During our interview process we give the candidate a programming test as well as a programming design problem.

Our HR department has told us to stop administering the programming test due to legal concerns. This would really hinder our ability to screen candidates.

Are there other HR policies that prevent you from hiring capable programmers?

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    For curiosity sake, what are the specific legal concerns and where is your company located ? Seems scary and unreal that laws wouldnt allow ability to perform a job as a way to select people...
    – Matthieu
    Jan 6, 2011 at 15:34
  • @Matthieu: In the US, there's a long list of questions you have to avoid, but nothing as far as I know about ability to perform. You can't ask if somebody's Jewish, for example, but if the job can involve working weekends it's fine to ask if the candidate has any problems working some Saturdays and Sundays. This sounds like an incentives issue: HR isn't worried about getting the best employees so much as (a) avoiding being sued, and (b) not taking the effort to check the law to see if this is an issue. Jan 6, 2011 at 15:43
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    I'd speak to them about the specific concerns and see if they can be accommodated. People who are entirely unreasonable if you engage them constructively are very very rare. Jan 6, 2011 at 16:15
  • What kind of test are you talking about? Some of the answers below brought up that maybe you meant one with a score at the end. I assumed you meant more like some simple pass/fail programming tests during the interview, where at least being close is "pass."
    – jhocking
    May 17, 2011 at 14:41

5 Answers 5


Two things I've seen at my current job:

Inappropriate job titles

We wanted to hire a senior level system admin to do manage our development/production environment. The job also required implementing new security measures for HIPAA. Anyway, the job title was 'Director of Hosted Systems and Security' because half of the technology department is made up of directors. The resumes we got were from people with a ton of high level experience. One guy managed the server farm for MacDonalds and had not been hands on in years.

We were getting nowhere, because all of the people HR was bringing in for interviews had been hands off management types. I posted the description under a different title. I knew a lot of network engineers/sys admins from my previous job and one of them saw it and applied. I had reached out to a couple of people directly from my prev job, but no one wanted to make any moves.

Inappropriate job responsibilites

In my current shop, we're all server side java programmers, and no one is really good on the front end in terms of javascript, html, or css. Now the javascript is easy (but trying to get some people to learn jquery is a pain) but no one even wants to learn that part.

We needed to find a front end developer for our department's projects who could also do projects for our Client Services and Marketing departments. The job description we posted kept requiring java skills, even when that's not what we really needed. Sometimes HR thinks that all of the tech people interchangeable and should have the same skills.

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    +1 for inappropriate job titles. At one place I couldn't recruit Project Managers as you weren't allowed Manager in your title if you didn't have direct line reports (which PMs don't as they're managing Projects rather than people). Jan 6, 2011 at 16:30
  • Who can't learn jQuery? It is like the easiest framework ever!
    – Casebash
    Nov 6, 2011 at 1:39
  • The person who will be the boss of the new hire should be writing the job description, anything else is massively stupid.
    – ozz
    Sep 27, 2013 at 10:04

"We need someone with X years experience in technologies Y and Z."

Experience is great, but we really need someone that can learn quickly.

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    It's especially fun when technologies Y and Z haven't existed for X years yet. (Yes, I've seen it done many times.)
    – HedgeMage
    Jan 8, 2011 at 2:56
  • @hedgemage I was about to bring that up because yeah I've seen that too. Most "X years of experience" requirements just seem to be another way of saying "no brand new graduates." It's better though to just come out and say that instead of applying indirection.
    – jhocking
    May 17, 2011 at 14:34

There's screening. In many places, HR screens all resumes and applications, and may screen out good people. There's a possibly apocryphal story about Mitch Kapor, who founded Lotus (unless I'm getting my companies wrong): he took the resumes of the first fifty Lotus employees, changed the specifics so they wouldn't be recognized, and had them submitted to HR, which promptly rejected all of them.

  • Don't hiring standards change over time? Not always a good thing.
    – JeffO
    Jan 6, 2011 at 16:02
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    @Jeff - Hiring standards should absolutely change over time. The people who are right in start ups are frequently not great big company people. Jan 6, 2011 at 16:16

Ask for some evidence. The only thing I can think of is if someone found out you hired a candidate with a lower score they would have a better case for discrimination.

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    One issue might possibly be that the standard testing scenario isn't compatible with all possible disabilities that don't rule out a candidate for the job. For example, there are blind programmers, and if you don't hire a programmer due to blindness you could get into trouble. You might want to see if you can offer "reasonable accomodations" for the disabled. Jan 6, 2011 at 16:11
  • By "programming test" it didn't occur to me that he meant one with a score at the end. That is pretty dumb, but it is pretty much essential for a programming interview to always involve some pass/fail programming tests, where at least being close is "pass."
    – jhocking
    May 17, 2011 at 14:39

Oh there's plenty I've run across in the past

  • Not allowed to get someone on the premises (security risk)
  • Not allowed to use any equipment during interview (health and safety)

It goes on....

I like to call HR 'Legal Compliance' as most HR functions now revolve around avoiding perceived legal issues. I say perceived because in reality that's what most of them are.

Push back at your HR department, make them do their jobs and get them to tell you exactly why you can't have a test. I'll be impressed if they come up with genuine case law to support their argument.

  • IANAL, but I've signed forms that I'm positive were illegal in that jurisdiction, and I've seen a lot of claims that X is illegal when I know better (and can sometimes cite an actual authority). Thing is, for HR, it's safer to err on the side of being proactive in preventing lawsuits, and easier to not bother sorting between real and bogus legal issues. Jan 6, 2011 at 16:15
  • I agree it's safer for HR, but it's also lazier - I like making HR work a little ;). I mean they're supposed to be enablers for hiring great people, not blockers (yeah, yeah, I know I have my head in the clouds!). Jan 6, 2011 at 16:20

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