Skip to main content

Door Not Mouth


Periodically I get asked for advice on getting a job in software testing with no experience as a tester. It happened again yesterday.

As a hiring manager I hired many testers, some with and some without testing on their CV. What's most important to me is the way people do their work, how they think and talk about their work, and how they deal with other people around their work.

But I'm probably not the hiring manager you're approaching right now, so bear in mind that the suggestions I'm making below are generic, and mine, and should be taken only to the extent you think they fit you and your situation.

CV, Application Form, Cover Letter

Lead with the skills you have and the value you provided by using them. Make the skills that you think are transferrable to testing most prominent on the list.

Think very carefully before leading with a list of responsibilities such as "attended daily Scrum, reviewed proposals, edited the website". This says almost nothing that a job title won't already cover and suggests you don't think about the value you could deliver.

Find things that you have done that you think are analagous to testing (e.g. proof-reading, reviewing, investigating customer support problems) and say why you were good at them and why the skills transfer to testing.

Explain how your specific background can help you be an asset as a tester. For example, you've worked in the area you're applying for, you have been on the business side and can talk to project stakeholders in a way they'll understand, or you're an experienced user of this kind of software and know how other users will engage with it.

I am probably in a minority but I really like a cover letter. In particular I like it as a direct line from the candidate to the hiring manager. Make a cover letter that explains the generic stuff, but include a sentence or two near the top that talks about the role you are applying for. Why are you a good for this company, this team, this context?

Lacking Technical Skills and/or Background

"Not technical enough" is a very weak piece of feedback when you've been turned down for a role. I'd guess it often stands in for "you don't have programming experience." Now, you don't need to be able to program to be able to test but my strong bias is that if you choose not to learn a little programming you are ruling out a huge set of tools that could help you to test.

I said "a little programming" and I mean it. You can get an extremely long way with very rudimentary skills. Find some courses and work through them, and be ready to explain what you've done and what you've learned.

If you know that you need certain tech experience, perhaps because you are looking to work in a specialised domain, seek out experience there. Maybe there's an open source project you can test on. Being able to point at bug reports you filed, PRs you made, or documentation that you reviewed and updated, will be a positive.

Consider doing some work for one of the crowd-sourced testing companies  to give you testing experience, exposure to some of the tooling that testers use, and interaction with other testers.

Find something "technical" that you have learned and explain how you were able to learn it, use it, teach others to use it, add value to the company by exploiting it, and so on. Perhaps you've used SQL in a marketing role and built a dashboard for the team to see hourly updates on the responses to a new social media campaign. OK, it's not Selenium but it is technical and gives you chance to explain how you overcame problems, taught yourself something, collaborated with the IT department or whatever.

Know Why You Want This

Have convincing answers to questions like these

  • Why do you want to move into testing?
  • What is testing, for you?
  • What makes you a good tester?
  • What have you done to learn about testing?
  • How do you think you can contribute to the company/team/role you're applying for?
  • How will you'll deal with a situation where everyone on the project has more experience of technology X than you?
  • What did you do in your current role to get relevant experience?

Demonstrate Your Skills

What skills do you think a tester should have? Can you demonstrate those skills in your CV, in your phone interviews, in any technical exercises you are given? 

Perhaps you haven't been a tester yet, but you can take every opportunity to show that you are ready to be one.

  • Make your CV concise, comprehensive, and clear.
  • Ask reasonable clarifying questions to establish context, and then by provide well-structured answers with the important stuff flagged.
  • Explain how you will approach a task and why, and the risks and benefits of that.
  • Show that you have researched the company and role you're applying for.
  • When the interviewers ask questions that seem pointed, deal with them professionally. 

Network

I find it tough to advise this one because I don't enjoy networking and I don't think I'm very good at it. However, I do know that making contacts with other testers, and hiring managers, can help you to get a job.
 
Try attending meetups regularly and talking to others about the fact that you are looking for work. Maybe show that you have something about you by asking questions after a presentation, questions that show you were listening and can think of angles that weren't covered.

Find testing conversations on social media and contribute where you feel comfortable to do so. 

