How to Find, Interview and Hire Great Software Testers

This is a guest posting by Simon Knight. Simon Knight works with teams of all shapes and sizes as a test lead, manager & facilitator, helping to deliver great software.

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Are you a test manager, QA lead or recruiter tasked with building and growing your QA team? Or were you asked to find and recruit your company’s best next tester, quickly? If so, you can probably empathize with my fictitious test manager’s diary entry.

Another day, another inbox full of recruiter emails. All of them have got CV’s attached that I somehow need to decipher and correlate to the skills I’m looking for. Most of the emails I’m sent are a complete waste of time.

If the candidates actually made it to an interview, I’d quickly discover that they don’t have the experience their CV says they do, they can’t challenge assumptions the way I think they need to, they’re not committed to learning and they don’t have the confidence and the communication skills I need from them.

Recruitment is a time-consuming, energy-draining task that takes me away from the things I should be focusing my attention on. I could live with it, if ultimately we managed to find the right people and hire them. But we can’t even seem to do that.

Every so often I’ll find someone who actually is a good fit, and has the skills I’m looking for. But then we don’t manage to get them through the door. Somehow, they fall out of the process.

Maybe someone makes them a better offer, or they decide to stay put, or something else happens to make them change their mind. I feel like I’m wasting my time here.

Why can’t we find the right candidates? Why aren’t the wrong candidates being filtered out of the process? Why doesn’t the offer and joining process work? Am I the only one who feels like this?

Why is hiring testers such a challenge? Where are all the awesome testers hiding? How do you know whether a tester is awesome or not? And once you’ve found one, how do you attract him or her to your company?

In this article I’m going to tackle the various stages of tester recruitment, namely: Finding and attracting them. Interviewing them. Hiring them. Feel free to skip ahead if a specific section provides the information you’re looking for. But before we get into any of that, let’s get the most important part out of the way first.

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Figuring Out What You’re Looking For

Do you really have a clear understanding of what attributes are important for the role you’re trying to fill? If you don’t, then inevitably at some point further down the line you are going to encounter some difficulties.

In the best case scenario you will discover that the CV’s you’re receiving don’t match the kind of person you think you’re looking for. Or, during the interview stage you’ll realise that the candidate can’t solve the kind of problems you need them for.

Wouldn’t it be better to figure out what your ideal candidate looks like in advance, so that you can target them more effectively from the outset? This way, when you get their CV or start to interview them, you already know that they have the skills you’re looking for, and how to test for them.

Starting the process with a checklist or set of heuristics could work. For example, you might have a list of questions like the ones below:

  • Does the candidate understand what testing is? Can they explain it, clearly and simply?
  • Do they have experience of working on software development projects? Do they understand the nuances and pitfalls?
  • Can they distinguish between different approaches and how they may be more or less appropriate depending on the project context?
  • Can they work well within a team?
  • Are they smart?
  • Do they get things done?
  • Can they design a test? Can they perform testing work? Can they operate, design and build tools to help them perform testing more skilfully?
  • Can they communicate effectively?
  • Can they think critically and creatively?
  • Do they have some domain knowledge for the industry in which you operate?

Or you could use someone else’s list: Huib Schoots has done a great job of identifying a set of criteria in his article, Heuristics for recognising professional testers. And Ilari Henrik has some superb ideas about what makes a World Class Tester that may also be useful in your search. Johanna Rothman has some fantastic resources in her Tips to Streamline Your Hiring. And Cem Kaner has a detailed guide to Recruiting Software Testers that contains a number of lists that can help you tighten-up your requirements.

Ultimately, if you want to hire the best testers for your team, it would be wise to spend some time figuring out what skills and attributes are most important to your organisation. Once you’ve gone through the process of trying to answer all of those questions, you can document and communicate the answers, so that all of the people involved in the hiring process can see exactly what success looks like, making it easy for them to objectively decide whether or not a candidate meets your requirements.

How to Find Great Candidates

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The thing you need to do next is to take those qualities and try to find some testers that have them. But here’s the bad news. The days of just publishing a job posting in a newspaper, or on the web, and then waiting for the applications to roll in, are over. All the great candidates, i.e. the testers you want to hire, already have a great job, and plenty of options, without needing to scan the job listings or the internet for new opportunities.

