Visualising your product or service using Evernote and MohioMap

One of the perrenial challenges I’ve had at every company I have worked for is being able to see an organic and evolving view of the product being built that isn’t buried deep in the code, or hidden in high level specs that are out of date.

This got me thinking – what if I could use Evernote and MohioMap to visualise the product being built, the links between the components and features and of course, the detail of what each component does.

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How to build a standing desk for £16

There’s growing research that suggests that sitting down all day is bad for you so in a bid to live longer and see my sons growing up I’ve started using a standup desk at work. A few others here at NewVoiceMedia are also using standing desks.

A vari desk standing desk
A vari desk standing desk

I also thought I’d have a go at building a standing desk at home. I was amazed at how cheap and simple it was to build.

What follows is how to build a standing desk for £16. The following standing desk though, does assume that you already have a normal desk in place. Read on for more.

How a standing desk has helped me

Since using standing desks at work I’ve seen most of my back pain disappear. I tend to sit slouched with my back sloping in places it probably shouldn’t which causes me back pain, sometimes crippling. Since using a standing desk I’ve seen none of my usual back pains.

Standing all day though comes with it’s own set of aches and pains, so I’ve tried to seek a balance. My legs and feet tend to ache after a couple of hours but thankfully the Varidesks we use mean I can switch between standing and sitting.

How to build a standing desk using a coffee table!

I created this standing desk by simply buying a coffee table from Ikea and standing it on my current desk. Sounds too good to be true right? But it worked for me and it actually looks OK.

I got the inspiration for a standing desk from this blog about using an Ikea coffee table. Their solution is a little bit fancier than mine though.

I used the Lack Coffee Table from Ikea.

The desk the coffee table is stood on is a length of kitchen worktop that I re-used when I stripped out our kitchen a few years back.

I simply built the flat-packed coffee table following the useful IKEA instructions and then stood it on my desk. Hey presto – a standing desk.

Standing Desk Coffee Table
Standing Desk Coffee Table

Getting the right height

The right height for me has my hands just below my elbows when typing. This means my hands aren’t pointing up as I type – a sure fire way to get pins and needles.

As it happened the coffee table on the desk was pretty much perfect out of the box. If it’s not for you then either cut some length off the coffee table legs, or add some extra length to it with surplus wood. Remember though – measure twice and cut once.

Your desk means you can’t sit down though….as you are aren’t using a laptop

The keen eyed amongst you will notice that on my standing desk I have a MacMini and that the desk is permanent (i.e. not adjustable).

This does indeed mean that I cannot sit down to work at home using the MacMini without a lot of hassle. Thankfully I also have a laptop from work and cloud computing makes it easy to share between the MacMini and my Macbook using Dropbox, Confluence and Evernote so it’s not really an issue.

In the future I may take the plunge and invest in a Varidesk (Amazon affiliate link) which is what I use at work.

It’s expensive but it means I can adjust between sitting and standing simply.

If you don’t have much of a budget and want to experiment with a standing desk then a coffee table from IKEA might just solve your standing desk problems.

This post contains affiliate links – for more on affiliate links see my Cookie Policy page.

How to help your recruiters create a great first impression

At some point during your recruitment drive you’ll likely use recruiters. The problem is that some recruiters are creating a bad first impression of your company. Your recruiters are often the first point of contact a potential hire has with your company. Here are some ideas on how to help your recruiters create a great first impression.



I like to use recruiters to help me to find the right people. They are invaluable and a good one is worth their weight in gold.

Some recruiters though don’t think twice about focusing on short term wins at the expense of a long term relationship.

This leads to many problems but the one I’ll focus on in this post is that it often creates a poor first impression about your company in the mind of a candidate.

The reality is that your job advert and the initial call to, or from, the recruiter is often the first time someone has a connection with your company. You need to make sure it’s a positive experience and not one soured with lies, miscommunication and frustration.

I have dealt with recruiters from both sides of the recruitment process and I can tell you that first impressions really do matter.

One recruiter I was working with lied to me and sent me to an interview for a developer role. The job spec and the detailed discussions all suggested this was a tester role. He changed my CV without telling me nor the hiring manager and both sides were left utterly disappointed. I have never used that recruiter again.

Many times I’ve had recruiters who don’t even know what testing is. Many others who have lied about the salary. And of course, a great deal more who never get back to you. If you want a laugh check out The Problems With Testing (PDF Direct Download) – there is a chapter in there about recruitment.

In my experience for every great recruiter out there, there are several unprofessional ones. And these people create bad experiences for your potential employees.

It’s your job as a hiring manager to make sure, where possible, that the first contact a candidate has with your recruitment agent is a positive one.

Your recruiter is an advert for your company and for you. It can be hard to recover a candidate from a poor initial experience.

As you cannot control people it will be impossible for you to guarantee your recruiter creates a positive first experience, but what follows are some ideas to help improve the chance of a positive first experience.

