Hiring Testers – a view from the other side of the table

Thursday, July 14, 2011

It’s been a while since I’ve needed to hire another tester, but that time has once again arrived. Hiring has generally been a lengthy and painful experience and this time appears to be not much different from the last. I generally put the call out to people I know that might be able to help out. If that fails then it’s time to put the word out in the Internets that I’m looking. This invariably results in a flood of CVs of which 99% are TERRIBLE. I resent this as it is a huge waste of my time – the only finite resource I have.

I might get one in twenty resumes that I don’t immediately bin. Out of those I keep, I’ll probably end up interviewing one in five.

For the sake of my own sanity I’m going to list all the things that will get your resume binned (by me at least) and some things you can do to increase the chance that not only will you be interviewed, but that you will be hired.

I don’t care how well you’ve copied that stock standard resume you googled. Most of the stuff online is fucking awful anyway. Here’s how your standard crappy resume goes:

Name and particulars
Some sort of generic mission statement about how you want to do your best for <insert company name here>
Description of tertiary education
Description of previous positions held describing your responsibilities in bullet points

There are variants which include
a bullet point list of skills with some context-free rating of competence
a list of desired positions that doesn’t include ‘software tester’ (note – if you want to be a project manager when you grow up, I don’t care, but if you’re applying for a software tester role and the ‘desired role’ field doesn’t have ‘software tester’ in it then you get binned)

These painfully generic resumes make my eyes bleed and contain absolutely nothing that tells me whether or not you might be a good fit for the role.
Moreover, these resumes are often riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. If I see these, you get binned. I consider your resume your first work product. I’m looking for people who are detail oriented and have pride in their work. If you can’t be bothered to get this right, then the job I’m offering is not for you.
Don’t tell me about how you know you’re a perfect fit for the role. That’s not for you to decide. There’s being confident and then there’s being a knob. If you’re a knob, you go in the bin.

If you’re going to go to the trouble of making a resume – something that you are hoping will make you stand out from every other person that applies for the role, why would you go out of your way to make your resume as close as you can to every other resume you’ve seen? I recommend in the strongest possible terms that you buy and read a book called ‘Rites of Passage’ by John Lucht. Read it all and pay special attention to the section on putting a resume together.

As for what I want to see in your resume, I don’t want to know what you did, I want to know what you achieved. What did you do that made a difference to the company?
Tell me what skills you have and tell me which ones you regularly use. Even better, point me at examples of your work,  blog posts discussing your skills, posts to stack exchange where you’ve helped people out with the skills you’ve listed. The less work you make me do to convince me you’re worth hiring, the better. If you don’t have a lot of experience, be up-front about it (and show me what you’re doing about it. Tell me about an open source project you’re working on to improve your skills, or a software testing conference you attended recently). If you haven’t done anything to make yourself appealing you shouldn’t be surprised when you’re passed over.

Okay, let’s pretend you’ve sent me a resume that offers me the faintest glimmer that you’re someone I might be able to spend 40-60 hours a week with. The next thing I’m going to do is give you a questionnaire that shows me how you think. It used to surprise me the number of people that plagiarised their answers. Don’t do this. I know how to use the internets too and I will find out. When that happens, I will tell everyone I know and like not to hire a person called <your name here> because s/he is dishonest. Which also sucks for anyone that shares your name. I’ve considered posting a wall of shame on my blog for would be testers who are dishonest and stupid, but I’m not that much of a bastard yet.

So – answer the questions in your own words. Say what you think, not what you think I want to hear. If you think a question makes no sense or is not relevant, say so or ask for qualification. I’ve been known to ask stupid questions on purpose to see if a candidate will call me on it. Almost no one does. Don’t play buzzword bingo and don’t use nebulous, meaningless phrases unless you’re prepared to define what they mean to you.

Okay then. So assuming you’re not a plagiarist and you can think for yourself, we might get to spend some time chatting face-to-face or over the phone. I’m going to ask you a bunch more questions. I’m still looking to make sure you know how to think, and have an aptitude for the kind of testing that I will want you to do. I’m also looking to make sure you’re not a psycho and that you’ll be a good cultural fit for the team. If you’re a dick, I don’t care how mad your skillz are; we won’t be working together. If I like you and the people I work with like you then you’ll probably get an offer. There’s a lot of work in between an application and an offer though. Perhaps I should know better by now, but I live in hope that the next resume across my desk will be from someone that takes this stuff to heart. I won’t be holding my breath though.

