Thursday, 24 November 2011

Recruitment By Example

I find it hard to recruit great testers...

Really hard.

Finding the appropriate candidates with an enthusiasm for the job, combined with the aptitude and skills to excel in my organisation proves extremely difficult. One of the greatest challenges for me is working with recruitment consultants and getting them to understand my needs in testing candidates. Working in a data storage/database environment means that certain skills are particularly valuable to us, SQL/Databases and Unix operating system experience with shell scripting being the primary ones.

Historically the biggest drain on my time when actively recruiting has been the time taken to read CVs and attend telephone interviews to filter out the candidates who list interesting skills on CVs, yet their experience proves to be very limited. This problem can even extend to the candidate having merely tested systems running with such technologies without ever having interfaced with them directly.

I recently met a very enthusiastic recruitment consultant who had taken the time to attend a Tester Gathering in Bristol. Being in the market for a new supplier I decided to give them a try. I decided that with a new relationship I would try a new approach to getting them to understand our needs, and tried a slightly unconventional method to getting them to understand our testing requirements.

Specification By Example Applied

I'm a great believer in the power of examples to help drive our software development. Using examples helps to provide a shared understanding between stakeholders with potentially different domain languages and perspectives. I wondered whether a similar approach might help in our recruiment process to bridge the gap of understanding between the recruiters understanding of my candidate requirements and my own.

I selected 3 CVs that I had received in the last 2 years from potential candidates:-
  • The first listed Unix and SQL knowledge, however had no evidence of direct experience to back up this claim other than in a list of technologies used in the implementation of projects they had worked on
  • One was a candidate who appeared to have the relevant skills and experience, however, on a short phone interview had not been able to back up this experience with any demonstration of understanding
  • The third was a CV which showed clear examples of projects in which she had directly interfaced with the relevant technologies and the role that she had performed in that project. In addition to this she had provided further examples of improvements she had introduced into her working environment to improve the testing effort and steps she had personally taken to improve her testing knowledge
The third CV was from one of the testers already in our team.

I invited the new recruitment suppliers into my office and spent about an hour working through each CV in turn. I highlighted key points to look out for that set off alarm bells for me in CVs one and two. These included factors such as the providing of long lists of technologies that made up the solution tested rather than ones they had actually worked with; a focus on certification and bug metrics and no evidence of a drive to self educate or improve their work. I then went through things about the third CV that marked them out as an exceptional candidate. I think this was something of a tiresome process for the consultants, however they admitted at the end of the session that they had found the session very useful as they had a much clearer picture of the candidates that I was looking for. I also made it clear that I would rather have one good tester put forward for the job rather than 10 poor ones.

There is always a risk with trying something different, and I wondered if taking this approach might not ingratiate me well with my new supplier. Actually it was remarkably effective. As a result of this, instead of twenty inappropriate CVs to filter through in the first few weeks, I received one, an a good one at that. Since then I have not received what I would describe as a poor CV from that agency, and soon after recruited a fantastic candidate that they provided. Obviously I cannot prove whether the agency would not have delivered such a good service without the unconventional start, but I've certainly not had such a great start from any other agency. If you are going through the pain of trying to recruit good testing candidates I recommend getting your agents in and working through some examples of the CVs that you are, and are not, looking for, to drive your recruitment specification.

Thanks to Rob Lambert for prompting this post. Image


  1. Hi Adam,

    Nice post and some good insights. You know I share your same pain with trying to find good candidates. I like the idea of working through some sample CVs. It's a great process for identifying what's important and for communicating this to recruitment consultants.

    Has this approach solved your problems entirely?


  2. Hi Rob,

    Thanks for commenting.

    No this has definitely not solved my problems altogether! It has helped with one particular problem which was the time spent reviewing CVs and interviewing candidates who were not suitable for the role due to the presence of kaywords on their CVs which flagged them up as potential candidates.

    We still have the problem of finding good, engaged and motivated people from relevant backgrounds who would fit well into our team and contribute to our testing approach. As part of the discussion I did also make the agency aware that I'm interested in excellent individuals from any relevant background, not just testing, if they have relevant skills to critique our product from the perspective of a relevant stakeholder.

  3. I have the same problem and have resorted to setting a technical test for potential candidates (we are looking for a tester with automation skills).

    I thought about doing something similar to what Adam has done but decided it would be too time consuming to train recruiters. Also this would only be effective only while the agent is working on your case or until he leaves the recruitment agency.

    Ultimately i find it very frustrating that we are paying for recruitment agents to supposedly help the burden of recruitment but instead the only service they provide is to pass a long CVs without any real comprehension of what their customers are looking for.

  4. Thanks Limmy,

    I understand your approach, we've looked at technical tests before and have certainly used that approach in the past. It is a difficult balance as it is important not to eliminate relevant candidates early through too prescriptive agency criteria. For us it could be that someone with complementary skills such as business intelligence would make an excellent addition to the team. I understand your point on the risk of the agent moving on, we had both the direct agent and the account manager in to the meeting, and it only took a couple of hours, which I think is a reasonable investement of time given the potential savings as the relationship progressed.


  5. This is a really good post and a unique way of interacting with recruiters to produce helpful results. I think it's time for me to write up what I've learned (and what I look for) in the hiring process for testing - and willingness to self teach is one of the major traits! (Might need to get a separate blog going for this though as my main blog is all about theater ...)

  6. Thanks for commenting. Great idea please post a link here if you do write anything up.

  7. This post has giving me thought on how to best highlight my testing skills to make it step into the exceptional realm of CV's.


Thanks for taking the time to read this post, I appreciate any comments that you may have:-