Monday, 11 October 2010

Be careful what you wish for - on certification and recruitment

This post is a summary of some responses I made on a Software Testing Club discussion on certification. Specifically my responses focused on the pursuit of certification in order to gain access to job opportunities that list that certificate on the pre-requisites.

I've personally never felt the need to get certified, the only time that this has ever had an impact on my career in testing was when, as part of an ISO 9001 audit, the auditor asked if all of the team I was working in were "professional testers" meaning certified. My response was suitably glib - "no I'm just a paid amateur". I went on to take over the running of that team and successfully lead the testing strategy in that organisation for two years.

Certification on a large scale must by its very nature must impose a series of lists and limitations in order to provide some consistent measurement against which the certification can be granted. Testing, on the other hand, is a challenging and varied career in which every role has unique demands. Even apparently similar applications can require very different testing approaches depending on where the stakeholders' priorities lie. The ability to understand those priorities, assess risks and test in a focused yet creative and open minded manner is what I believe distinguishes the great testers from the good.

Sadly a big factor in whether and how to get certified will depend on if you want to work for the sort of organisations that value these certifications. Testing jobs are often advertised which specify certifications (usually ISEB/ISQTB) as requirements for the role, so it makes sense to obtain the certification to open up these opportunities to you, right?

Not necessarily. I would begin by asking yourself what kind of tester you want to be. An organisation that demands certification in its testers may have a very well defined and structured approach, but is it likely to be the kind of environment that understands and places a high value on free thinking, creativity and craftsmanship as qualities in its testers? If those are the type of qualities that you possess and want to develop, then ask yourself whether certification is likely to help you to develop in a way that you find rewarding.

I certainly wouldn't suggest discarding a job on the basis of them asking for certification in the job spec, some great opportunities could be missed that way. I would, however, make some efforts to understand the reasoning behind the request.

As Michel and Rob Lambert pointed out in the Software Testing Club discussion, it may be that the request arises from certification providing an apparent safety net for a recruiter with little other knowledge of the subject of testing. I suggested that, in this case, maybe a paragraph in your CV or covering letter along the following lines might help:-

I am a passionate and committed software tester. I am a member of the Software Testing Club and regularly read articles and books on the subject. In particular like the books and blogs of the following test authors (insert names here). While I do not have certification from any one specific organisation or certification body, I am familiar with concepts covered by the following courses/syllabuses (insert names here).

I would, however, be suspicious of working for an organisation who were unable to see around a lack of certification in an otherwise strong applicant.

  • If the role is a junior one, why are they not prepared to spend the money certifying enthusiastic applicants themselves (I believe foundation level ISQTB certification can be achieved in a 3 day course)?

  • If it is a more senior role, do they value your skills and experience? What does certification tell them that a track record of successful projects completed to the satisfaction of the stakeholders does not?

  • Is the candidate going to enjoy the autonomy to adopt their own approach, methods and tools in the role that they deem most appropriate to the context of the project?


There can be few things more frustrating than working in an organisation that does not recognise the complexity and value of the role that you are doing. In my experience software testing is particularly prone to this problem. If the recruiter is working on the basis that having passed e.g. a 3 day ISQTB course is sufficient evidence that someone is capable of fulfilling the demands of the role, I personally would take the time to look behind the request to establish what value they actually place on role of software testing in their organisation.

Copyright (c) Adam Knight 2009-2010

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