Assessing Technical Candidates Objectively

We’ve all been there. You found what seems to be a great candidate for a technical position. You’ve done a thorough interview and have determined that the candidate would be a great “fit” for your organization and seems to have the appropriate technical skills for the position. If you’re like most organizations, the next step is a technical evaluation. Now you have a decision to make. This technical assessment can be in the form of a testing tool, an interview by a technical person, or a combination of the two. Although testing tools are growing in popularity, most organizations still rely heavily on that all-important technical interview. Yet as technical recruiters, we know that the technical interview can vary from interviewer to interviewer, changing an objective assessment into a subjective guessing game. For example, you may find that Harry Jones places greater emphasis on the ability to learn new things quickly, while Sally Smith prefers to challenge candidates with questions about obscure bits of knowledge. Quickly you begin to realize that in order to build consistency and speed into the hiring process this interview must have some standardization. The decision you now have to make is how to objectify and standardize the technical assessment. There are many ways to approach this task. You can give a laundry list of skills and ask for a number rating for each skill, you can create a list of standard interview questions, or you can ask that the interviewer provide a detailed write-up of the candidate’s technical knowledge. The risk in using a number rating to rank skill level is that interviewers define the levels differently, and of course, the other two alternatives are time consuming. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*> One way to achieve consistency and efficiency is to utilize a rating system called the “Seven Levels of Competency.” This scale, commonly used by the academic world, applies objective terminology to explain each level of competency, or knowledge, leaving little room for interpretation. The levels are as follows:

  1. Innocent (No knowledge of the technology)
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  3. Aware (Has read about the technology)
  4. Apprentice (Has studied the technology)
  5. Practitioner (Average, capable and ready to use the technology)
  6. Journeyman (Above Average, uses the technology naturally and automatically)
  7. Master (Has internalized the technology and knows when to make exceptions)
  8. Expert (Recognized expertise, extends the technology)

For example, a Level 3 – Apprentice, would be a college or trade school graduate that has studied the technology, but not had practical experience. In contrast, Grady Booch would be considered a Level 7 Expert in Object Oriented programming. The “Seven Levels of Competency” provides clear-cut definitions to objectify the evaluation process, making it easier and quicker. To use the levels effectively, you should have an understanding of which skills and competency levels are needed for each position you are trying to fill. Pair this with standard interview questions and the process becomes increasingly consistent. Adding a strong job description to the mix would finish off the process. It has been my experience that technical interviewers readily embrace this approach, since it also makes their job easier by simplifying the feedback process and eliminating the need for lengthy dissertations about the technical strengths and weaknesses of the candidate. Arm your interviewers with the “Seven Levels of Competency,” a few interview questions, and a job description and watch. The information you receive in return will be a valuable tool in the hiring process. The standardized rankings will save the interviewer’s time in creating feedback, so you, the recruiter, receive the feedback more quickly, speeding the overall hiring process, and creating an avenue in which Harry and Sally ultimately reach the same conclusions about a candidate.

Kimberly Bedore ( is a consultant and public speaker who develops and implements staffing solutions for clients, resulting in increased efficiencies and significant cost savings. She uses her wide range of recruiting experience to provide companies with a wealth of information related to sourcing and sourcing strategies, recruitment training, and the implementation of solutions and metrics that enable a higher degree of staffing effectiveness.


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