.
Ask team members for feedback
Once you have a take-home challenge that you're happy with, it's time to start testing it out.
If you have team members with similar skill sets to the role you're hiring for, ask them to take a look at it and give you their honest feedback. Do they understand it? Is it clear enough? Do they know what needs to be delivered?
Once they answer these questions, ask them to do the challenge themselves.
Did they find it too difficult or too easy? How much time did it take them to complete? What was the hardest part? What would make it easier for them? Do they think this take-home skill assessment is good for measuring the skill set required for this role? What would they change?
Their answers will give you a good idea of how candidates will react to your take-home challenge and what, if any, changes need to be made.
All of this feedback is extremely valuable and will help you to make your take-home challenge even better.
If you don't have anyone on your team who can do the challenge, consider reaching out to your network.
You can also post the challenge on forums and online communities (just make sure not to give away too much information about your company) and see what feedback you get there.
The important thing is to get as much feedback as possible before sending it out to candidates.
Ask candidates for feedback
You thought that was it when it comes to feedback, didn't you?
Well, there's one more important group of people you need to get feedback from: the candidates themselves.
Once they've completed the challenge, ask candidates for their feedback.
Did they understand the instructions? Was everything clear? Was the challenge too difficult or too easy? How much time did it take them to complete it? What was the hardest part? What would have made it easier for them? What would they change?
Basically, the same questions that you asked your team members and friends.
Their answers will give you an even better idea of how to improve your take-home challenge and make it even better for future candidates.
You can even step it up a notch and ask candidates additional questions.
Think about it: What if the candidate didn’t understand the challenge and only after half of the time did they realize they made a mistake in the beginning? Or what if the candidate understood the challenge but didn’t have enough time to complete it?
You can ask them about these things in a post-challenge interview and get even more insight into their thought process, how they work under pressure, and what they would do if they were in a similar situation again.
This is extremely valuable information that you can use to make your take-home challenge even better.
Make sure to keep all of this feedback in mind and use it to improve your take-home challenge.
Prepare a review form
A review form is something you should definitely prepare before sending the challenge to candidates.
It will navigate you and other reviewers through all the deliverables, help you keep track of the results, and make it easier to compare different candidates.
It will also aid in preparing the feedback for the candidates that didn't pass and interviewing those who did pass to the next stage.
If you're not sure how to prepare a review form, here's a quick rundown:
- Include all the deliverables that candidates need to submit
- For each deliverable, add a space where you can leave your feedback
- Indicate what the review criteria are for each deliverable
- Include a spot for general comments about the candidate
- Add a section for interview questions
This is just a basic review form template.
You can, of course, adjust it to better fit your needs or the specific take-home challenge. You can also find a lot of different templates online.
The important thing is to have a review form that will help you keep track of all the candidates and their results.
As you can see, there's a lot that goes into making a great take-home challenge, but…
It's definitely worth the effort.
A well-made take-home challenge will help you better assess candidates' skills, weed out those who are not a good fit for your company, and make sure that only the best of the best get through to the next stage of your hiring process.
Plus, It will also leave a good impression on the candidates and show them that you're a company that cares about its candidates and its hiring process and puts the effort into making it great.
So don't be afraid to put in the work and make your take-home challenge the best it can be.
You won't regret it.
Do you have any questions about take-home challenges or anything else related to the hiring process? Feel free to reach out. We're always happy to help!