I have the role in the hiring process to perform technical phone interviews with candidates. The environment requires to filter for the top 10% of the people I interview (based on experience measured in terms of technical understanding and analytic thinking), roughly 2%-5% of the applicants. I would like to reduce the number of people which I have to interview.

I think about creating a small tailored test for the positions with 5-10 questions, not to be evaluated but to give people the right impression of what we will expect, with the hint that if they don't figure out the question at all (including the use of Google), then they should consider to go for another position.

I have several problems/questions:

  • this could be interpreted as arrogance, how to avoid this

  • how to introduce something like this in the process

  • how strong should we try to filter before interviewing

Edit: Information which may help, and points the questions made me think about:

The hiring process has 6 stages:

  1. eval of resume by HR

  2. telephone interview with HR

  3. evaluating of resume by technical person (me)

  4. interview by manager (my boss.

  5. telephone interview by me

  6. personal meeting

My feeling is that in stage 1) we have a lot of sub-par candidates. If I would take the overall population of PHDs in a physics or engineering, i would expect that most people from the top 25% should be able to pass Step 6. I also would expect that a big majority of people does not reach step 5. At step 2, I find myself often unable to judge the quality of the applicants and i find that HR is completely in the dark for any objective criterium for what we are looking for and can not possibly interview for that.

Lets call the test "technical quiz" (as suggested) and i would like to introduce this before step 3, possibly before step 2. A typical question (equivalent problem type from my previous field of work) would be connecting mathematics with engineering and physics:

"Assume you have a SQUID placed close to a sample, placed inside a Helmholtz-coil pair. These coils are to be controlled by a second SQUID in a certain distance from the first squid, and far enough from the sample not to be affected. You observe that the signal on the first one fluctuates erroneously, without the signal in the second quid fluctuating. Your task is to identify the problem. Please tell which calculations you would to first and which experimental and construction data you would ask for."

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jane S
    Jun 13, 2017 at 22:38

2 Answers 2


At first, I would concentrate not on screening out but thinking what do you need for a specific position. Imagine what type of person and his qualifications would make him successful for a role. If it is not new position and someone worked before - you could evaluate what skills and other characteristics were suitable or not.

small tailored test for the positions with 5-10 questions


how strong should we try to filter before interviewing

I think initial test should be longer than 5-10 questions but won't take more than 1-1.5 hours. It should check basic knowledge which is obligatory for a position. It may also contain some tricky questions for better candidates sorting.

It also depends what type of position is it - if it is strictly defined, requires specific (technical) knowledge here and now then tests may help to sort out. But it would be difficult to evaluate person soft skills, motivation and other characteristics.

  • The point is: the skillset can vary, but analytical understanding of complex technological systems needs to be extremely high.
    – Sascha
    Jun 11, 2017 at 16:41
  • 1
    I doubt that initial test can/should thoroughly check understanding of complex technological systems. Previous experience, reference check may show something.
    – Justas
    Jun 11, 2017 at 17:58
  • In general terms what engineering (or, whatever?) field is this?
    – Fattie
    Jun 11, 2017 at 20:05
  • Precision systems engineering. Mechatronics with a lot of control loops.
    – Sascha
    Jun 11, 2017 at 21:43
  • Sigh, it's almost impossible to find anyone for that. "Good luck" :/
    – Fattie
    Jun 11, 2017 at 23:14

Just FWIW, I proposed this answer when it regarded a typical sort of software-email quiz situation. Perhaps it will help others:

In answer to your three specific questions. You are proposing emailing a 5-question technical quiz. (This is a great idea, and commonplace.) Your questions...

  • this could be interpreted as arrogance, how to avoid this

It's totally normal, and a good idea.

  • how to introduce something like this in the process

"You email it to them."

If you need the language for the email it would be,

"Thanks for applying. Please answer these five technical skills questions as a first step. Looking forward to a prompt reply, thanks..." then paste in the five questions.

  • how strong should we try to filter before interviewing

Talk on the telephone to as many people as possible, limited only by the time you have.

With further info from the OP it would appear to be one of those annoying niche fields where you get zillions of people who "think they can do it" but it's actually a difficulty speciality. (Also I think the OP wants to administer said test by telephone.

I think there is a danger in "just annoying" the few experts.

My guess: if you use language like:

"As you know there are lots of everyday software engineers who think they can write control loops for blah blah. To help clarify if you're the right type of engineer, please answer these couple of questions..."

I'd say that the "few you're looking for" would be aware of the "mass of folks who cannot do it" issue, and, they would understand and not be annoyed by this.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .