Take-home exercises can be beneficial – if done correctly. Below are some helpful take-home exercise tips!
Align it to the specific role
The assignment should be relevant to the position for which they are applying. You might ask a QA developer candidate to develop the test scripts, but you wouldn't ask someone interviewing for a Graphic Design position to do the same. Doing this will either upset the candidate or make them question your understanding of what they do. Remember, you are trying to make a positive impression as well.
Set clear expectations
We turn to exercises because these provide a more realistic environment than a whiteboard or general discussion around specific questions. That means it's essential to make the exercise as practical as possible, ideally with input from people in those teams. After all, the best predictor of job success is to have them do the job in the interviews. Allow the use of tools and resources available in the job. Explain why you exclude any means from being used. Don't leave the candidate guessing. Know 'why' you are asking them to do this. What information are you attempting to tease out of them and their work? Are you interested in the perfect solution, what it is like working together, how they approach a problem, or something else? If you want to know what it is like working with them, you can structure your exercise to be more collaborative.
Respect their time
4+ hours - pay them!
The longer it takes to complete, the less likely it is to be completed at all. Remember, these folks have a life, job, and other obligations. Don't expect them to drop everything immediately to complete your exercise. A good rule is, if it takes longer than 2 hours to complete, it is too long!
ALWAYS review & discuss
Review the submitted solution and discuss it with them. Use it as an opportunity to dig deeper into their answer if you choose. A helpful approach is to ask 'why.' Why did they choose that particular solution? Their 'why' provides insight into their ways of thinking and approaching problems. One of the most discouraging things for candidates is spending several hours on your exercise to either never receive a response or realize that you have not previously reviewed the exercise. Check their solution and bring your thoughts, questions, and suggestions to the meeting.
Take-home exercises can be a valuable tool or a point of frustration for everybody involved. Devote the time it takes to design an exercise that teases out what information you are looking for and sets up the candidate for success.
Remember, the exercise should not replace the in-person (remote or onsite) interview(s).