Pick your recruiter with care

If you have a choice then you need to choose your recruiter with care. Choose one who also cares about first impressions. I’ve written about working with recruiters before and the advice remains the same – find someone you trust. I’d suggest you read that post as it outlines more about this in further detail.

Find out how they recruit and work with them to fine tune this process

The search and contact process that your recruiter has in place is an important factor in creating a good first impression. Don’t be afraid to ask your recruiter what their process is.

If they want to work with you and build a relationship then transparency (where practical) is essential. The better you know their process the better placed you will be to help them to improve it when working with you.

It’s important that you feel comfortable with the recruitment process they have in place. If you have any doubts ask for clarity. If they refuse to change the way they work, or are hesitant to even share their process then consider walking away if it’s not right for you. I’m not suggesting you get involved with any of their internal business processes – but if they approach candidates and manage them through their system in a way that is not congruent with your values – then have that discussion with them.

There are lots of recruiters out there and if you’re not comfortable with any one of them then consider switching.

Listen to their feedback about your process

Just as the recruiters process won’t be perfect, neither will yours. So listen to their feedback and action it where practical. Don’t be defensive and assume you have it nailed – you probably don’t.

The process of contacting a candidate and that candidate making their way through to an offer/rejection should be as seamless as possible. So it’s important that both parties work on improving together.

Invite them to see your company and understand your team culture

A recruiter who knows you, your company process and your company culture will be much better placed to create a good impression.

Be wary of recruiters who don’t want to find out more. Why would they not want to?

Get feedback from candidates about your recruiter

  • Ask every single person who comes through from your recruiter for feedback.
  • How smooth was the process?
  • How accurate was the information?
  • What was the first impression like?
  • Would you feel happy applying for another job through this recruiter again?

Give feedback to your recruiter and drop them if they don’t shape up

Take the above candidate feedback and use it to improve the process. Provide constructive feedback for your recruiters so that they can fine tune their process.

A good recruiter will welcome feedback and an opportunity to improve.

If the recruiter dismisses the feedback and is defensive then consider how effective your on-going relationship with them can be.

Be cautious though about taking all feedback as an immediate problem. Some candidates are conditioned to look for problems and struggle to spot positives. It is easy to point out problems, it’s much harder to acknowledge and give praise. But you’ll know whether you’re starting to see a pattern in the feedback.

Give your recruiters a media pack

Providing your recruiters with a media pack makes it easier for them to communicate a consistent message. A media pack should contain links, data, information and contact details. Some recruiters won’t need this but in the early days it can be helpful in setting expectations.

It may also be worth providing the recruiter with a series of questions to ask the candidate. These questions (technical, culture, career goals etc) can help to create consistency in the process.

The above are some ideas on how to help your recruitment team create a great first impression. I would also like to outline something you should never do.

Don’t do this

Never pretend to be a candidate and apply for one of your own jobs to assess your recruiter. I’ve known lots of people try this and it has one massive downside. It undermines the trust you should have in your recruiter. Trust is important. Trust that they will do their job and that you will do yours. If you don’t trust them why are you working with them to find great talent?


It’s your job as a hiring manager to put in place processes and activities that ensure you’re not turning people away at the first hurdle. Working with your recruiter to create a great first impression is a good starting point.

How do you try to ensure a positive first impression when working with recruiters?

Have you had a bad experience with a recruiter – please leave your thoughts in the comments.

Impossible tester job spec

Effective job adverts for testers

When recruiting software testers many hiring managers often look for the impossible candidate who can do everything.

These people don’t exist yet many hiring managers continue to place job adverts that seek out these candidates.

An impossible job spec used for recruiting software testers
An impossible job spec used for recruiting software testers


What follows are 5 ways that will help you to create effective adverts for recruiting software testers

When I was early in my hiring career I created the usual generic and weak job adverts that swamp the usual jobs boards.

I listed so many responsibilities, expectations and skills that most candidates didn’t apply. I was seeking the impossible candidate. I was seeking someone who could do everything.

If you do a quick search for testing jobs online you may notice that most of them fall in to two distinct categories.

The first group of adverts are seeking the impossible tester. More on the pitfalls of this later in this post.

The second are somewhat different and aim to seek the niche tester. These adverts are so specific that only a small percentage of testers would fit the bill.

For example they would be asking for “ability to raise a defect using work-flow X in tool Y” and “must be able to use Z best practice” etc. They are so specific that many people will move on to other adverts before considering applying for your job.

Neither style of advert is particularly helpful at getting great applicants. Don’t get me wrong – you will receive applications. There are lots of people applying for every job out there. I’m also sure that some of these styles of advert do work in certain contexts, but it’s my belief that to get great testers you need to do something different.

I believe it’s important to focus on the values of the person and the results that you expect.

The following 5 points may help you to create a different, and effective job advert. Included at the bottom is a sample job advert format.

1. Focus on your team’s values

Hiring someone who doesn’t meet your team’s values will have a corrosive effect on your culture.

