Evaluating Remote Tech Candidates

Pair Programming Interview: How To Do It Right

Ihor
- 3 min. to read

Hiring good developers requires using the right tools during the recruitment and interviewing process. It’s important to test out your candidates’ coding skills as well as their communication, especially if they are remote. Thankfully, pair programming interviews excel at testing both of these skills.

Don’t know what pair programming interviews are? Want to know if they’re a good fit to test out the skills you are looking for in your candidates? Keep reading, and let us help you figure this concept out!

What is Pair Programming?

Pair programming is an Agile software development technique where two developers sit at a single workstation and work together to solve programming problems. 

The person writing the code (often called the driver) and the one offering insight (often called the observer or navigator) will switch roles as needed.

Usually, the people paired up will have disparate levels of experience, with the intent that the expert developer slowly shares information and knowledge with the newbie, thus increasing the rate at which the newbie learns. Sometimes two experts can be paired to increase their productivity and efficiency, but this is not common.

What Is a Pair Programming Interview?

A pair programming interview is a method of interviewing candidates where the interviewer and candidate solve a programming problem at the same computer, with the interviewer taking the role of observer/navigator and the candidate as the driver.

The idea behind this type of interview is that the interviewer guides the candidate through the resolution of the problem, sharing their opinions and observations along the way.

Benefits Of Pair Programming Interviews

Given the method, what are the benefits of pair programming interviews?

  • Focus on the right skills: A pair programming interview is excellent at testing a candidate’s problem-solving and communication skills.
  • Make better decisions: By allowing your candidates to solve a problem together with the interviewer, you can better evaluate them in a sample of the environment they will face in their day-to-day work.
  • Faster hiring: By being an extensive test of a candidate’s abilities, pair programming interviews are a faster method than other alternatives that may take multiple stages.
  • Better for the candidate: With a good premise for the problem and a savvy interviewer, candidates feel positively challenged at the same time, they get to know a bit about the company, their potential team, and the kind of work they will do. It is far more stimulating than other traditional interviewing methods.
  • Can be conducted online: You can have the candidate be interviewed from anywhere, making this an ideal test for remote positions or simply to increase the comfort of all involved. For in-house positions, having online interviews is also important if you’re hiring an international or faraway candidate. More on online interviews later!

How To Conduct a Pair Programming Interview?

You’ve established that a pair programming interview is the right option for your hiring needs, but how do you organize and conduct them? Here are a few considerations you should have:

1. Preparing The Interview

Create a baseline test

By far, the most important step is making sure you give all your candidates the same opportunities and challenges. Make your problem the same across the board and ensure you have guidelines on how far the interviewer should help the candidate. That is the only way you’ll be able to assess them reliably and without bias.

Base it on a real problem

These kinds of problem-solving exercises are far more effective if you use a real problem people at the company have faced before. This is a good time to involve the whole development team to help you create a good premise that will test the kind of capabilities you are looking for.

If the candidates feel like the problem is cookie cutter, they won’t feel challenged, nor will it give them a good metric as to what they can expect on their job.

Make it short

Interviews such as these shouldn’t take more than one hour, so make sure the problem you give them is easy enough to complete under an hour but hard enough that they will need more than half the allotted time to do it.

Create A Small Battery Of Questions

Be sure to prepare a small list of pair programming interview questions. Emphasis on small here.

Ideally, you’ll want to be flexible and ask the candidates about the way they are currently solving the problem so you can get a feel for their thought process, but it doesn’t hurt to have a few questions that can be applicable to all candidates.

Make sure you don’t ask them too many questions with potentially long answers, or you’ll risk having them go on long tangents of thinking or answering and grind the test to a halt.

2. During The Interview

Communicate the end goal clearly

Before starting the interview, make sure your candidate is aware of your expectations. Let them know what you are looking for and how you are evaluating them. Also, be sure to point out if there are things they should avoid doing.

Be Open To All Solutions

You’ll probably be aware of the more common ways of solving the problem you set your candidate to do, but do not immediately discard solutions that fall out of that comfort zone.

 Besides testing your candidate’s problem-solving, you also want to give them the space to express themselves. They may just surprise you with their creativity!

Help Candidates If They Get Stuck

Candidates will feel terrible if they waste the whole time slot for the interview, getting stuck on something they could have easily figured out. It may just be nerves or simply forgetfulness.

If you see your candidate getting stuck, steer them by asking questions that will help them think about the problem without answering away. This is a great opportunity to see their thought process when trying to solve the problem. 

Ask them about their current thoughts on the problem and what options they are considering to solve it. By working out an answer to your question, they may just find a way to continue the test.

Participate

Your candidates should feel challenged, but not to the point of feeling stressed. You want to test their collaboration and communication skills, so engage with them and make the interview a collaborative experience.

If you don’t, you’re better off conducting a regular code test.

3. After The Interview

Don’t Get stuck On The Right Answer

After the interview, it’s time to assess how the candidate did. But remember that sometimes getting the solution right isn’t as important as having a communicative or humble candidate.

Getting the right answer is important, yes. But when push comes to shove, having a candidate that meshes well with the rest of the team or one that can take criticism and improve may be a better fit. It all depends on your company culture.

Make sure you keep that in mind when evaluating your candidates.

Conducting A Pair Programming Interview Online

If you want to conduct a pair programming interview online, you’ll need the right tools. And none is more important than choosing a good platform to host your test in. You’ll want a tool that not only supports the language and other tools and integrations you’re using but also that is simple to set up and code in. You’ll want to have the most seamless experience possible so that the tool is not a hindrance to you or your candidates.

That said, here are some of the best platforms to conduct your online pair programming interviews:

  • CodePair: CodePair is a tool specifically made for online pair programming interviews. A CodePair interview can be set up ahead of time with specific modules and other integrations so you can create an environment that closely resembles your dev team’s daily working conditions. You can also take note of the answers to your code pairing interview questions and then pull them up later when you need to evaluate the candidate.
  • CoderPad: CoderPad provides several services, among them online pair programming interviews in the form of their Code Together feature. One of the unique features of the platform is its Drawing Mode, where users can create diagrams and sketch directly in the browser to quickly visualize ideas and structure their thoughts.
  • CoderByte: CoderByte features the standard live code pairing interviews but stands out from the crowd by providing hundreds of coding challenges that you can use as templates or starting points to devise your own tests.

Conclusion

Hiring doesn’t have to be a boring affair. By using pair programming interviews and engaging with your candidates with challenging problems, you’ll be able to retain their attention and get the best results from them.

If you’re looking for expert developers on just about any technology and language, DistantJob can help you! We have an extensive talent pool, and we’re sure to find the right people for the job. We have a rigorous process where we match our client’s needs to not only the most qualified people but also the best cultural fits. Don’t hesitate to contact us!

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