How to nail candidate fit for every tech role 🎯


Achieving candidate fit in tech roles is harder than ever – which is the main reason tech role hire time has increased from 29 to 43 days.

Tech recruiters now spend 20 hours per hire on candidate screening calls alone.

(That’s 50% longer than their counterparts from other industries!)

Recruiters from some companies (Canva, Microsoft, Netflix, and Shopify) now spend more than 10 hours of their week just screening candidates on the phone.

That’s a lot of calls — and a lot of time — spent talking to candidates. Most who won’t meet the hiring manager’s criteria (or who won’t find the job offer appealing.)

But why — and what to do about it?

In this article, we’ll answer both of these questions.

Why finding a fitting candidate is hard from the tech recruiter side

Getting the right candidate fit is the most important thing to get right in any company.

Hiring the right person means lower worker turnover, higher engagement, increased productivity, and greater consistency for operations. 

A hiring manager can have the wrong vision, the wrong skills, and be poor operationally but still succeed if they have great people reporting to them.

In tech, “good on paper” does not mean candidate fit

When searching for the perfect candidate, tech recruiters receive a set of criteria from the hiring manager that are based on what they consider to be quality.

Hiring managers might overemphasize candidate filters that worked in the past (or filters that find them candidates like themselves.) 

They may ask for only candidates who graduated from a top 20 university, who have certain certifications, have specific degrees, or self-proclaimed skills.

Tech recruiters will then diligently run through a process of candidate list building, outreach, and screening, to send hiring managers the candidates they will like.


The reality is, skills and backgrounds — the very thing tech recruiters are filtering for during this process — are poor indicators of tech team success.

Harvard business scholar Frans Johansson talks about this in his groundbreaking study The Medici Effect. High-performing teams (like all teams) thrive when they contain all kinds of geographic, academic, ethnic, and experiential backgrounds.

And tech is no exception. 

Top teams of engineers and developers include everything from PhDs, to dropouts, to candidates who learned their skills mid-career.

Instead of just filtering for the “good on paper” attributes a hiring manager asks for, tech recruiters should identify candidates who:

  1. Have the competency to perform the tasks the company needs
  2. Have the intrinsic motivation to do the work

Measuring competency with take home challenges

Regardless of the candidate’s background, the only way to assess their competency is with a take home challenge.

Live brain teasers (Google famously asking candidates how many golf balls would fit in a Boeing 747) and live coding challenges do assess how tech workers work under pressure. 

But these are neither the work the candidate will do, nor the way they’ll do it.

No engineer works with their manager standing over them watching their performance. And they won’t be working out the relative volume of sports equipment and jet airplanes.

They will, however, be working on the company’s codebase — and on company projects. 

A take home challenge can assess this.

For example, ask the candidate how they would design software architecture for a project similar to one that has recently been completed.


It’s much easier for a head of engineering to assess a candidate’s competency if the problem relates to something that head has recently solved.

A challenge (typically taking 30 minutes to 4 hours to complete) will also help gauge the motivation of the candidate.

Typically, about 70% of candidates will complete a challenge when offered one.

If your rates are lower, either the challenge is too hard (or too confusing), or the candidate loses interest in the role before they will themselves through the task.

Lack of interest usually means the tech recruiter isn’t tapping into the candidate’s intrinsic motivation enough.

Measuring tech candidate intrinsic motivation

No matter a tech worker’s competency, they will only be productive if they have the intrinsic motivation to keep working — despite the inevitable frustration that comes with challenging work.

As world-renowned productivity expert Charles Duhigg writes in his book Smarter, Better, Faster, extrinsic motivation (primarily compensation, status, and fringe benefits like remote work and flex time) are short-term and don’t last. 

Our own recent study confirms Duhigg’s assessment, as tech recruiters reported that candidates care even less about extrinsic motivators than workers from other industries.

The factor tech workers care most about — impact — means “the opportunity to grow the company and make their mark.” 

This is at the top of the list for intrinsic motivators, a list which also includes:

  • Challenge (goals just daunting enough to deliver a sense of accomplishment)
  • Personal growth (not professional, job title-related)
  • Team (and the energy they can provide the candidate)


Tech recruiters deliver candidates with higher productivity, longevity, and quality when they spend their screening call time assessing these four intrinsic motivators for a candidate.

Some good questions to ask to assess these motivators include:

  1. How much do you know about what our company does and why we’re doing it?
  2. How would two years at this job get you two years closer to your personal and professional goals?
  3. What challenges in your professional history have kept you most engaged and why?
  4. Talk about the types of team collaboration you have thrived with in the past.

Level up your tech recruitment

As introduced above, achieving perfect candidate fit in tech roles comes down to talking about what they value. 

Our free report on the state of tech recruitment identifies 10 key takeaways to take the anxiety out of the hardest industry to recruit for.

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