It’s my belief that team fit is more important than technical ability.

If you have your values right then most candidates who share these values will learn, adapt and grow as your business does.

If you don’t have your values articulated then spending some time to write them down is helpful. I’ll be writing more about values (and behaviour) in the future as they are key to growing an effective team.

2. Understand the problem you are trying to solve

It’s pointless just to keep recruiting software testers without understanding the problems you are trying to solve. I’ve written about this before here.

It is important to understand the problems your next hire is going to help you solve. This will help you to create a more focused job advert and ensure you’re interviewing for the right software tester. It will also give the applicant a deeper understanding of what the expectations of them are.

3. Don’t always copy what the masses are doing

When we started creating different styles of adverts at NewVoiceMedia many people were skeptical. As it happens the job adverts have worked well.

We often receive feedback stating our advert stands out for two reasons.

Reason number 1 is because they focus on the person as well as the skills. Reason number 2 is because they look and feels different; they are brief and succinct and promote our culture well.

Sometimes standing out from the masses is not helpful though. There may be a reason why the masses do something a certain way. But experiment, be brave and try something new. You can always change it based on feedback.

4. Stop using mandatory and optional sections in your advert

In my opinion most job adverts in the software testing industry contain two sections that I feel are not useful.

These are the “mandatory” and “optional” sections of skills and experience.

The view seems to be that anything in the mandatory is, as expected, a mandatory skill or ability or experience. Anything in the “optional” is , as expected, optional.

The problem with this is that it says little about the actual person and their approach to their work. It also doesn’t cater for those who have the ability to learn new skills and gain new experiences.

These sections can deter good testers who don’t feel they meet the required expectations.

I know I struggled to even articulate the tangible experiences and skills I wanted in someone, let alone which section they should be in.

What would happen if an outstanding candidate applied but they didn’t meet one or two of the mandatory?

What would happen if an underwhelming candidate applied but could put a tick against all the mandatory items?

What would happen if someone met all the mandatory but none of the optional? Or all the optional but none of the mandatory? Or a decent mix of both?

I’m getting confused now but you get the point?

People use these sections in adverts as a filter mechanism and this may be OK if you just want bums on seats but not if you want great testers.

Instead it pays to focus on the person and keep the skills and technologies generic. This sounds counter intuitive but the right person will pick up the skills they need.

So don’t put great testers off with a poor advert.

Job adverts can be filters but I prefer to look at them for what they are; adverts.

A job advert should attract and persuade someone to take a course of action – that’s the basics of advertising. It should draw people in to find out more, not repel them away.

That does not mean lying – far from it – but it does mean using the advert to attract people in.

5. Focus on selling your amazing working environment

You do have an amazing working environment right?

An advert is a chance to sell this environment and attract the right candidates.

Your advert may be the first contact a candidate has with your company. Your job is to inspire them to find out more and communicate to them why your company rocks.

Trust me, to get the best testers you’ll face some stiff competition. Your advert should advertise why a candidate should choose your role (and company) over another. Don’t forget though – your advert should be truthful.

Over to you

I’d love to hear how you stop searching for the impossible tester when recruiting software testers? And what style of job specs have proven successful for you?


Sample job advert format


A clear succinct industry recognised title works fine.

Feel free to use terms that represent your brand and culture, like Rock Star etc. Be clear in your title about what the role is as this will likely be listed on websites, jobs boards and included prominently in communications from recruiters.

Your Goal

This is where you list the solutions and objectives the person will need to fulfill.

Are they building a test infrastructure, managing people, expected to do awesome exploratory testing or will they be working in the performance engineering function?

Working Here

List here the types of work you do and what the candidate can expect to work on.

Is it a cloud based multi-tenant platform?

Is it software as a service?

Is it telephony based or an accounting package or security software?

What scale are you working at?

How often do you release?

These should all be selling points. If they aren’t you’ll have to work hard to make them appealing.

This section is also an opportunity to explain a little about the activities and culture of your company. Do you run hack-athons and learning events? Why is it cool to work at your company?

Values and Processes

This section allows you to list your values. What core values do you promote?

These values should guide your recruitment and inform the way you lead the team.

If your values are good enough you’ll attract the people who share these values, or want to work in an environment that promotes these values.

This is also a chance to explain some underlying process choices your company have made.

Are you agile?

Do you do pair programming?

Are you doing Test Driven Development (TDD) and Behaviour Driven Development (BDD)?


In this section you have a chance to talk briefly about the kind of tooling being used.

Try not to be too prescriptive in this section. I find a simple list is all that is required.

It gives people a flavour of whether they could work in this environment.

Remember, this section should not be a “You MUST use X, Y and Z”.

Good people will up-skill and retool.


At the time of writing this post there is an open position at NewVoiceMedia for a Software Engineer– the link may cease to work when the advert is pulled from the site.

Your Competency Matrix May Not Match Reality

I’ve just posted over on my LinkedIn profile about how a competency matrix may not be helpful in working out your teams competencies.