Smaller communities such as Slack groups for particular topics, or geographical areas, or types of role, might be an easier first step. They'll often have jobs channels that give you an idea who is hiring, and who the hiring managers are.

This is unlikely to be an overnight win tactic, but turning up in the same places as testers and test managers on a regular basis can make people aware of you and refer you when asked for recommendations.

Summary

Promote yourself. Find the things you've done that the company you want to join will value. Emphasise them. Don't apologise or make excuses for what you haven't done. Don't bullshit. 

You want to get your foot in the door, not put it in your mouth.
Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/oddsock/6226206588

P.S. The Association for Software Testing's Career Day webinar is worth a look and I saw that Nicola Lindgren has just published a book, Starting Your Software Testing Career, which covers some of the ground above and much more.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Notes on Testing Notes

Ben Dowen pinged me and others on Twitter last week , asking for "a nice concise resource to link to for a blog post - about taking good Testing notes." I didn't have one so I thought I'd write a few words on how I'm doing it at the moment for my work at Ada Health, alongside Ben. You may have read previously that I use a script to upload Markdown-based text files to Confluence . Here's the template that I start from: # Date + Title # Mission # Summary WIP! # Notes Then I fill out what I plan to do. The Mission can be as high or low level as I want it to be. Sometimes, if deeper context might be valuable I'll add a Background subsection to it. I don't fill in the Summary section until the end. It's a high-level overview of what I did, what I found, risks identified, value provided, and so on. Between the Mission and Summary I hope that a reader can see what I initially intended and what actually

Why Do They Test Software?

My friend Rachel Kibler asked me the other day "do you have a blog post about why we test software?" and I was surprised to find that, despite having touched on the topic many times, I haven't. So then I thought I'd write one. And then I thought it might be fun to crowdsource so I asked in the Association for Software Testing member's Slack, on LinkedIn , and on Twitter for reasons, one sentence each. And it was fun!  Here are the varied answers, a couple lightly edited, with thanks to everyone who contributed. Edit: I did a bit of analysis of the responses in Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 2 . --00-- Software is complicated, and the people that use it are even worse. — Andy Hird Because there is what software does, what people say it does, and what other people want it to do, and those are often not the same. — Andy Hird Because someone asked/told us to — Lee Hawkins To learn, and identify risks — Louise Perold sometimes: reducing the risk of harming people —

Enjoy Testing

  The testers at work had a lean coffee session this week. One of the questions was  "I like testing best because ..." I said that I find the combination of technical, intellectual, and social challenges endlessly enjoyable, fascinating, and stimulating. That's easy to say, and it sounds good too, but today I wondered whether my work actually reflects it. So I made a list of some of the things I did in the last working week: investigating a production problem and pairing to file an incident report finding problems in the incident reporting process feeding back in various ways to various people about the reporting process facilitating a cross-team retrospective on the Kubernetes issue that affected my team's service participating in several lengthy calibration workshops as my team merges with another trying to walk a line between presenting my perspective on things I find important and over-contributing providing feedback and advice on the process identifying a

Testing is Knowledge Work

  The Association for Software Testing is crowd-sourcing a book, Navigating the World as a Context-Driven Tester , which aims to provide responses to common questions and statements about testing from a context-driven perspective . It's being edited by Lee Hawkins who is posing questions on Twitter ,  LinkedIn ,  Slack , and the AST mailing list and then collating the replies, focusing on practice over theory. I've decided to contribute by answering briefly, and without a lot of editing or crafting, by imagining that I'm speaking to someone in software development who's acting in good faith, cares about their work and mine, but doesn't have much visibility of what testing can be. Perhaps you'd like to join me?   --00-- "We need some productivity metrics from testers" OK. I'd like to help you meet your need if I can but to do that I'll need to ask a few questions. Let's start with these: Who needs the metrics? Is there a particular pr

Risk-Based Testing Averse

  Joep Schuurkes started a thread on Twitter last week. What are the alternatives to risk-based testing? I listed a few activities that I thought we might agree were testing but not explicitly driven by a risk evaluation (with a light edit to take later discussion into account): Directed. Someone asks for something to be explored. Unthinking. Run the same scripted test cases we always do, regardless of the context. Sympathetic. Looking at something to understand it, before thinking about risks explicitly. In the thread , Stu Crook challenged these, suggesting that there must be some concern behind the activities. To Stu, the writing's on the wall for risk-based testing as a term because ... Everything is risk based, the question is, what risks are you going to optimise for? And I see this perspective but it reminds me that, as so often, there is a granularity tax in c

