Software Testing Interviews – Shoe, Meet Other Foot

Posted: February 16, 2013 in Testing Career, Testing Profession

Further gainful employment has been secured.  After my 3 year stint as an “Army of One” tester (as Michael Larsen elegantly labels the sole tester), I’m looking forward to working in a test team.  However, I’ll await developments before I start writing “Best job ever!!” or “Oh no! What I have done???” posts.

More immediately interesting is playing a big part in recruiting my successor, something that I’ve been looking forward to ever since sitting my first interview for another job.  The shoe is on the other foot, so to speak*.  I was all gung-ho for a “no easy questions for you” approach based on my own recent experiences, but quickly tempered this somewhat uncompromising attitude as I

  1. engaged my brain
  2. read up on interview approaches and questions (see my previous post for a few links to some excellent resources on this subject).

A few topical omissions I wasn’t keen on were context-driven testing, and my personal favourite, exploratory testing.  After discussing the matter with the powers that be, it really came down to “it doesn’t matter how they do the job or what they think of testing, so long as they can deliver good testing outcomes”.  I understood that viewpoint from a non-tester perspective (even if I personally disagree), and I was aware that including questions involving those topics would more likely confuse candidates than produce anything useful.  Still not sure if I just rolled over on this matter… if I did, I shall surely don sackcloth, sprinkle ashes over my head and gnash my teeth to make that horribly clicky noise. Metaphorically, at least (really, that clicky noise just gets on peoples’ nerves).

Anyway… the first step was sorting through the numerous applications.  It was an educational experience.  You can really tell the difference between people who have an idea on how to put together a resume and those who just vomited their experience, skills, qualifications and so forth on to 3, 4, 5, and even 12 pages (yes, someone submitted a 12 page resume).  On first viewings, this motley crew of rag-tag applications didn’t inspire much confidence that I’d find suitable candidates for interview.  And even though there was the long one, the short one, the simple one and the artfully designed one, they all boiled down to repetitions of a single approach – throw every possible testing and/or technical related buzz-word onto Page 1, and then do the same on Page 2, 3, 4 + but group them under different “job experience” headings.  My company’s clever idea of mentioning interpretative dance in the job advertisement (something I was the cause of several years ago, but must never, ever speak of again) to draw out those with a sense of humour failed to elicit a single mention from any of the applicants.  That was slightly sad – is the Brisbane tester community (or the representation that was assembled before me) such a humourless lot?

From the midst of mediocrity, however, a few interesting applications shone forth, especially one late submission.  My manager lined up three candidates for interview and on Friday we sat down with a couple of them to mercilessly interrogate gently probe their skills and experience.

First interview – although the interview panel of three had an initial strategy of splitting up the questions, the conversation for well over the first half an hour ping ponged between him and I.  Testing test questions – guaranteed to put any non-tester to sleep or your money back!   Actually, I would have to give money back as my manager and the developer didn’t quite nod off, but they were close.  My long-anticipated “test this dialog” scenario fell flat initially when I realised the top and bottom of the screenshot had been cut off.  I then didn’t explain it very well.  He eventually understood what I was asking, but gave a very surface-level response, which wasn’t particularly encouraging.  The other two started asking questions near the end as we moved away from testing to other aspects like “organisational fit” and… insert cultural buzz-word here.

Second interview – having learned from our first experience, this interview flowed much better as we mixed the questions and the questioner up.  The scenario was handled much better (I used a simple dialog from one of our apps and explained it without an accompanying “what I would like to see from you in under 500 words” spiel), and the candidate came up with a good list of potential tests.  Despite the shaky start, should I have the opportunity to be involved in recruiting testers again, this question (or a variation) is going to be a mandatory one – got a great sense of how and if they were thinking below surface/GUI-level tests.

Monday will see another 1 or 2 interviews before decisions are made for a second round.  I have to admit I’ve enjoyed the experience so far, even if I haven’t been able to “talk shop” with the candidate as much as I would have liked. In any case, we shall see what the morrow brings.

*Though a chap by the name of Pubilius Syrus said “You cannot put the same shoe on every foot”, which may actually render the “shoe on the other foot” quote null and void on philosophical grounds.

  1. Simon Knight says:

    Thanks for sharing your interviewer experiences. It makes me wonder, as a tester of at least reasonable ability, how often my interviews have gone bad (more often than I’d care to mention!) as a direct result of a lack of or faulty preparation, or interviewing ability on the part of the interviewer… At least two spring readily to mind where I was in the candidate seat, and another couple where I’ve been in the interviewer seat. It’s equally difficult on both sides of the fence I reckon.

    • You’re 100% right, Simon. In my limited experience, I’ve found in both positions that communication issues have been the biggest “killer”. A couple of particular problems I’ve observed…

      As a candidate – being afraid to say “I don’t know that” (including myself on a few occasions) waffling on for minutes without actually answering the question, or giving 2 or 3 word answers.

      As an interviewer – framing a question too broadly or vaguely, not exploring critical areas sufficiently, spending too much time talking (not letting the candidate answer properly).

      As you said, both sides of the fence have their own unique problems.

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