Looking for testing talent – an ER from Melbourne (Australia)

I’ve recently had the opportunity to look for an experienced tester to fill a new position at Quest in Melbourne, viz. a Test Coach/Lead Tester. The main responsibilities included coaching the wider development group here in improving their testing as well as hands-on exploratory testing. I crafted the job description accordingly with a deliberate focus on the key coaching and exploratory testing experience we were looking for in the ideal candidate.

Once the ad went up on Seek, our Talent Acquisition group was inundated with the usual flood of resumes – while it surprised them, it didn’t surprise me as previous experience suggests a large response to any “testing” category of job ad on sites like Seek. Rather than wasting their time and mine reviewing unsuitable applications, the field was soon whittled down to a very small number based on whether the resume even contained the phrase “exploratory testing”.

For the resumes that got through this simple filtering, I was a little surprised by their poor quality given that this was clearly advertised as a senior role with quite specific expectations on skills & experience. So, a few words of advice for testers looking for work in this market when it comes to the resume:

  • Show attention to detail (I view this as kind of important for a tester): this means removing all obvious spelling and grammatical errors – Word and other document creation tools will show you these mistakes quite clearly, so if you didn’t bother to fix them, what does that say about you?
  • Use plain English: so many resumes use fancy words when simple ones would do, using a thesaurus “don’t impress me much”!
  • Tell me what you did:
    • Focus less on talking about project specific detail (and especially the project budget, why is this important?)
    • Focus more on describing what your role was and what you actually did, noting anything that you feel is particularly relevant and important to the job you’re applying for.
  • Keep it short: bearing in mind the advice above, focus on key information and keep the overall resume down to a couple of pages. Always think about the information you absolutely have to communicate in order to best represent yourself and remember that resume length alone is not an indicator of experience, skill or anything else.
  • Tailor the resume to the job and company: this shows you’ve made a small effort during your application, in the same way that a generic resume shows that you haven’t.

We shortlisted a small number of candidates (it wouldn’t be a shortlist otherwise, right?!) for phone interviews, in which they were asked a number of questions designed to gauge their practical experience in the areas of interest, while also attempting to determine their general attitude towards testing. While most of the candidates were good at explaining their current work in the context of their current employer, the more open questions about their opinions on some testing topics were often answered by again referring to the way things are in their current job. It would have been good to hear more genuine personal opinions backed up with their reasoning, but it seemed most were either unable or afraid to offer such opinions in this setting.

The more worthy candidates after phone interviews were then asked to complete a “take home test” in which their actual testing skills were examined, in particularly their ability to perform exploratory testing and document what they did. This group of tests was highly instructive and any nagging doubts we had about a candidate from their phone interview were generally cleared up by their test answers. It was clear in most cases that “exploratory testing” on a resume was not an indication of practitioner experience of performing structured (e.g. session-based) exploratory testing.

After reviewing these test responses, only a small number of in-person interviews resulted and I am pleased to say that we found an excellent candidate – we’re looking forward to welcoming them to our Melbourne team very soon.

Based on this recent experience in this particular market (i.e. testing in Melbourne), a few recommendations for job seekers:

  • Please heed the CV advice given above!
  • Don’t apply for jobs where you fail to meet many of the asks: job sites like Seek have made applying for jobs too easy, so think of the people on the other end before you do your daily search in a category, select all, and hit Apply.
  • Don’t be afraid to have and express your own opinion: especially when you are explicitly asked for it – and be prepared to back up your opinion with sound reasons based on your unique experience.
  • Stand out from the crowd: being active in the testing community and/or showing signs of continuous learning (attending conferences, meetups, etc. or following some blogs on testing) are easy ways to do this. Wearing your ISTQB certification as a badge of honour does the exact opposite (for me).

(The “Testing in the Pub” podcast has covered the topic of hiring testers and they have some great recommendations too, so check out episodes 50 and 51.)

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