Job Hunting for Software Testers: A Primer

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Summary:
As straightforward as most software testing and QA job postings seem, they may not actually tell you much about the job itself or the company that’s posting. How can you tell whether you’d be a good fit? If you are interested, how can you best approach the application process? László Szegedi's analysis will help you ask the right questions and prepare yourself to nail the interview.

If you’re in the software testing and QA industry and have been looking for a job, you’ve probably noticed some similarities in tech companies’ hiring posts. The boilerplate is usually some background about the organization, a description of the job, the essential tasks and responsibilities, and the desired qualifications and skills.

As straightforward as that seems, an ad like this may not actually tell you much about the job itself or the company that’s posting. How can you tell whether you’d be a good fit? And if you are interested, how can you best approach the application process?

I’ve broken down the typical job posting in hopes that my analysis can help you ask the right questions and prepare yourself to nail the interview.

Introduction

This section usually serves to provide a basic background about the company, but it can be a hiding place for totally unimportant and irrelevant sentences. A company describing itself as multinational sounds good, but think about it: Many firms nowadays operate worldwide. Even smaller companies follow industrial standards and work culture, so they basically operate the same way on a daily task level.

I also think anything describing “atmosphere” can be disregarded. Of course every workplace will advertise itself as fun!

However, the introduction is a great starting point for preparing for the interview. You should visit the company’s website, search online for relevant facts, and reach out to insiders like former colleagues, friends via LinkedIn, or personal calls. Financial information, numbers, and statistics can help you make analytical decisions about whether you’d want to work for the company, but former and current employee’s feedback is invaluable.

Job Description

Precise descriptions and technologies in this section can serve as a helpful guide for what questions you will be asked at the job interview. It can also be a starting point if you want to learn some new technologies. Go straight for what they are searching for, at least enough to get a passing familiarity or to say, “I haven’t used SquareCalc, but I have used the Round formula, and I am told they are very similar.” Of course, if particular tools and techniques like Selenium, API testing, or Hadoop are mentioned here, it means you have to possess some basic knowledge (at the very least) of the given technologies even at the first interview, so you better start preparing.

This section can also indicate whom you will interact with in this position. If you find specific testing tasks like test case writing, test planning, or integration testing mentioned, or it lists specific tools like JIRA or TFS, it means the description is coming from the functional manager.

Sometimes the job description will explicitly say what other roles the person who gets the position will interact with. Have you worked with a business analyst or a customer experience designer before? If so, what kind of channels and formats did the two of you use? Plan on talking about these experiences during the job interview to show your familiarity.

When it comes to describing the work itself, job descriptions have their own language. I consider “a unique opportunity” to be a meaningless catch phrase. Every workplace is unique; the job description should be more specific so you know what makes this situation different.

“Dynamic” probably means deadlines and scopes change frequently, so you may have to work to keep up with changes and to set your own priorities. It can also mean learning new technologies and working methods, which could present a good opportunity to develop yourself in the testing profession. Or it could represent a working environment where you have to switch between tasks and concentrations quickly.

“Building” something (a team, culture, or technology) can mean developing an already existing entity, or it can mean it really will be built from scratch. A situation like this can turn out well, but there is a chance the work environment is not ready for a huge change yet, so if there are conflicts, you may be stuck in the middle. It can also mean somebody already has tried building whatever is being asked—and that clearly it did not work out as planned. It’s worth asking for more information if you see this word used in a job description.

Responsibilities, Qualifications, and Skills

For this paragraph, the employer usually looks at the given department and makes an aggregation of the qualifications the employees have, then labels those as the minimum requirements. As opposed to what we were taught in school, qualifications are not as important as the skills the candidate has. However, if you have qualifications that cover everything in the “preferred” section, you are likely to be one of the best candidates for the job.

Based on my experience, this area is the most important part of a QA job posting—for the person doing the hiring, sure, but also for the candidate. It can tell you more about the position than anything. Once again, you just have to decode the language. Here are some common terms and what they can really mean:

  • Monotony: You don’t like to fill Excel tables for months? What about performing the same regression tests over and over? Save the effort and don’t even apply for this job.
  • Strong communication: Communication is one of the most important skills a software tester can have. It should be understood implicitly that it’s critical for every job, so if it is stated explicitly, it must mean that good communication skills are really important for the given position. If you are not comfortable asking questions or reporting and assessing test results, this place will probably be a challenge for you.
  • Team-oriented: You’ll likely have to gain a lot of information from your team members, so if you like to work alone, this position is not really for you. It can also mean there is a team established already and the candidate has to fit quickly and properly, so team culture will be a priority.
  • Experience with: Be prepared with examples of the particular tasks you performed with the tool mentioned here. The interviewer will try to compare them with the tasks required in the current position, so be as precise as you can be.
  • Proactive: If you won’t investigate an issue yourself, your trust level will seriously decrease. Also, you can’t wait for signals, official communication, or well-defined checklists here; you’ll probably have to create some processes for yourself.
  • Scripting: You can’t really live without it nowadays. The only question is, what kind of scripting technology does this position require? Do you inherit some codes, or can you build your own?

You’re Hired

Some job postings will clearly state what a position is about and what you can expect; others will be short, generic, or ambiguous. Either way, study the language of the posting as much as you can, and come up with related questions. If you land an interview, requesting more information will not only help you discover whether the position is right for you, but also communicate to the employer that you’re genuinely interested, you’ve done your homework, and you’re taking the prospect seriously.

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