EDIT:
Here’s what some other people have to say about hiring testers
Paul Carvalho

9 Comments

  1. Jared says:

    Thanks! I can just point the recruiters here now when they ask me ‘What did you think of those candidates I sent through?’

  2. Teemu Vesala says:

    Hi,

    Great post. I yesterday wrote down what I think – as the candidate – about interviews (I’m not lookin for the job at the moment. But I’m working as quality consultant and our customers want to interview us quite often). I underlaing that I also want to make sure I fit to the customer. And I do it by asking also the questions, because I definelty don’t want to waste my valuable time or customer’s money. I might ask about current practices, development process, application type, documentation practices and so on. I want to understand how customer thinks. It’s customer! I don’t have to spend there rest of my life (or not even next 2 years). But if I were looking for the job, I’d like to get permanent position. And it is over 2 year investment for myself. I want to make sure I can fit to company. If I ever have to get new job, I really hope my attitude pays back.

    I’m doing also technical interview every now and then. I expect candidate to ask question. Specially if she’s never been consultant. I also expect her to know at least basics of what we are doing. (Quick peek to web site usually reveals a lot about company.)

    [BK] You bring up a great point.
    Any candidate who makes it to an interview should ask questions like the ones you mention. In fact, I am concerned when interviewees do not. I am very conscious of the fact that not only am I interviewing the candidate to see if they are the right fit, but that they are doing the same. If they’re not taking an active interest in making sure the company is a good fit for them, then they’re doing themselves a disservice.
    I’ve learned this the hard way after taking a job that sounded great, but turned out to be completely the wrong fit. If I’d taken the time to ask better questions, then I’d have politely declined the offer and saved myself and them some pain.

  3. ElizaF says:

    Unfortunately as a tester looking for their next role. you are generally not the type of person who does first review of my CV, it is the agency recruitment consultant or the company HR person.

    I have heard it said that HR is expanded to Human Remains in Hong Kong and RC is expanded to Right C…ow in London. I merely throw this in as information and and not as an indication of any consensus of agreement on my part.

    [BK] Hi Eliza,
    Yeah the recruiter/HR filter has never been something I’ve found useful. I can count on one finger the number of recruiters that I know that have any real idea about software testing. The recruiter/HR filter is in my opinion a massive help to incompetent meatbots who give the industry a bad name. That’s a whole different rant though.

    I do everything you look for except attend the conferences, I have small children so it is just not an option for me right now but hopefully when they are older taking off extended periods will be an option.

    I will tell you something, it is impossible to write a CV that will make everyone happy. I am talking about content and layout as well as format. A few years ago, I was made redundant by a company and as part of the redundancy process they sent us on a course with a HR consultancy on how to get the best out of your job applications (surely the best you can get out of them is a job you are interested in???)
    Anyhow, I went and was stunned and quite angry to hear the woman hosting the course tell us that CV layout and what was fashionable and expected changed from year to year. She then went on to tell us that often recruiters will reject CVs because they do not confirm to what they layout is!

    Really? So because I do not have the bullet points/ colours / no colours or whatever the “fashionable” idiom of the day is – you, who only skim my CV looking for the letters ISEB, get to reject the 13 years experience I have in software testing because I haven’t included the expected column layout?

    What a pile of horse-manure!

    [BK] Wow. That’s kind of a sucky experience.
    I don’t give a shit about format. I care about content. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t want to work for a place whose HR department rejects resumes on the basis of not having the right buzzwords or, gods forbid, format. I suspect you wouldn’t either.

    I am sorry that you get so many CVs that make you want to take out your eyeballs and bounce them off the nearest wall but the alternative is much worse – allowing some key-word skimming HR person to throw out the one or two good candidates of the lot because they had the audacity to submit a CV in black and white when the gods of the universe have decreed it is a colour year!

    [BK] I suppose wanting the alternative to be that more people care enough to put some effort into not only their CV but their vocation as a whole is expecting a bit much eh?

  4. A lady says:

    Sorry, but you sound like a knob. You want testers to read your mind without even meeting you? You expect every potential employee to be able to showcase their abilities to you in text? What you’ll get is not necessarily a good tester, you’ll get a good marketer. Not everyone can spell properly and not everyone has perfect grammar. Not everyone has your perfect balance of confidence and modesty. These skills are not the main skills you should be looking for. Why should the tester have ‘achieved something for their company’? That’s just spin. You don’t have to know what your impact was to be valuable. Being able to write a convincing resume is not what they will be doing for you day to day. Your main problem is that the resume/CV is not a good tool. Maybe you can use some of your presumably flawless testing skills to analyse why. Then you can insist on your replacement being used and get a decent number of candidates to interview.