An example competency matrix
An example competency matrix

In the article I outline 4 problems with a competency matrix and a simple solution to all of them – focus on behaviours and results. Here are the four identified problems.

  1. The matrix is often put together based on opinion rather than observed behaviours and results.
  2. When asked how competent someone is they usually claim to be more or less competent than they are.
  3. The skills and experiences in a matrix tend to focus on technology and process skills and not soft skills or learning ethos.
  4. It’s common when compiling a competency matrix to focus on high level skills categories only – this misses some of the gaps within these high level competencies.

If you’re interested in reading more then check out the article on LinkedIn.

8 Lessons Learned From Building A Team

Building a successful test team is hard work.

I’ve outlined 8 lessons learned from building a team in an article titled “The Blazingly Simple Guide To Growing A Test Team”.

It has been published in the October edition of Testing Trapeze.

Testing Trapeze October Front Cover
Testing Trapeze October Front Cover

8 Lessons Learned From Building A Team

The article sits along great articles from Erin Donnell, Richard Robinson, Margaret Dineen and Dave Robinson.

Testing Trapeze is a bi-monthly magazine edited by Katrina Clokie and put together with an amazing team.


The 8 lessons I learned from building and growing a test team are:

  1. Appreciate it will take time
  2. Understand the purpose of the testing team
  3. Appreciate that certifications don’t make someone a great tester
  4. Automation specialists don’t kill the need for testers
  5. Find people with a passion for testing
  6. The recruitment process is key to your success
  7. Interviewing is about selling yourself and solving your problem
  8. Quality is not just the responsibility of testing

You can read more in the October edition of Testing Trapeze.

Are you offering a career in testing or just a job?

Many companies are offering a job in testing.

Many companies are offering a career in testing.

Testing - A Job or a Career
Testing – A Job or a Career

A career is a series of experiences. These experiences may come from many  jobs at many companies. Or they may come from a single place of work with a varied set of experiences.

A job is what some companies are offering. And there is nothing wrong with this.

Jobs are good. So too are careers. Some people can experience more in a single company than others may experience in 10 other jobs.

Being honest about the role you have is the key to getting the right person.

If you are offering a job then say so. If you are offering a career then say so too.

Some people just want a job. Some people want a career. It’s important to match the person and the job. By matching the right people to the right jobs you stand a chance of solving your problems. (You are solving a problem..right?)

It seems so simple but it’s a mistake many hiring managers make.

Get it wrong and you spend money recruiting the wrong person.

I once took a role that I believed to be a career. When I joined it was clear it was a job. I didn’t want a job, I wanted a career. I knew I would never get that at this company – I left after just 6 days (3 of which were spent trying to find out who to hand my notice in to).

I’ve also made the mistake of hiring people who wanted a job when I was offering them a career. It’s not good.

One is no better than another. Someone who takes a number of jobs can build a strong career.

Contractors, by their nature, are often looking for the next job. But they can build a strong career from those different jobs.

Your task is to match the right person to the right role.

In the interview be clear about what you are offering and strive to understand what the candidate wants.

Is it a job, or a career?

Be honest with the candidate and you’ll likely get the right match. Get it wrong and you’ll have probably hired the wrong person.

Using Kanban in the recruitment process

We’ve been recruiting heavily for a while now and it’s been an epic journey from those early days 4 years ago when I started here at NewVoiceMedia to where we are today.

The Dev team has grown very quickly indeed and we’re still recruiting for talented Developers to join us.

I’ve been involved in pretty much every hire in to the Dev team over the last 4 years and have thoroughly enjoyed this recruitment process. It’s where the inspiration for this latest series of blog posts has come from. When you’ve interviewed 150+ people at various stages of recruitment you start to find ways to optimise this process, see interesting patterns and work out whether or not you enjoy it. I enjoy it 🙂

When you receive a tonne of good candidates each week it’s important to have a process that is efficient and effective. I like to use Kanban to visualise the process and aid with tracking people as they move through our recruitment process.

Kanban is a visual tool to show you your work in process so that you can start to make decisions from the information. LeanKit have a decent description of what Kanban is on their website so I won’t repeat it here.

A Recruitment Kanban Board
A Recruitment Kanban Board

Above is an image of a typical recruitment Kanban board. The above shows a simple recruitment process from the point of view of a recruiter.

Any Kanban tool will work for visualising your stages and process, from post-its on a whiteboard to a fully fledged Trello board. I like Trello because it’s super easy to use, is free and can pretty much be configured to map out any process. The above is a doodle I did in the Paper App.

For this example I’ll use a standard recruitment process that starts with a backlog of applicants, then a phone interview, then a coding exercise, followed by a face to face and then hopefully an offer and a “Yes”, or it may just be a “No” from any stage within the process. Testers and Scrum Masters miss the Code Review stage unless that exercise is relevant but essentially follow the same flow.

