I'm doing an interview with a company for a software developer manager/leader position. The position will take around 20% software development and the rest will be managing the team and client facing.

They have mentioned that the next step in the interview process is a code test (usually a brain teaser) that I need to finish at home in less than 1h.

I haven't had to do this kind of tests in years. I'm not by any chance ready for it and I don't understand why a high level role will have to do a teaser usually aimed at pure development positions. If I try to do it, I will probably fail.

Is there any way I can tell them that I don't think this will be a good representation of my skills and I prefer not to do it?

Edit: Thanks for all the answers. I understand that a company wants to see me code, but I don't understand the need of answering a brain teaser (find how many times you need to flip a coin in a array of coins in order to blah blah blah....). That is something I never had to do in my 10+ years of experience. What I've been doing is developing awesome webpages, if they want to see that I can send them my portfolio and some code.

  • 68
    Well, from your description, you said that you are still expected to write some code. Maybe you will be just in "reviewer" position, but it still means that you need to understand code. To me the request seems valid Commented May 12, 2016 at 7:17
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    But you are a developer and they expect you to code. How is a high level role different from pure developer?
    – paparazzo
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 8:02
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    I've interviewed at a company that said they give these to everyone "because you'll need to communicate with developers". If they're hiring you as a technical project manager then I think your best bet is to give it a go anyway and if you don't think you did a good job make sure you impress them with your other skills.
    – Rup
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 10:01
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    This might not be what you want to hear, but as a developer I can tell you that I want my team lead to understand what I do - otherwise he or she isn't a qualified team lead. Commented May 12, 2016 at 12:22
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    80% of your time will be doing 20% of the code!! :-)
    – Max
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 13:25

6 Answers 6


You've already said

The position will take around 20% software development

which means almost certainly they are expecting someone who will be actively developing, as well as other tasks that demand intimate knowledge of coding - managing code quality and methodology, peer review, setting and enforcing code standards. I suspect they want a strong developer who is stepping up to lead a team of juniors - leading by example - with management duties as an add-on. Certainly in companies I have worked for the trend is very much towards autonomous teams headed up by such roles with very light "pure" management overhead, and away from the traditional manager who just supervises others.

It is possible to practice for these sorts of tests on sites like Codility, but if a 1h coding test is that scary a prospect then perhaps this is not a great fit for you.

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    +1 in particulate for the last half of the last sentence. Coding for 20% of a 40 hour week means coding for 8 hours a week, so if you can't handle a 1 hour coding test, how will you handle coding 1 day a week, all year? Commented May 12, 2016 at 12:56
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    @forgivenson I don't think OP's main concern is the 20% coding. OP seems more concerned that the coding test will be some kind of brain teaser (or something from a CS 201 algorithms class; and there is a lot of commentary on the Internet about this sort of test -- mostly negative, and I agree). Everything else, though, in the answer and your comment, is right on - This is a hybrid position involving coding and leadership. If you can't prove to them that you've still got coding skills, then you're likely not going to get the job.
    – Kent A.
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 13:44
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    It's not just a matter of not getting the job. The OP should be using the interview process to evaluate how well the job matches the OP's objectives. A test the OP does not want to do may be a warning of a mismatch. Commented May 12, 2016 at 15:19

Is there any way I can tell them that I don't think this will be a good representation of my skills and I prefer not to do it?

You could certainly tell them, but expect not to go any further in the process for a job which involves around 20% software development. You would appear to have applied for the wrong job, which could leave the recruiter amused (to put it mildly), especially since you clearly have several years of industry experience.

Your real issue here seems to be that you are looking for a pure people/project management role, which this particular one clearly is not. I would suggest you ask them if there are such roles available and whether they could consider you for those. This would turn out a lot better than trying to shoehorn yourself into a role that you don't seem too comfortable with.