Agile Testing Questioned

Zenzi Ali has been running a book club on the Association for Software Testing Slack and over the last few weeks we've read Agile Testing Condensed by Janet Gregory and Lisa Crispin. Each chapter was taken as a jumping off point for one or two discussion points and I really enjoyed the opportunity to think about the questions Zenzi posed and sometimes pop a question or two back into the conversation as well. This post reproduces the questions and my answers, lightly edited for formatting. --00-- Ten principles of agile testing are given in the book. Do you think there is a foundational principle that the others must be built upon? In your experience, do you find that some of these principles are less or more important than others?  The text says they are for a team wanting to deliver the highest-quality product they can. If we can regard a motivation as a foundational principle, perhaps that could be it: each of the ten pr

The Great Post Office Scandal

  The Great Post Office Scandal by Nick Wallis is a depressing, dispiriting, and disheartening read. For anyone that cares about fairness and ethics in the relationship that business and technology has with individuals and wider society, at least. As a software tester working in the healthcare sector who has signed up to the ACM code of ethics through my membership of the Association for Software Testing I put myself firmly in that camp. Wallis does extraordinarily well to weave a compelling and readable narrative out of a years-long story with a large and constantly-changing cast and depth across subjects ranging from the intensely personal to extremely technical, and through procedure, jurisprudence, politics, and corporate governance. I won't try to summarise that story here (although Wikipedia takes a couple of stabs at it ) but I'll pull out a handful of threads that I think testers might be interested in: The unbelievable naivety which lead to Horizon (the system at th

Testing and Semantics

The other day I got tagged on a Twitter thread started by Wicked Witch of the Test about people with a background in linguistics who’ve ended up in testing. That prompted me to think about the language concepts I've found valuable in my day job, then I started listing them, and then realised how many of them I've mentioned here over the years .   This post is one of an occasional series collecting some of those thoughts.  --00-- In this series so far we've looked at words and syntax. In both cases we've found that natural language is an imprecise medium for communication. We might know the same words and grammar as others ... but they will have their own idea about what they mean ... and even where we agree there is ambguity ... and all of us, the world, and the language are evolving ... all the time. Today we'll add semantics which, in a pleasing twist, is itself ambiguo

Leaps and Boundary Objects

Brian Marick  recently launched a new podcast, Oddly Influenced . I said this about it on Twitter: Boundary Objects, the first episode of @marick's podcast, is thought-provoking and densely-packed with some lovely turns of phrase. I played it twice in a row. Very roughly, boundary objects are things or concepts that help different interest groups to collaborate by being ambiguous enough to be meaningful and motivational to all parties. Wikipedia  elaborates, somewhat formally:  [boundary objects are] both plastic enough to adapt to local needs and constraints of the several parties employing them, yet robust enough to maintain a common identity across sites ... The creation and management of boundary objects is key in developing and maintaining coherence across intersecting social worlds. The podcast talks about boundary objects in general and then applies the idea to software development specifically, casting acceptance test

Personal Development

The other day I got tagged on a Twitter conversation between a couple of my colleagues, Ben Dowen and Dan Ashby , which ended with Ben citing me as an example: But there is a trap, in that a Dev who Tests, or Tester who codes both risk becoming Test Automators ... The counter argument is Testers who code can do as @qahiccupps does, and use and build tools to explore. A jumble of thoughts tumbled out as I read it and here they are, in no particular order. It is flattering to be mentioned but I'm far from the only person doing this. Maaret Pyhäjärvi   and Rob Sabourin are vocal about the value it can bring and go out of their way to tell and teach others how to get it. Ben is right when he says I use coding as a tool, and as a tool factory. It's a means to an end. Coding itself doesn't give me a lot of pleasure. Having created a useful thing gives me an enormous amount of pleasure. I am not a great developer. But then I rarely need to be.   Yes, I have made bug fixes that