An important part of an efficient system is to ensure you don’t spend time copying and pasting details. If you work closely with your recruiter you should be able to get them to send an email directly to Trello (with or without salary details depending on your level of sharing) so the candidate they are putting forward appears directly in the backlog of your Kanban board.

On the backlog are people who are applying for a role (hopefully you’ll be as quick as possible to provide timely feedback for the person applying 🙂 ). Then it’s a case of moving them through the different phases as you do your interviewing. I think it’s important to include an “Offer In Progress” stage because there are sometimes delays and of course, until you receive the signed paperwork back they technically have not accepted.

Each stage will no doubt trigger some actions for you and your team such as sending the coding exercising, reviewing the code and then getting all of the contract preparation stuff sorted for example. Simply flow people through your system and use the Kanban board to show you where people are in the process, where your bottlenecks are and also give you clues as to how efficient your recruitment and interviewing process is.

I find Kanban a really effective way to see how applications are processed. I firmly believe in responding to every single candidate as quickly as possible and Kanban helps me to do this and avoid bottlenecks in our system.

How do you manage your hiring?

Dedicate time each day to recruiting

Recruiting good people takes lots of time, energy and focus.

In my current busy work schedule it’s almost impossible to find a block of time to sit down and rattle through recruitment tasks. So I’ve tried to focus on doing just one or two recruitment based tasks each day.

I’ve come to realise that this is much more effective than leaving all of the tasks to bunch up and create a daunting wall of project work.

To work through this backlog I’ve found it particularly useful to block time out in my calendar specifically for recruiting. An hour here and an hour there works a treat.

The Dev management team here at NewVoiceMedia share a backlog of recruitment tasks all focused on evolving our recruitment process to be industry leading. We want to hire the best people in the industry to help us achieve our business goals so we need to evolve our recruitment process to be the best it can be too.

Your own recruitment process will likely reflect the amount of effort you put in to it. It takes time (and hence costs money) to create a good recruitment process but it’s time and money well spent.

If you feel you have a daunting wall of recruitment goals and tasks then try breaking them down and kick start daily actions towards your recruiting goals.

Don’t rush in to a hiring decision


We regret to inform you image
We regret to inform you – Image from Caro Wallis “Sweet Sorrow” March 24, 2010 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

It’s very easy when recruiting to rush in to a decision about hiring somebody, especially so when you haven’t been inundated with a significant number of good candidates. Be cautious though when making a decision and be sure that you’ve truly explored the options open to you.  It’s sometimes better to delay a hire (and sub-sequent knock on to work load) than it is to hire someone who’s not right for the team. Hiring someone who is the wrong fit can have a real detrimental impact to the whole team. One way to mitigate rushing in to a decision is to have a number of different people interview the candidate and then be responsible for making a decision about hiring them.  If you have at least 4 people interview a candidate then you can get a balanced view of the candidate. Ideally the other interviewers will be from other functions across the delivery side of the business (agile, dev, product, service etc). If any one person says “no” then it’s up the others to try and convince them to change their mind (if the candidate is worth fighting for) or the other must simply accept the decision and move on. It can be hard to say “No” to really good candidates, buts it’s a process that helps keep the bar high. It is of course more expensive and time consuming but if you’re trying to hire the best talent then it’s a system I would absolutely recommend.

So why do we rush in?

Of course there are commercial deadlines to meet and hiring constraints to work within but in my experience most people rush in to making decisions on candidates because the candidate is the “best” of the rest. This sounds harsh but it happens very frequently, especially in the testing and scrum master hiring arena (no doubt others too). After a string of pretty bad interviews it can be tempting to say “yes” to someone who stands out. And this may be a good strategy as you may get the person you want, but is the person standing out because they are exactly what you’re after, or just because they are somewhat better than the others? In the future I’ll share ways to get the right candidates first time so you spend less time interviewing bad candidates, but for now take it easy when hiring. Take some time, don’t rush, don’t feel the pressure too much and always try to be objective in your decision making. Hiring someone that doesn’t fit can be a very costly and demoralizing event. Instead, consider a group consensus as a way to get a more balanced view of a candidate.

How to work with recruiters

It’s inevitable that at some point during your recruitment drive you will need to use a recruitment agency.

Argh – don’t worry – they aren’t all bad, in fact a great many are invaluable for finding you the right candidates.

Here’s some of my advice about working with recruitment agencies (note – it is just advice from my experience – experiment and work out what works for you – I’d be keen to hear more stories of success (and failure)).

Meet them face to face

Meeting a recruiter face-to-face gives you the chance to form a strong relationship. There’s nothing quite like shaking their hand and sitting down to chat with each other in the same room. Of course it is possible to chat to them over the phone or using modern comms like Google Hangouts, etc, but in-person is preferable in my view.

Asking them to come to your office is the first step. This can often show you their commitment as some agencies simply won’t come to see you. Scratch them off the list. Sure there are logistical reasons sometimes but the cost of travel is not that high nowadays and it shows willing.