  • 1
    "which could leave the recruiter amused" -- it happens a lot, and it also happens a lot the other way around that recruiters (and more commonly external recruitment consultants) request people to apply for totally unsuitable jobs. After all, the whole point of the test is to filter people out: they're expecting some candidates not to pass that filter. Commented May 12, 2016 at 11:45
  • @SteveJessop I was thinking about an internal recruiter. I am not a recruiter per se, but I do get to read quite a few job applications at my company. Every once in a while, a candidate comes along with a skill set diametrically opposite to our job description. When asked questions relevant to our requirement, the answer is usually along the lines of "I don't really know much about this topic.", which naturally leads to the question, "why the h*** did you apply then?". :)
    – Masked Man
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 13:46
  • @MaskedMan - oh, the stories I could tell, if it wouldn't be a breach of confidence ;)
    – HorusKol
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 23:17

Like it seems to me, they want to check with this test also your logical thinking, dealing in critical times, etc. and not just pure development skills. I think it would be wrong step to decline the test, because they will automatic think less of your candidature. You should do the test as good as you can and after test you can ask for meeting, where you will show all your other skills.


Is there any way I can tell them that I don't think this will be a good representation of my skills and I prefer not to do it?

Yes, you could certainly say that. But doing so will certainly send them the message that you aren't a good fit for the job (and maybe you aren't).

If the job requires 20% development and they are testing for those skills, then clearly those skills are important to the company. Telling them that this test doesn't represent your skills tells them that you aren't capable. And you yourself think you will fail in this test.

It sounds like this isn't the kind of management role you want. You might consider bowing out now if you feel that strongly.

If you want to give it a try anyway, you might cram for the kind of development you think will happen, and see how it goes. You might surprise yourself.


In practice, most roles are flexible and can be made to fit the actual skills you bring to the team. However, that usually occurs slowly after you have a position.

The company is expecting one thing from this role, and you another. The 20% development is a deal breaker for you it seems, as the company expects you to be more adept at it than you believe yourself to be. It is worth exploring that with them openly, with the goal of reducing your exposure to actual development and pitching for a more senior position focused on the people management, project management and client-facing parts of the job.

It may be an uphill struggle if the recruiting company reps are set in what they think they need.

The hard part you face is negotiating a change to the role as a candidate as opposed to growing yourself and the role into a matching balance of needs and skills in an existing position. You have a much better chance with a smaller company where the role is covering more ground than with a large company that already has a "Head of Development".

If you think there is space for you to have a role different from the "Senior Technical Lead" role they have open, and you think there is room for flexibility in that company then I suggest contact the company and be honest about your expectations for the role, and try and negotiate a different set of responsibilities. If you have already interviewed with them and declared a 20% development workload is OK, you will need to retract that - it clearly isn't the case for you.

Be prepared to be told "no" because the company has an understanding (right or wrong) about the role it needs already. Also, there is no shame at any stage in walking away from the interview process because it isn't a good fit for you.

At this stage, if the negotiation seems too far fetched an idea then you could still do the test in good faith, and follow up afterwards with comments to the effect that you like the company but doing the test has "enlightened" you that in reality you are looking for a more senior role. Keep that positive, no complaining about the test, just a "thank you" and a pitch for a different role. Maybe in future they will have one available, and it is entirely possible they will need to go through with their idea of senior dev/manager, find it doesn't work as well as they imagined and then post a job which is a better match for you.


You could study some code and prepare for what will probably be a generic code test so that you can pass their exam, or find out exactly what language and tools they use, study those specifically, and brush up enough so that you can pass their test, which will also prepare you for the position itself.

Even if you aren't going to be doing a lot of direct coding yourself, understanding of the code you're supporting and the way it's put together are both extremely important even for the manager of a project, and especially for a developer to understand the limitations of the code. This seems like an entirely reasonable test to run against you.

At best, you could point to your years of prior experience as a developer for the language they're using to 'exempt' you from the test - but it's doubtful that will help, as even an extensive experience with the language means nothing if you haven't used it in so long that your understanding of it has rusted through.

In short: take it as an opportunity to brush up really quick, and to get to know the position better. More than likely, if you put in some effort to learn what they're using, it'll be an opportunity to impress them even more by showing just how interested you are in the position.

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