Hiring Testers, Part 1: How about a cup of MOCHA?

A cup of MOCHA

A cup of mocha.

Caffè Mocha or café mocha, is an American invention and a variant of a caffe latte, inspired by the Turin coffee beverage Bicerin. http://coffee.wikia.com/wiki/Cafe_mocha

This is the first post of several in a series of post on my experiences in hiring software testers.

Interview or Interrogate

A friend of mine recently reminded me of how different job interviews can be, when he told me about his latest experience. He was upset over the interrogation he had gone through for an hour with out being able to actually ask any of the questions he had prepared for the interview.

I was quite upset myself since I see a job interview as a conversation and I had difficulties in relating to the interrogation style. The interview serves as a discussion where my aim is to gather as much information as possible about the candidate. However I can see that there might be some type of information that you would get from an interrogation.

Perhaps the interrogator was interested in how the candidate reacts under pressure. Maybe the person was looking for very specific answers, correct answers since the questions where very much related to technical knowledge.

I believe most people are already under pressure when in an interview. I think there is enough stress in the situation. Unless you are looking for someone who will handle extreme situations I don’t see the purpose of using the interrogation as a style of interviewing. I prefer to create a relaxed environment and open up for a conversation when I interview people.

My experience comes from many years of interviewing in the role as a test leader and test manager. I’ve researched the field of interviewing in tech and I am very influenced by Johanna Rothman. I highly recommend her book Hiring Geeks That Fit.

I see interview as an art, where you need to follow the flow but also influence it. Asking questions is an art. Based on Johanna Rothman’s suggestions on how to ask questions I have created a heuristic to help me ask the “right” questions in an interview.

A cup of MOC(H)A

A cup of mocha describes my style of interviewing. It’s like having a chat over a cup of coffee ( or tea if you prefer). Mocha reminds me of the type of questions to ask during the interview and how to ask them, and to keep the right blend.

Meta questions
A meta question is a question about questions. I use it very rarely but something I might ask in the end of the interview is: “What question have I forgotten to ask you?”
The reason I ask this question is to find out if there is something the person thinks is important. It might help me to find new areas to discover.

Open questions
Open ended questions are the one’s I use the most. They are questions that reveal information on behavior. Questions might start with why, what, how? I mostly open up the discussion with a : “Tell me about a situation where…”  I listen, observe and follow up with open ended questions.

Closed questions
Closed questions are some what binary. They often lead to very short answers when asked. I frequently use closed questions in the first scanning interview. If there are specific requirements needed for the role I will start with these questions. They describe facts.
It might be questions like: “Do you have any experience in Python?”
I also use closed questions to find out where to explore further. Questions such as: “Have you ever been in a situation where you had to…” If the person have experience from this particular situation I would probably continue with an open question.

Hypothetical questions
I rarely use hypothetical questions (which is why I have put the H in parenthesis) They are not suitable as behavioral questions and often lead to the candidate answering what you think they want you to hear. However I use hypothetical questions sometimes as part of auditions (see below). But in those cases I am more interested in the thought process than the answer.

I highly recommend auditions especially when it comes to testers and developers. How else can you tell how some one actually performs? The audition consist of different assignments that I give to the candidates. One of them is to watch them test a product.  This is something I believe most people feel stressed over. So putting the candidate under the pressure that an interrogation causes is completely unnecessary. It is important for me to try to make it as relaxing as possible.
The audition might also contain a simulation where the tester is given a context and special assignment to solve.

My blend of MOCHA contains a high amount of open questions and auditions.  How does yours taste?

3 thoughts on “Hiring Testers, Part 1: How about a cup of MOCHA?

  1. Hi Maria, thanks for writing this up. I am rather unexperienced at hiring testers. I am facing my fourth position to fill only. The first round didn’t count much, was only one person who applied for an internship. My second round of interviews was really bad, because I was not properly prepared. Yet I found a really good person for the job.
    Since that I prepared myself for interviews, but I still think I need to improve. Reading your interviewing tips, I compared to my questions and reflected my style of asking, and I am glad to say that it seems to suck not that much as I thought. I follow most of your “rules”.
    I thought also about being on the other side while reading your article, and I thought, yes that’s like how I want to be interviewed.
    Now I only need a better heuristic for making the right hiring decision. Because I was making bad decisions in rounds one and three.

    • Hi Patrick,
      Thank you for commenting. I will write a new post on my heuristics for making my decisions. I do recommend to read Johanna Rothmans book Hiring geeks that fit if you haven’t already done so. http://www.jrothman.com/books/hiring-geeks-that-fit/
      I think one of the crucial parts is knowing what it is that you seek in your candidate. What are the most important criteria. For this I have worked closely with one of my HR to help me prioritize that set of skills and personality traits that are the most important.
      The quick scan have also played a huge part in narrowing down the amount of candidates. Once I started doing a quick scan over the phone I most of the time got closer to to getting better candidates for the first real interview.
      I also think the auditions I did helped a lot. If you haven’t had many interviews where you have run auditions, you can try the same assignment with the people that already work for you, to practice for the interviews. You will also retrieve information about what is it that you look for when practicing the assignment with others.

      Thanks for inspiring me to continue on the topic.

      • The book is already on my list waiting to get added to my tsundoku piles at home or at work. But the interview you posted on Twitter is up to be watched some time next week.
        Looking forward to the next blog post of yours.
        So far I was looking for a self-thinking, quick learning, and model-thinking and exploratory person. More or less a mini-me. It seems this something that is easy to pretend, something easy for me to believe and be trapped, and not having at all. But enough about self-pitying. Thanks for your tips, I will revisit my list of questions, and keep the MOCHA in mind for my next interview, even if I don’t drink coffee. 😉
        Thanks for the inspiration this morning!

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