Detecting Great Testers before the In-Person Interview

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Summary:

Resumes only tell a portion of a candidate's story just like caller ID doesn't always reveal the caller's complete identity. Screening candidates over the phone can help extract more of the person's story if you ask the right questions. In this column, Johanna Rothman shares phone-screening techniques she uses to detect great potential testers. This process of elimination saves her valuable time and ensures only qualified candidates make it to the in-person interview.

Some companies are starting to hire again, and that's a sign of better economic times. But many of those companies are trying to be much more discriminating about the kinds of talents and skills they hire in their testers. So how can you tell if a candidate has the talents and skills from reading through a resume?

You can't. Just reading a resume isn't quite enough. You'll need to develop a list of phone-screen questions, and possibly a pre-interview audition to separate the candidates who fit your needs from the candidates who just aren't suitable for you.

Ask Questions about What's Important to a Candidate's Success
When I develop phone screens, I make sure to ask questions to determine if I need to eliminate candidates from consideration. Elimination questions can be about skills, recent work, a candidate's ability to work long hours during release cycles, or travel—anything about the job that could eliminate a candidate from consideration.

Define Elimination Questions
Use elimination questions to quickly verify that the candidate has enough relevant background and expertise for you to consider for the open position. Maybe your company isn't paying for relocation. In that case, you could say, "We're not paying relocation expenses for this position. Are you still interested in the job?"

I tend to use technical elimination questions most of the time. If you want to make sure a tester knows about your kind of product, ask. If you're working on a financial or insurance application, you could ask, "How much experience do you have with transaction processing systems?" People don't always know the kinds of systems they work on, so you might need to modify the question a bit: "How long have you worked with systems where the database transactions were the tricky part?"

Once I was screening for a tester to write tests that could start upon the completion of another event. We used semaphores, an internally set flag to show the state of events. I first asked a candidate if he had ever used semaphores. He asked me what a semaphore was. I explained, and he said, "Oh yes," and launched into the description. He was a smart guy who'd never heard of flags called semaphores. So, make sure when you develop elimination questions that your language doesn't eliminate candidates.

About the author

Johanna Rothman's picture Johanna Rothman

Johanna Rothman, known as the “Pragmatic Manager,” helps organizational leaders see problems and risks in their product development. She helps them recognize potential “gotchas,” seize opportunities, and remove impediments. Johanna was the Agile 2009 conference chair. She is the technical editor for Agile Connection and the author of these books:

  • Manage Your Job Search
  • Hiring Geeks That Fit
  • Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects
  • The 2008 Jolt Productivity award-winning Manage It! Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management
  • Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management
  • Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds: The Secrets and Science of Hiring Technical People

Johanna is working on a book about agile program management. She writes columns for Stickyminds.com and projectmanagementcom and blogs on her website, jrothman.com, as well on createadaptablelife.com.

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