You also get the opportunity to observe their body language. Are they welcoming and friendly or do they act uncomfortable and twitchy, especially if they deviate from their non-verbal “baseline” when asked tough questions.

When you meet someone face to face you will form an impression. That impression may or may not be a true reflection of that person, but as they say, your perception is your reality. If you don’t trust them or gel with them then don’t take the relationship any further.

Trust your instincts. The market is swamped with recruiters, both good and bad. Only work with those you trust.

Remember – all recruiters are in sales (aren’t we all?) and they will all have that elusive candidate you’re seeking – be critical of this and work with those who you trust.

Agree terms you’re both happy with

At some point you will have to agree terms. This is often dealt with by financial teams or HR. If you’re negotiating yourself then work out a good deal for both of you.

Try and find a rate (and overall package) you are both happy with. These details may be mandated by your HR team so you may not need to worry too much about this, but it’s important to ensure both parties are happy about the terms.

Both parties being happy about the deal is important as it’s a relationship you are forming. Of course, you may never know if they are truly happy but don’t push for a rate that they are not comfortable with as you may find they simply don’t invest the time in finding you the right candidates.

The market is competitive for both hiring manager and agencies and the balance appears to be in the hiring managers favor (for now) but that doesn’t mean you should push too hard on the recruiter – they are running a business also and ideally you’re building a long term relationship here so it needs to start on a good note.

It’s also worth taking the time to understand what goes in to finding candidates – it’s best not to assume you know what is involved (and hence how much you believe this work is worth) unless you truly do know what is involved.

However, don’t be pushed to a rate you’re not happy with either.

I’ve had recruiters in the past hold out for sky high rates with no real justification as to why I should pay so much. The reality is that a “sky high” cut of nothing is still nothing.

Learn from them

Good recruiters know their domain deeply. There’s often an assumption that recruiters don’t know anything and that they are “just” sales people – this is derogatory thinking. Sure, some of them simply throw unsuitable people are job openings and are on the whole unprofessional – but good recruiters know their work very well indeed and are genuinely trying to do a great job for you. We can learn a lot from them.

Ask them how you can stand out in a noisy market and what needs changing regarding your current recruitment process, job adverts or interview approach. And if they can’t answer any questions about their domain or industry – well – you need to make your mind up as to whether you trust them after that or not.

Ask them whether they have competing clients in the same locale/area/domain and how this will impact your search for candidates.

Recruitment agents are often recruiting for a number of clients. Some of these other clients may be in the same sector and locale looking for the same candidates. You need to work out how this will affect your recruiting, what you need to do to change these circumstances (i.e. how to stand out in the market – more on that in future posts) and how to ensure you’re the first port of call for suitable candidates.

Review their effectiveness

Every so often it pays to review the recruiters effectiveness. Don’t go on the number of submitted candidates. Instead you need to work out the success ratio of submissions to job offers.

Some recruiters may only send a small number of applicants but all of them may convert to an offer.

If you’re working with a number of agencies don’t be afraid to drop those who aren’t performing well and replace with a new agency. It’s important to keep trying new agencies if you’re not getting the results you want.

Only work with a few agencies

This is an important point. The fewer agencies you work with the easier the management of recruitment becomes. But more importantly the better your relationships may become too.

Another aspect is that good recruiters go out and find good candidates. These good candidates are often hard to find and few in numbers. The more recruiters you work with the more likely it is that these candidates get “prodded” a number of times for the same role by all of your recruitment agents. This is annoying. The first impression someone has of your company is often from the recruitment consultant. Being badgered by several recruiters for the same role is not a good impression.

Working with a small number of agencies allows both sides to really understand what is required from each other and you will hopefully talk more about what is working and what isn’t.

For example, when I hire for testers I only ever worked with just a single recruiter – and he delivers time after time. He now knows the roles I recruit for and the people I look for. We’ve spent years building this relationship and it’s working.

Outline the roles and the people you’re looking for – in depth

The person fit is always more important than the skills alone. It’s great to find candidates with the skills but if that person is a poor team player or causes chaos in the office then it’s probably not worth employing them.

My experience tells me that someone who is a strong team player outweighs someone with perfect technical skills but a poor attitude. Of course, it would be great to find someone with top skills and an awesome team fit in one package but these people are hard to find. Skills, tools and experience can be taught and learned – it’s much harder to change someone’s personality and outlook about their work.

You’ll have to talk about financials at some point so make it clear what your maximum salary is for the role and what the overall package entails – ensure both sides truly understand this. Is the package realistic? Recruiters can’t find the impossible so if you’re salary is WAY too low for the role then don’t expect to see too many candidates. Your recruiter will know the market conditions and you know testing – together it should be a good match.

Outline the process

Ensure both sides clearly know what the process is for submitting candidates, giving feedback and making rejections/offers. It’s important to align expectations so you don’t muddle the process or step on each others toes.

A professional process flow from CV submission to on-boarding your new team member gives a great impression – although expect there to be unplanned problems in all processes and for the process to change over time.

