Saturday, May 22, 2021

Hire Ground

Last week I presented at the Association for Software Testing Career Day  along with Dan Ashby, Ash Coleman, Chris Kenst, and Eric Proegler. The event was short and sweet but also covered a lot of ground: both sides of the recruitment process, tester advocacy, and moving into a management role. Here's some aggregated highlights of the talks and the panel discussion afterwards.

As a candidate, your CV should favour shorter over longer because no-one's going to read a long CV. One of the tester role skills is reporting and your CV is a report. Demonstrate your ability to summarise your experience, impacts, and values in a clear and concise way by writing a two-pager that's easy to consume. 

It's worth considering having a customisable section on your CV that you can tweak quickly for each application, perhaps to focus on specific items in the job advert. Alternatively, consider a cover letter where you can explain what you think the role is, why you fit it, and what value you can bring. This is another way for you to signal your analysis and presentation skills and, better, is first-hand data for the hiring manager unmediated by agency or HR.

Remember that you are not a passive participant. Every engagement you have with the company and its people is data for you to absorb into your model of them. Do this consciously and don't be afraid to ask questions at any stage. Not being given time, or not getting answers, should be a red flag.

As an interviewer don't simply confirm the candidate's CV content, test it and test them. Use your own well-honed testing skills to explore what the candidate has to say, just like you would do with the latest build. They are both applications under test. Even in the artificial space of an interview, put the candidate in scenarios where they have to demonstrate what they can do - treat the interview as an audition. 

Have an idea of the points you want to touch in the interview but react in the moment to find the way to reach them through conversation. Listen to the candidate's answers and the way they are delivered, and assess both. Challenge the candidate's answers; how do they react? How do they react to your reaction to that?

As a hiring manager, think hard about what you want and who you want it from then write a job advert that is honest but fits both of those needs. You will sometimes be fighting against your HR team's desire to have precise requirements in a standard format. Be stubborn but have empathy as you explain why you want what you want and offer to work with them to help them understand the less objective criteria you have. 

Develop your own channels: grow a network that you can reach out to when you are hiring; use social media and blogs (here's my writing on hiring, for example) to publicise your open roles. Make your own values and approach to testing clear so that the people you seek to attract can find you, even when you're not actively looking for people. Except you should always be looking for people, you just might not have a job for them yet.

Keep your options open as far as you can. Every restriction you put into your job advert discourages someone from applying. Do you really need five years of testing experience for this role? Would you accept a great candidate with only three? Of course you would, so ditch the constraint. 

Have some kind of map of the opportunities you could offer to a new hire and see where you think each applicant would land and how this would affect your team. There's almost always some flexibility.

Once you are in the company, align yourself with the business value. This does not mean that you should selflessly get nothing from the work you do, nor question why the work you're being asked for is required. Instead it means seek work that fulfills you and justify it in terms that the business understands. 

Look for opportunities to lift and direct, that is to exhibit leadership, expertise, and action, demonstrating your ability to work well with others, take responsibility, understand the context. In this way, others will find it harder to object to what you're doing and you will begin to build a reputation outside of testing.

If you want to move into management, those kinds of activities will stand you in good stead. In your context there may be specific knowledge - technical or business or subject matter - that  will strengthen your case for promotion. Use your testing skills to identify it, assess yourself against what you think you need, and find ways to obtain it. Be visible in these efforts to demonstrate that you work well across the company, you get things moving and done, you show initiative, and you retain humility and self-awareness throughout.

Remember that even the best-qualified candidate needs an opening to move into. Sometimes that won't appear in the time frame that you're looking for so think about whether you'd leave to progress. In fact, in any role, always be looking. While you're at a company, you are working for them and you should be doing your best to help them achieve their business goals. But you don't owe them anything and should still be building you so that, when a better option comes along, you should not feel any reluctance in at least checking it out.


Images: Fonts In Use, Dan Ashby


  1. I don't agree with the 2-page CV as a hard and fast rule. As someone whose CV has to cover a forty-year career, even keeping non-relevant stuff to a minimum and giving only minimum detail on relevant experience made my CV come in over two pages (I had a few years freelancing, so the breadth of my experience was one of my USPs).

    I got around this by putting the good stuff first; my CV opens with my personal statement, which includes a bulleted list of career highlights. Not all of these are to do with testing, but instead show unique experiences that have business value. Readers are invited to consider if their company possesses anyone else with these skills, on top of the testing experience in that list.

    This approach worked for me, and in six months of unemployment I was going to interview roughly every ten days. Of course, an employer looking for a cookie-cutter candidate is not going to react to this approach, but those would probably have been companies I would not have gotten on with well anyway. The selection process works both ways.

    1. Yes, you're absolutely right that it works both ways and I'd agree that context needs to direct the approach you take.

      If two pages doesn't work but you can have an alternative way to get the most relevant stuff most likely to be read then that sounds like a good solution for you.