The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made. – Groucho Marx
The hits just keep coming these days, with new tech sector layoffs being announced seemingly on a daily basis. And as we limp into 2023, there are rumors that this is more than just a reaction to the market, but a new era being ushered in for austerity measures for hiring in tech. In light of this, I wanted to get something out to folks on interviewing tips to accompany my advice on how to stand out as a tester during economic downturns. For a more in depth analysis on managing your career in testing, I would point you to stellar works from Benjamin Kelly on and David Greenlees as well what I consider as essential reading on succeeding in tech, Secrets of Consulting by Gerald Weinberg.
I’ve interviewed a LOT in my career as either consultant or candidate looking for job or as a hiring manager. The recruitment process in enterprise tech is fundamentally broken, but I do think there are ways to differentiate yourself and on reflection, there are things I look for that pique my interest in a candidate. Here are my top tips to stand out from the crowd.
Interview Tip: Answer the question – THEN tell your story…
I don’t know if it’s nerves or autopilot kicking in, but I frequently find myself asking interviewees to pause, take a breath and actually answer the question I asked them. There is nothing wrong (and IMO a good habit) with taking 30 seconds to think about the question before giving your answer. There will be plenty of time to support your answer with examples, but make sure you understand what the interviewer is asking and are hitting the nail on the head FIRST before adding details that may not be relevant.
Interview Tip: Understand the commercial implications of testing…
Software testing is part of the business, and that business has implications for operational costs and controls – some we can influence and some we cannot. I am always impressed when a tester demonstrates a commercial awareness of the costs of testing (or not testing) and can speak to real world examples of the cost of quality.
Interview Tip: Relate what you’ve done to a risk the company has faced…
Want to impress someone recruiting testers? Give them an example of how you would test one of their systems or even better, when it’s time for your questions, ask them “How did you test system XYZ, because looking into it, it must have been difficult to simulate…” You get the idea.
I’ve spoken about this for years, but you can also pull the companies financial statements and review for risks you could test around. It shows an initiative that is rare and also demonstrates you get business risk and not just project risk.
Interview Tip: Have a view on the testing industry…
Finally, I always ask testers how they keep up to date on the latest techniques, tools, and thinking about software testing and let me tell you, the answers are usually pretty grim. Our business is relatively young and most of what you’re going to learn about it is through blogs, conferences, and networking. IMO it’s vital to have a good list of resources (mine is here) to draw on and speak to in order to stay current.
These tips won’t always land you the job, but as an experienced interviewer/interviewee they’ve helped me throughout the years and hopefully will give you some ideas on how to get noticed. Enjoy!
Here’s a suggestion for new testers who may be nervous about their one year of testing experience, or their lack of any testing experience: talk about your experience.
Not just your testing experience, as much or as little as you might have. Talk about your work experience, and relate that to testing.
Have you been a journalist? Testing has an enormous amount in common with journalism: research, questioning, investigation, interviewing, organizing facts and observations, reporting, storytelling… all of these can be applied to evaluating a product by learning about it through experiencing, exploring, and experimenting.
What about an actor? If you’ve been an actor, you know how learn things very quickly. You know that a script is not the essence of acting work, but that performance is. You know how to follow a script and when to improvise. You know how to collaborate with other people, even when those other people might be difficult to work with sometimes.
Have you been a parent? You know how to manage challenging situations, to change focus quickly, to adapt to the unexpected. You know how to organize your time and to work to deadlines. You know that empathy works a lot better than demanding — and you’ve got experience on both sides of that dynamic.
Testing needs diversity. It needs people from a wide variety of experiences, who can bring their unique backgrounds and skills and perspectives to the job of learning about a product and finding problems in it.
Drawing on Michael’s comments above, in order to get to the interview, in most cases first you have to get your CV/resumé past the gatekeepers. The way I did that despite having no formal IT qualifications was to put all the good stuff on the first page – a list of career highlights that didn’t necessarily have much to do with testing, but which would make anyone reading it go “Wow! This candidate has knowledge, skills and experience that we do not have in the company! We should at least see them!”
Obviously, you have to make those achievements read in a way to draw out their relevance to the role you’re applying for, but that can be done.
This does mean that if you aren’t ever going to be a cookie-cutter candidate, your CV will get rejected by prospective employers who are looking for cookie-cutter candidates; but if that’s you, then that’s probably a Good Thing and avoids a lot of time-wasting on both sides.