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How to Assess for 3 Critical Soft Skills in Front-End Developers

Interviewing

Would you hire an engineer who could create beautiful websites but who was constantly arguing with their teammates?

What about a developer who is extremely productive, but doesn’t adhere to industry and team standards?

Depending on how desperate you are, you might take your chances with candidates like these – but be warned, you risk a lot of wasted time, frustration, and reduced team morale having these kinds of people on your team.

That’s why taking the time to assess soft skills is essential. More than just a buzzword, these skills can encompass just about everything other than coding in an IDE.

There are tons of soft skills you can evaluate for – creativity, leadership, time management, work ethic, interpersonal skills – the list goes on and on.

Ultimately you will have to be the one to determine which soft skills to focus on when hiring new members for your team—but figuring out where to start looking can be difficult.

While most soft skills are valuable to have for engineers of any type, there are nuances in how you assess them during a a front-end focused interview. 

To help you out, here are three soft skills that we’ve found to be essential for successful front-end developer candidates, and how you can look out for them during the interview.

Critical thinking

Front-end coding can be messy. With lots of moving parts like design considerations, API calls to a backend, and state management, it’s easy for even senior developers to gloss over error-causing issues.

Will they predict where HTML elements may clash? If not, are they able to think of ways to fix them? 

Additionally, can they think through various states of an application’s UI or how to handle race conditions between API calls? Can they brainstorm ways to handle those sorts of problems?

Just as importantly, you want to ensure your future employees are able to think outside the immediate scope of the problem and suggest enhancements when appropriate. Good critical-thinkers know when to push back (politely but forcefully) when they notice something wrong or have an idea of improving something. 

Not only will you catch more mistakes and improve your product that way, but by empowering employees to speak their minds constructively, you’ll improve their morale and keep them around a bit longer.

How to assess for critical thinking

There are a couple of ways you can assess for critical thinking during interviews with front-end candidates:

  1. Give them a technical question with not-very-well-written code. This can be code with errors or just written in a non-optimized way. Watch how they work through it. You can easily see if they’re only worrying about superficial issues or tackling the issues that require deeper thinking.
  2. Encourage them to ask questions and listen to the questions they’re asking you. Are they asking questions clarifying business logic and design decisions? Are they taking action on the answers they get from those questions? These are both signs they’re thinking critically about their development decisions.

Keeping an open dialogue here is key to being able to assess not just critical thinking but also the other two soft skills below. You can’t read minds, so getting candidates to open up to you will be crucial for assessing their soft skill set.

Time management and the ability to prioritize

Front-end candidates will come to you with a variety of strengths and weaknesses. Some will be better at design, some will be better at optimization of things like memory and render performance, and some will be better at writing clean code. 

But no matter their strengths, they should know how to prioritize their time on different aspects of their front-end programming.

For example, suppose you have a barely functional page and your new developer tasked with completing the functionality is spending all their time trying to make the left nav menu look like the Mona Lisa. In that case, you will have some severe productivity problems. 

Likewise, suppose your team is working on an almost-finished project that will be passed on to another team for maintenance. In that case, you may want to ensure your developers prioritize code documentation over things like memory allocation optimization.

How to assess for prioritization

Make sure any technical questions you ask involve multiple aspects of front-end programming – like styling in CSS, structuring with HTML, and coding with JavaScript (or your front-end framework of choice). Then, look at where they’re spending time coding. 

Alternatively, give them scenarios that require them to think about their priorities. 

If they have a looming deadline, is it okay to sacrifice a little bit of the functionality to meet the product manager’s design requirements?

Is it okay to focus on code optimization by paying less attention to documenting the code?

There are always nuances and complexities to answers to these questions, so don’t forget to have the candidate explain the reasoning behind their answers.

Communication

Despite the common stereotype, most developers do not exist in isolation. They’re almost always a part of a team, and being a part of a successful social unit like this involves communication.

While verbal communication is essential, it’s not the only way to get the message across – especially in these days of remote and hybrid work environments.

Code commenting, emails, and instant messages are other common ways developers get their thoughts and concerns across to their teammates and receive ideas and concerns from their fellow developers, QA testers, product managers, etc.

How to assess communication skills

Many developers are not naturally talkative on the best of days, even more so during stressful experiences like interviews. 

Therefore it’s up to you to set the tone of the communication for the interview. At the beginning of the interview, encourage them to talk as much as they’re comfortable with about their thought process. Encourage them to ask questions. Let them know code commenting will help when it comes to reviewing the candidate’s performance.

Additionally, ask them questions about the communication experience:

  • What’s their preferred mode of communication, and why?
  • What’s a time they were challenged with miscommunication, and how did they resolve it?
  • How do they minimize communication errors in an asynchronous environment?

Again, tailor the specific questions to how your own organization operates. For example, if you use Slack as the primary means of communication, ask the candidate how they’d convey a question or report a bug through that medium.

More hiring resources

Soft skills assessments are just one part of creating an excellent engineering interview process. To make the most out of the short time you have with candidates, we also recommend the following articles:

Happy hiring!