Those testers aren’t looking for you. And they’re not paying attention to the job market. So how can you find them? You could rely on a third party. Maybe you don’t feel like you even have a choice, because the HR department normally takes care of all that. Them or the preferred recruitment company that insists on spamming your inbox. Maybe though. Just maybe, you could get a bit more hands on, by:

  • Going to a community event: You may not know it, but testers are everywhere! There’s almost certainly a meetup near you. And if there isn’t, why not think about starting one? You don’t have to go far. You could even hold it in-house. Plenty of other people have!

  • Going to a testing conference: Just go along and put the word out. Alternatively, ask the organiser if you can be a sponsor, or if you can make an announcement of some kind.

  • Connecting with testers on the net: You can start following the testing community online via Twitter or LinkedIn, and the latest happenings in blogs and testing forums. The testing community is very vocal. You won’t have to look too hard!

  • Publishing material testers want to read: If you’re starting to engage with testers on social media, you should definitely think about how you can contribute to the conversation. Creating blog posts and articles that intrigue and excite testers is a great way of drawing them into your sphere of influence.

  • Setting testers a challenge they can’t ignore: If you feel like you still need to advertise, make it interesting. Attention spans aren’t what they used to be so your copy really needs to catch the eye. And what stands out more to the kind of tester you want to hire than a testing conundrum?

If you’ve followed some of the advice above, then it’s quite likely that you will find someone you want to recruit. Perhaps you bumped into them at a meetup or a conference, or read a blogpost or Twitter discussion that piqued your interest.

But now you’ve found them, how do you attract them into your organisation? Well – you could just ask the person in question if they want to come and work for you. But, maybe they’re not ready for that yet. Perhaps they’re already in an [employment] relationship.

Play the long game

You can frequent some of the places where your tester hangs out. Get to know the forums or groups they’re a part of on LinkedIn for example. Or find a great blog post they wrote and comment on it. Let them know you’re interested in their work.

If you manage to get their attention, then you can take it a step further and tell them about the opening you’ve got and how you think they might be a perfect fit. Let them know how impressed you are with their work, and their background; reference an article they wrote or a time you saw them speak at a conference – you’ll be on safe territory.

Sell the role. Tell them all about how awesome your organisation is and why they wouldn’t want to let the opportunity pass them by. Focus on the benefits to them. Can they work from home? Do they get the best technology? Fantastic training? Once you’ve got them hooked, it’s time to take the next step.

How to Interview Testers

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By this stage you should have a tester that you think maybe you want to hire. Perhaps you’re in contact with them because you’ve engaged with them directly, or maybe their CV has arrived on your desk via some other channel. Irrespective – you need to figure out whether or not they’re right for your team, and whether they have the skills you’re looking for.

Traditionally, the way that folk have gone about this is by means of an interview. But, if you pay any attention to advances in psychology then you’ll probably already know that most interviews are basically an exercise in confirmation bias.

In the classic interview scenario, whoever does the interviewing will make a decision based on their gut reaction to the candidate within the first 30 seconds. Then, they’ll spend the rest of the time looking for reasons to justify the decision they’ve already made. If you want a more scientific outcome, you need to move away from this model. I have a couple of suggestions for ways you might proceed instead.

Give them a call

If you’re going to follow my recommendations, then you should a) warn the tester in advance what they can expect and b) be certain you are investing your time and energy into the right people.

Use the telephone call script below to gauge whether or not it’s worth continuing the process, tailoring the easy and hard questions so that they’re specific to your own requirements:

  1. Introduction
  2. Question about recent project candidate worked on
  3. Easy Testing Question
  4. Hard Testing Question
  5. Are you satisfied?
  6. Do you have any questions?

If they make it through the screening call, then you can take them to the next stage.

Give them a work test

Setting your candidate a task that is representative of the kind of work they’ll be doing for you is a great way to get a better idea of how they think and behave in a work situation. And there’s lots of different approaches you could take to keep things fun, or more serious, both in and out of the office.

You should keep in mind the objectives of this approach though. What is it exactly that you want to know about your candidate and how will you measure those things by giving them a work test?

