Transitioning from testing one sort of application to another, and general advice on job hunting

I’ve just started my second round of teaching Black Box Software Testing Foundations for AST members. Besides the obvious benefits of what I consider to be a very well designed and rigorous course, there are the side benefits of meeting interesting folks from all over the world, and the discussions that arise. One student who’s currently between jobs, and has extensive experience testing embedded software but is looking for a job testing web applications asked me for advice.

Looking back on my answer to her, it seems like something others might appreciate as well, so I decided to publish it here as well.

Specific ideas for transitioning from testing one type of software to another:

  1. Consider finding a relevant open source project to help test. I can’t think of an open source web app right now, but certainly experience testing Firefox or Watir sounds relevant to me…and even experience testing something further afield like Open Office shows that your experience is applicable beyond embedded software. The bug reports you file here become a publicly visible portfolio that you can link to in your resume.
  2. Consider reading/learning more about web testing in particular. You might add some of what you’ve read to your cover letter or resume directly, or perhaps it will just inform how you answer questions when you get called for an interview.
  3. Finally, if you’re having a hard time getting the permanent job you want, consider getting a short-term contract to get web testing onto your resume.

And then there’s the general advice:

  1. Make your resume & cover letter shine. When I’m hiring, cover letters that convey personality, communication skill, and intelligence are few and far between. I am *much* more likely to call a candidate with holes in her/his resume if their cover letter is strong – which certainly includes enough personalization that I can tell s/he has thought about working at *this* company in particular.
  2. Are you not getting called for interviews? Ask friends or colleagues who you can trust to be thoughtfully candid to review your resume and cover letters.
  3. Are you getting interviews but not getting offers? Ask the hiring manager why. Five years ago, when I was transitioning from my first testing job and looking for my second. I got turned down for a gig I was interested in after the second interview. I worked up my courage, called the hiring manager up, and said I wanted to know why I hadn’t gotten the position so that I could learn and improve myself. He was very impressed…and in fact after talking for 10 minutes on the phone told me he’d changed his mind and made me an offer. While I can’t guarantee that that’ll happen for you, I think there’s at least a decent chance you’ll learn something. As a hiring manager, I’ve had a lot of candidates who turned me off because of something they wrote or said, or who I turned down because of a skill they appeared to lack. I don’t believe it’s my business to point this sort of thing out unsolicited, but if someone takes the initiative to ask I will often be happy to offer a friendly tip or two for the next place they apply.

5 Responses to “Transitioning from testing one sort of application to another, and general advice on job hunting”

  1. testing | Rob Adler Says:

    […] Transitioning from testing one sort of application to another, and … Posted by Rob Posted under Uncategorized Tags: Comments (0) […]

  2. Adam Goucher Says:

    I conciously don’t write a cover letter; unless you count ‘Hi. Saw your posting, here is how you can read my resume.’. And when I am hiring, I throw out the cover letters (well, recycle).

    Getting a new job /should/ be an easy task if you have decided to be the best you can be. And if you have decided and acted on that, the jobs come to you.

    Market bubbles popping or changing markets might be a scenario where that doesn’t appy.

  3. Sunita Sarin Says:

    Hey Adam,

    I second that. Cover letters are a waste of my time. I recycle them too. Create a linked in profile and make it fun and interesting and let it speak for your personality. At the end of the day, I just need your resume.

  4. Dee Pizzica Says:

    Several months late…just a random comment.

    I find boring cover letters to be a waste of time. If there isn’t something in the cover letter that doesn’t catch my attention right away I don’t bother with it. But if it makes it past my initial skim AND tells me something interesting then that person may get an interview even if the resume doesn’t have everything I’m loooking for. I’m really looking for personality in a cover letter…at the end of the day I’m hoping to find someone I want to work with afterall. šŸ™‚

  5. testingjeff Says:

    Adam, Sunita & Dee, thanks for the comments! It’s very useful to note the variation in what hiring managers do – based on the context where they work, and just based on personal style of the hiring manager.

    I find that most of the resumes I receive are from are poor communicators, and folks without much passion for or understanding of testing. Most also seem like shotgun-style cookie cutter applications sent to many positions without much thought about what they’re applying for. In that context, someone who takes the time to find out what we do and speak to how their skills and interests might match is *much* more likely to get a call from me.

    One part of my context is that there are many folks out there who are pretty excited about what is doing. That means I can write a job posting that encourages folks to put a bit of effort into showing me they understand what we’re doing and have something to contribute. As I understand it, this is helping good candidates to sell themselves – letting me know that they deserve careful reading and at least a screening call.

    That said, some folks can easily demonstrate skill and passion just through what’s on their resume. Adam, from what I know of you I’d guess that your resume itself conveys plenty of both. šŸ™‚ This is particularly true of folks who are more senior, and are active professionally in some way (participating in an open source project, blogging about testing, active in a testing community like the Association for Software Testing, etc.)

    I think for a job you are excited about and believe you’re qualified for, the question is how can I sufficiently communicate why I should get an interview? In some cases a well-written cover letter might well help with that – it certainly has helped me, both in getting hired and in hiring great testers.

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