Give them honest feedback so that they can improve their searching

A recruiter cannot change their provision of candidates with any certainty if they don’t have honest feedback about the candidates they have been putting forward. Be clear in explaining why someone wasn’t suitable and make suggestions on what the recruiter can look for to qualify future candidates better.

Only by doing so will you ensure you get the candidate you want. Of course, you may not know what sort of candidate you want – this will make it harder for the recruiter but it’s not something an honest brain-storming session won’t help resolve.

Don’t work with recruiters who rely on certifications

My advice would be to never work with a recruiter who is finding you candidates using certification searches and filters. They most likely don’t know about testing and are simply following a norm that may need breaking.

Of course, you may be happy using this approach (am I also therefore suggesting you don’t know about testing? 🙂 ) but it’s going to generate a lot of unsuitable candidates for you to review.

Recruiting using just certification filters will find you many candidates but they are unlikely to find the right candidates. You require more than certifications don’t you?

Don’t work with recruiters who solely rely on job boards

Posting just to jobs boards is a simple strategy (hint: you could do the same thing) and one that will result in many candidates coming forward – but mostly an abundance of people who aren’t suitable. Jobs boards are mostly ineffective in my experience.

A recruiter who relies solely on jobs boards will be having mostly the same influx of applications as you would get if you advertised there. They will be fending unsuitable candidates off with a stick or putting them forward for you to fend off. Good candidates could get lost in the mass of applications also.

Always ask your recruiter how they find their candidates and be sure you are happy with their approach. I prefer recruiters to head-hunt rather than post job adverts. Some people don’t like this approach. I would advocate avoiding a recruiter who solely relies on jobs boards, LinkedIn job adverts or certification keyword searches; there are many other creative ways of sourcing good candidates.

Work with them to define the candidates you want and a search approach you are happy with.

When I mention this I often get criticized for not trusting recruiters do their job, but in the early days I, as a hiring manager, need to understand where my candidates are coming from and what their first impressions of our business are likely to be. Working with recruiters is about forming a relationship and that can only start to form if both sides talk to each other and align expectations.

Once you find a good recruiter stick with them and keep giving them your business.

In my experience building a long term relationship with your recruiters leads to great success.

This is part of a series exploring how to hire good testers – the reverse “how to get a freaking awesome job” is covered in my book Remaining Relevant – a book for testers who want to take control of their careers. It’s full of advice on how to find good jobs, perform well in an interview and take control of your own self learning.

You can follow more posts in the series using this category link – or by subscribing to my RSS feed

Recruiting for the right talent is time consuming

Recruiting for the right talent is time consuming. Trust me. I spend a huge portion of my day involved in recruitment activities but it’s well worth it for the end result.

Good testers (and programmers/scrum masters etc) are really hard to find and increasingly hard to tempt to your workplace. They are in demand and hence often take extra leg work to get them for an interview – let alone get them on board.

However, over time recruitment becomes easier and quicker, especially if you take recruitment really seriously and work on building a large network and a multi-threaded approach to recruitment (more coming soon). In some instances recruitment can be very quick indeed – but in the early days it’s time consuming.

Or of course you could throw lots of money at a series of recruiters and chance that, but in my experience there is small group of recruiters who are especially good at finding top end testers.

In Johanna Rothman’s excellent book “Hiring Geeks That Fit” she makes the following statement:

“You don’t have to spend gobs of money to find great candidates, but if you don’t, you probably will need to spend time. Remember, potential candidates may not all look in one place to learn about the great job you have open, so you need to use a variety of sourcing techniques to reach them.”

Recruiting is hard work and it is time consuming so as you embark on hiring a team, or a tester, don’t expect it to happen overnight. It can take months before that elusive candidate turns up. Be prepared and don’t start your recruitment campaign days before you need a tester. Start early and be prepared. Or of course, throw gobs of money at the problem.

This is part of a series exploring how to hire good testers – the reverse “how to get a freaking awesome job” is covered in my book Remaining Relevant – a book for testers who want to take control of their careers. It’s full of advice on how to find good jobs, perform well in an interview and take control of your own self learning.

You can follow more posts in the series using this category link – or by subscribing to my RSS feed

Why testers really should learn to code

Testers need to learn to code *. Period.

And here’s why.

The market demands it and the supply is arriving.

As a hiring manager I’ve personally seen a massive increase in the number of testers who can now code. They may not be able to write production grade feature code, or automated tests, but they can write scripts to help them test, or they can write a small app that will inject data or they can extend an Open Source tool to make it work for their needs.

They can basically dig deeper than what you see on the screen, do more with automation and do a more varied set of testing by using tools and code. I see this as a positive thing – I know some people may not.

There is also a growing number of developers who are moving in to a technical testing capacity and learning how to do good exploratory testing and test planning. The market is buoyant for testers who code (and who know how to sell themselves) and it’s good for hiring managers. It’s quite rare now for me to find a tester who isn’t coding, or at least really focused on learning it.

