How to hire testers

Interviewing advice from personal experience

Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash

In 2 years as a head of QA department I hired 10 testers. 8 of them were “wins”. They stayed with the company for at least a year, performed well, and have grown. Some of them remained in QA, others found their passion in programming and other fields.

What is a good hire? Here’s my list:

  • They fit the particular need of QA department (or company).
  • They pass your probation. And you have no doubts about it.
  • The team is happy to have them.
  • They like their job and wish to improve.

Both you and your candidate are responsible for this. You have to pick the right person and help them become a part of the team.

How to make the right choice?

Define your candidate’s portrait

A portrait is a list of personal and professional attributes. HR and managers use portraits to specify what is required for the job.

Don’t clutter the portrait. Keep only crutial requirements. For example, I usually don’t include gender, age, looks or hobbies. I list what I use below.

Personal attributes

Motivation type. I use the system with 5 main motivation types. These are:

  • process
  • achievements
  • social environment
  • money
  • prestige

You need to find out the 2 prevailing ones. Do it during the interview. Ask your candidate open questions. Find out what is important for them.

Don’t use straightforward questions, like “what motivates you most”. Such questions provoke candidates to give you a socially approved answer.

Ask about their past experience at work, or at school. Ask them to tell a success story, or a failure story. About what they liked and hated most about it. Pay attention to their words.

  • Process. Do they say how much they enjoyed the process of fighting a rare problem? How they spent hours digging deeper? 
    Then they have the “process” type of motivation. They will love to get “into the zone” and forget about everything else. They’re the best bug diggers.
  • Achievements. Do they accentuate the fact that they managed to win? Do they say how they suffered from the loss? Do they sound like they’ll do anything boring or hard to achieve their goal? 
    “Achievement” motivated people say that. They will fight to get the job done perfectly. They will seek for opportunities to improve. They won’t like remaining in the same position for years.
  • Social. Do they mention other team members a lot? Are relationships within the team important in their story? Do they seem extroverts in general? Then they’re socially motivated. Hire them to work in a group. Don’t make them sit alone.
  • Money motivated people ask questions about benefits. They want to know what benefits depend on, and whether it changes with time. 
    In my experience, people are rarely honest about money motivation. A person who talked about money a lot was socially motivated. They bragged just to sound funny. You need to develop your own intuition with experience. Money motivated people usually perform best when you set up a good KPI system.
  • Prestige. People motivated by prestige love their certificates, diplomas, nominations and famous friends. They wish to work in a famous company, study at a well-known school, they love branded items. I find this motivation harmless if it’s supported by actual skills and results.

I choose testers with process or achievement motivations. Process motivated people loved digging for bugs. They wouldn’t mind doing it for a long time. Achievement motivated people want to excel with their KPIs, learn new approaches and need opportunities to grow. Think about what you need now, and what will you need in a year or two.

Socially motivated account managers build personal and strong connections with their clients. Money motivated people excel in sales. And I don’t know what profession is best for a prestige-motivated person (if you do, please share it in the comments!)

Responsibility. I describe responsibility like this: “if this happens, I’m the one to fix it”.

You will ask your candidate about their success and failure experiences. Pay attention to who they claim to be responsible. Ask them open questions like:
 “why did it happen?”,
“what could be done to prevent that?”
 “what are the main reasons for this to happen?”

I prefer people who take responsibility for what happens to them and their project. But pay attention if there’s self blame. It should be constructive: fail is ok if you’ve learnt from it.

Professional attributes

This is simple. Make two lists:

  • what the candidate has to know
  • what they could learn during probation.

Include what you need: testing methodologies, software development process, tools, languages & etc.

I also consider systematic thinking a professional attribute.

Systematic thinking. I usually asked candidates to describe how they would test a simple object. Like a pen or a coffee mug. I listen to how they think:

  • how many test cases can they think of
  • do they start with the most crucial qualities, or go into details right away
  • do they test it for stress, hack, and performance

Even someone without any experience in QA can list lots of adequate testing scenarios. For me, it proved to be a sign of a good tester’s potential.

I believe that technical skills can be learned. Personal qualities change over time too. But you can hardly influence that as a manager. Critical events in life influence personality. That’s why I’d prefer to pick a person with fitting personality and help them learn. Even from scratch.

Prepare for the interview

If you get a resume or a motivation letter read them before the interview. You will demonstrate respect and your professionalism, so come prepared.

Be ready to lead the conversation, but don’t push. Be ready to answer candidate’s questions as well. If you need a plan — sketch it out and structure your thoughts. You’re being interviewed as an employer too.

Prepare a list of generic questions to test personal qualities. Open questions (like “what…”, “why…” & etc.) work better than yes\no questions. Because they might open up subjects you haven’t thought about. Go with the flow as the candidate speaks. Don’t stick to your list if it doesn’t fit the conversation.

You can also prepare a task to check the skills. It can be a short task to do during the interview or a long one to do at home. I prefer short ones: I get results faster and don’t spend time checking.

Think of future opportunities your company has to offer. Is there a space to grow? What should your tester do to qualify? Be ready to answer those questions.

Be ready to tell what the candidate should expect during the probation. What should they do to qualify.

Don’t criticize candidate’s answers to your open questions. An interview is like discussing a deal: here’s the offer, here are the facts. Don’t make it personal or insult anyone.

General advice

Stick to corporate rules, trade secrets and etiquette. But never lie. If you end up hiring this person, they’ll find out the truth anyways.

The same refers to candidates who are reading this. Lying might help you get the job. But if it doesn’t fit you, no one will be happy. Don’t hide your personality, because there is always a place that fits you best.

And don’t bargain with your conscience. When candidate and position don’t fit each other, it’s always a waste of time and money for the both sides.

These were hiring and interviewing basics I use. 
What do you think of it? I’d be happy to see your opinion in the comments.

And I hope you find it useful,