    [BK] If I sound like a knob, I can live with that. At the end of the day, I’m the knob making the decision about whether someone gets hired or not. If me being incredibly fussy about the people I choose to work with makes me one, then so be it.

    It was good of you to leave your email address. At least I know who you are, but it would be easier to take your arguments seriously if you put your name next to them. That aside, let me respond to some of your comments.

    I have read resumes that looked pretty good on paper and had the candidate turn out to be disappointing in an interview. I’ve never had someone turn in a shoddy resume and then wow me in person. Pound for pound, I know which I’d rather put my money on.

    If you’re looking for a job as a tester, a job that requires that you have an eye for detail and you turn in a resume full of easy-to-catch mistakes, why wouldn’t I bin it? Use a spell checker. Have someone proof read it for you. Near enough might be good enough for some. Not for me. I make no apology for that.

    You think it’s spin to have achieved something for your company? I think you’re missing the point. A list of daily duties tells me nothing. Telling me about the stuff you got done and how that helped? I can tell a lot from that.

    If people want to turn up at 9 and head out at 5 and spend the entire time in between doing nothing to make themselves a better tester, that’s fine. Some people are happy with that. I don’t blame them, but I’m not going to hire them either. I want to work with people who are passionate about what they do.

    Where did I give you the impression that my testing skills are flawless? That seems like an odd thing to say. If a CV was a good tool for finding suitable candidates I probably wouldn’t spend so much time reading through them to find someone. I’d much rather find people on recommendation from someone I trust. Problem is that most of the people I know and trust in my industry happen to work on different continents.

    I believe LeslieC has neatly covered anything else I might have said.

  5. LeslieC says:

    To poster #4 (a lady): Why do you say the author wants testers to read his mind? What he’s asking for should be common sense. Passivity doesn’t work in today’s software development world. The people who get hired have passion, a sense of self, and are results-oriented.

    The organization I recently joined has passed on more candidates than they’ve hired, and many of these candidates have the ‘mad skillz’ the author speaks of. But, they lack direction, passion, goals and manners. Passion doesn’t necessarily mean you are all work, no play 100% of the time. But, show what you’re doing *on your own* to enhance or improve your skills, or to further yourself in your career.

    You question why the tester should have ‘achieved something’ for their company; it’s about selling yourself. Yes, Agile has developed a mindset of ‘we are a team,’ but a team is made of individuals working together for a common goal, and it’s more than acceptable to crow about what you contributed to achieve that goal.

    Cultural fit – I can *teach* a tester who’s weak in a particular area; I can’t teach personality and fit. People forget how *crucial* this is sometimes. *Especially* recruiters who get hung up on the verbiage of a job requisition.

    Great post; the advice you’ve given should be common sense for most people in today’s economy, but reminders never hurt!

  6. Rob lambert says:

    Phew. So I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

    Genius post.

    Rob..

  7. Ash Eldritch says:

    Right on the money!

    I spend so much time looking at resumes that are either completely unsuitable or don’t tell me anything useful about the applicant. So I’ve started to push more of the work of qualifying the applicant up front — asking for Stack Overflow & github samples, example code and a short technical test before moving to face-to-face interviews.

    Ash

  8. This is exactly the problem that made me move from Testing into recruitment (+ I fancied a change anyway). 5 years of recruiting for large companies, employing 10′s of testers, but interviewing multiples more of them.

    I established the best way to do this is to assess the candidates prior to interview. I took that model and moved it over to my business ‘Test People’ and we now fine tune CV submissions to ensure that the technical fit is right leading to a much better match for our clients.

    It works well and I have found that our clients are very happy with the match leading to a higher ratio of offers.

    Martin

    [BK]
    Hi Martin. Sounds like a sensible approach. What do you do in order to ascertain suitability of potential candidates? On the other side, how often do you find yourself having to educate (or perhaps having to refrain from educating) the company asking for people? I imagine it’s a potentially tricky balancing act for a recruiter.

  9. Thomas Ponnet says:

    No,you’re not alone. I wrote a detailed post about job descriptions as a way to get the right testers to apply in the first place:

    http://observanttester.blogspot.de/2011/02/writing-job-description-for-tester-part.html

    Enjoy..

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