In a nutshell the market is now being supplied with these once elusive testers who can code.

You could of course replace “learn to code” with “learn to do security testing” or “learn to do performance testing” but the reality is that most of these niches also require coding or scripting experience. It’s rare to find a tool that pops out of a box and does what you want it to do – despite what many of the tool vendors sales people will tell you.

To ignore the shift in the market is to leave yourself at a disadvantage when trying to get a job.

Whether you believe that coding is essential to being a good tester or not will soon become an irrelevant moral viewpoint. Testers now need to remain relevant to those with jobs, and those people with jobs for offer are starting to get multi-skilled testers (or T-Shaped as I call them) applying.

Instead of investing energy in fighting the inevitable train of change it might be worth spending that time learning to script, or carving out a niche in another aspect of testing (security, usability, off-shoring, test management etc), or resigning yourself to being outpaced in job applications.

We should be careful though to discern from simply following trends such as certifications and following evolutions in how testing is done. One is very dangerous and leads to lazy recruiting and competitions like certification inflation – the other is a natural progression of our testing craft. Learning to code is deeper than a certification; it’s a skill that can open up many new doors and give you access to tests that were once impossible without some code. Of course you could rely on the developers in the team to help out and that models works well, but the market is shifting and to remain relevant in this market means your skills will need to shift also **.

It’s no longer enough to be a tester who doesn’t code, because when you apply for a job you may be up against a tester similar to you who can code ***.


* Note – there are of course many roles within testing that mean coding or scripting is not essential such as management, strategy, coaching, leadership/directorship roles and problems solvers etc but for the mainstream testing roles the times are changing.

** Note – shifting skills could also mean learning specific tools, learning how to solve problems or, as the post suggests, learning how to code.

*** Note – of course – there are also lots of other ways to get hired rather than applying for a job – thought leadership and networking are two – I cover lots more in my book.

Testing is bigger than just testing

Testers have a main expertise in software testing.

Some testers could even have a more focused area of expertise such as usability, performance, security or exploratory testing.

When recruiting testers, you’re more than likely looking for one of these testers who has a core expertise in testing. Sounds logical.

But this is just an expertise and developing software requires more than just an expertise in testing; it requires doing what’s needed to ship software as a team.

Shipping software results in the company achieving its goals; most typically something to do with money. Ship stuff – get paid – keep the business going.

Shipping software often requires testers to step outside of traditional roles associated with testing, or to evolve what testing “is” so dramatically, that at first it may not appear to be testing.

The same is true of scrum masters, developers and anyone else building software.

So when hiring testers it’s important to hire testers who know their role within the company is more than testing; their role is to help the company ship good quality software and sometimes this means doing something that might not be testing.

In my experience all good testers are happy to evolve their skills to meet market changes and sometimes wear many hats within the business. Testing is increasingly becoming an activity done by everyone and is no longer just a phase done by people with the job title of “tester”.

Interviewing for this outlook and flexible thinking is harder than it may first seem, but it is possible.

If you want to ship good software frequently then it’s important to find people who can support this vision by being solid members of a team.

Team-work is all about the end goal and not just about the individual job title, main responsibilities or specialism.

What problem is hiring a tester solving?

When hiring testers it’s important to know what problem you are trying to solve.

By defining the problem that you have you’ll be able to ensure you solve the problem in the right way, whether that be by recruiting the right person or actually coming to the realization that recruitment won’t help.

Throwing more testers at a test problem is no guarantee that the test problem will go away.

For example, to handle a growing regression suite the answer may not be to hire more testers. It may be to hire a test automation specialist to automate the tests, or to encourage your developers to automate more tests.

Another example is poor quality products going out to production. You may improve the quality by hiring more testers, but you may also improve the quality by slowing down, spending longer designing what you’re building or working out some way to get rapid feedback on what is being built.

Recruiting is often time consuming and expensive so it’s always worth assessing whether recruiting more testers is going to solve your problem. To do this you need to know what problem you are trying to solve.

When you define your problem you’ll also have a clear understanding about the kind of person you are looking for. This will help you articulate your needs to recruiters. It also allows you to communicate more clearly to the candidate.

Being able to explain to a candidate what they will be doing and why it’s important for the business will increase your chances of a candidate accepting your role (assuming that’s what they want to do). Don’t be surprised if a candidate doesn’t accept your job offer if you cannot even clearly explain what their job role would be and in a sense, what problem they are going to solve for you.

Not all testers are created equal so it’s crucial to know whether their aptitudes and skills will solve your problems. Some are better at exploring, some are better at designing, some are better at building bridges between teams and some are very good at automating anything that moves. Each one of the above examples will help to solve a problem but not all of them will solve all problems.

By understanding your problem deeply you’ll be able to work hard to solve that problem. Simply hiring testers because you “feel” like you need resource leads to bloated test teams and ineffective delivery. And of course, the chances are you wont have solved your original problem.