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How to Test Candidates’ Skills with Pair Programming Interviews

The tech industry requires coders and developers with a range of both hard and soft skills. Not only do they need excellent coding skills, but you also need to be certain your staff can solve problems, work together, and review their skills realistically. 

Finding great software developers and engineers is complex, but pair programming interviews can help you gauge candidates’ skills in relation to real coding problems during the hiring process.

What are pair programming interviews?

Pair programming interviews are a type of job interview used in the tech industry. Usually, this interview style is used for roles involving coding, such as software development. Interviewees may solve a coding problem within your VoIP cloud phone system or eCommerce website.

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HR statistics show that 9 out of 10 employers struggle to fill positions because of a skills gap. So the interview stage is crucial for assessing a candidate’s potential and suitability for the role.

Using pair programming interviews, you can simulate a realistic coding problem in online discussions and evaluate the candidate’s technical and broader skills like problem-solving and communication abilities.

Many candidates today are cottoning on to the benefits of an AI job interview questions generator. So in theory, they may be armed with responses to common interview questions relevant to their field. But pair programming allows you to put their technical skills to the test, so you can assess how their experience and expertise translates in practice.

To run pair programming sessions, you’ll pair the candidate with an engineer or developer at your company. The interviewer presents a coding problem to the candidate, like a debugging task. The candidate must then solve the problem within a set time limit.

A typical pair programming interview format is:

  1. Present the problem: The interviewer the candidate is paired with presents the task, which could be a bug to fix, a feature to implement, or an algorithm to write.
  1. Discuss the task: The candidate and interviewer then discuss potential approaches to the problem. They might talk about which algorithm or design patterns could be used.
  1. Solve the problem: The candidate writes code to solve the problem while the interviewer observes. The interviewer might offer guidance or ask questions, but the candidate is the one who primarily writes the code.
  1. Review the task: Once the problem is solved, or when the time runs out, the interviewer and candidate review the code together. The pair will likely discuss what the code does, ways it could be improved, and any issues they foresee.

5 ways to use pair programming in your tech interviews

Use real problems

Using real coding problems that your business already has or may face is helpful for you when conducting pair programming interviews. This ensures that the candidate’s skills are being tested in relation to your actual needs as a business.For example, you can anonymize and generalize a problem your team faced in the past and use it as the basis for the interview task. 

In an online pair programming interview, the candidate may need remote access to computer programs you have in place to do this. Whatever real-world coding problem you present to your potential coder, you should choose something representative of the work they’d be doing if hired. 

Debug existing code

Debugging is a regular part of the work any software developer or engineer you hire will be doing, and their ability to do this should be tested beyond the initial resume review. This style of pair programming interview is simple: give the candidate a piece of code with bugs and ask them to debug it.

This is a surefire way to evaluate the interviewee’s debugging skills, understanding of the code, and patience and persistence in tackling these bugs — all useful for the hiring panel. Debugging also offers an opportunity for newer and more creative ideas.

If the candidate has innovative solutions to debugging tasks, you can be confident they’ll develop more ideas and creative solutions when more significant problems hit your business’s software. 

Integrate with APIs

Your business is likely using a range of APIs and external tools that integrate with your platforms. Any coding expert you hire will need to be comfortable working with these, and a pair programming interview allows you to test this.

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Ask the candidate to write code that interacts with a real API that you already use. You can then see how well they handle the task. 

Your candidate may not be familiar with every API you use. They may require training into VoIP phone meaning and its features or could be working with an alternative programming language from the other application. This is where your interviewer can assist and see how well they deal with new information. 

Reverse the roles

Role reversal is a great way to test your candidate’s technical and interpersonal skills. After a traditional live coding session, simply switch roles. The interviewer can write code and let the candidate review or debug it. This will also help you analyze the candidate’s communication skills.

Role reversal can also be modified to see how well candidates collaborate with the interviewer. If both are working together on code, with the candidate taking the lead, you can assess how well they can work with a team member, delegate tasks, and lead the activity. 

Refine the review process

The review at the end of the pair programming task is as important as the task itself. The review allows candidates to reflect on their work, offer suggestions for improvement, and discuss technical problems with the interviewer. 

The review process is also a chance to get valuable insights into the candidate’s personality and overall fit with your company culture so you can be sure you have a strong team.

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First, technical interviews should always allow the candidate to reflect on the task and the code they’ve written. This will enable them to catch any errors or make improvements and demonstrate their ability to review and improve their work.

Secondly, make sure your questions after the task are precise and targeted. Why did they choose that algorithm? What other solutions did they consider? How could the code be scaled? These are key questions you should be asking.


Pair programming interviews offer an interactive and valuable approach to assessing a candidate’s technical skills. These interviews are more dynamic and valuable than traditional Q&A or whiteboard interviews.

Pair programming offers insights into a candidate’s approach to problem-solving, real-time coding, debugging, and their ability to review and reflect. All of this is incredibly useful to hiring panels and means you can be confident in your choice of candidate.

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