If you’ve followed my earlier advice and have gotten really clear on what specific skills, competencies, personality or attributes it is that you’re looking for from your tester, you should have a good idea of what information you’re trying to get out of the work test. You just need to tailor it so that it answers your specific questions, and any additional considerations like:

  • Can the candidate communicate their thinking well?
  • Can the candidate complete the exercise within the time allocated?
  • Does the candidate have specific domain knowledge?
  • Does the candidate have specific skills that can be applied – tools, automation, critical thinking etc.

If you’re stuck for more ideas, Richard Robinson has a couple of great examples in his Needle in a Haystack article. What you really need to know next though is what good looks like, once you get the results.

Stick to a script

Understanding what good looks like gets much easier when you follow exactly the same process every time you speak to a candidate.

If every candidate does the same work test, then over the course of time you will know what good, bad and mediocre looks like for that test. If you already have an example of what good, or even excellent looks like – even better.

The same can be said of interviews. You need to stick to a script. Try to make sure whoever is doing the interviewing asks exactly the same questions every time. And record the results so that you have data from which you can start to draw meaningful conclusions, even if you don’t actually hire anyone.

The results might surprise you and provide some actionable insights about your hiring process. The kind of people you’re targeting for interview in the first place, for example.

Give them a work day

If you want to go the extra mile, or still have some reservations – get the candidate in to work with your team. You can start to build a picture of how good of a cultural fit they are and how they relate to and communicate with their potential future colleagues.

  • Inform the candidate that they’ll be in for 3-4 hours, then start off with some introductions and the formal interview.
  • After the formal interview, introduce the candidate to your team and leave them to get on with some work for a couple of hours.
  • Ideally, try to have a specific piece of work lined up. It should be something that will require them to collaborate with at least one other member of the team in order to deliver successful results.
  • After the work, give the candidate a break to gather their thoughts while you catchup with the team and get their feedback.
  • Finish with a debrief based on how things have gone so far. Do they have any questions or insights based on the experience. Do they still want the job? Do you still want to hire them?

If the work day is a success, then you’re ready for the final stage.

How to Hire the Ideal Candidate

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Okay, so you’ve attracted an ideal tester and you now know: a) they can do the work and b) they’re a fit for your organisation. It’s time to seal the deal. How are you going to make sure that your tester actually makes it through your door, and not one of the other opportunities that they may have available to them? What are you going to offer them that makes your opportunity stand out among all of the other roles that are available to the brightest, best, most high-flying testers out there?

It’s probably not about the money, right? Maybe you have some flexibility with how much you’ll remunerate the right person. But there’s a cap. Once you’ve reached it, there’s no more wiggle room. And let’s get this straight. Beyond a certain amount of money, folk aren’t motivated to work harder or perform better anyway. So we need to think a bit more creatively. What else can your organisation offer that may be attractive to a certain kind of hire?

  • Flexible working hours?
  • Remote working?
  • Unlimited holiday?
  • Training and personal development?
  • Coaching?
  • The latest most powerful hardware?
  • A free lunch?
  • Time off work to attend conferences?

At this point, it’s not even necessarily about what you can or can’t offer. You just need to be willing to have a conversation about it. Find out what it is that drives and motivates your new hire. Once you know what it is that will get them through the door, if you can, give it to them.

Work with them. Figure out how to bridge the gap between what they want and what you can offer. Attracting the right people is hard enough. Don’t let them get away once you’ve found someone that you definitely want.

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Curing the recruitment headache

At the beginning of this article, my fictional test manager had quite the recruitment headache. She could have just outsourced the entire process, but I’ve recommended the following course of alternative therapies:

  • Identifying the specific characteristics, attributes and skills a tester needs to have in her organisation.
  • Engaging with the testing community in order to find awesome testers that have the abilities and personality she’s looking for.
  • Striking up a relationship with the tester directly.
  • Screening potential candidates with an initial telephone call.
  • Testing candidates with a work simulation.
  • Sticking to a script during the entire process – making it more rigorous and scientific.
  • Inviting the candidate to a work day – soliciting feedback from both them and the team.
  • Negotiating on working practices rather than money during the offer stage.

I hope you’ve found some of this advice useful, but maybe you have some of your own approaches to recruitment that have worked for you instead. If so, we’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.

PS: Have you found this article useful? We will have more relevant testing & QA related articles soon on topics such as building a great testing team, improving your testing career, leveling up your testing skills, improving your team’s test management and testing efforts. Make sure to subscribe below via email and follow-us on Twitter!

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