The myth of the standard tester

I always tell candidates looking for a job to have a standard CV, but to never send this CV to anyone. Never.

The ‘Standard CV” is a starting point for a contextually specific CV that gets the hiring manager giddy with excitement about speaking to you.

Yet the other way around, it’s very common for companies to have a “standard job spec” for most roles.

We have another Testing role available, someone send me the Tester’s job spec please!

This standard spec gets rolled out whenever there is a new position available or an existing employee leaves. It’s got some generic stuff on it and it’s pretty vague about everything. It asks for a broad range of skills (cos we want a wide pool of people) and doesn’t specify much in the way of actual expectations or outcomes.

It contains lots of buzzwords and leaves the door open for the widest selection of candidates the company can attract.

I think this is sad.

I think this is sad for two reasons:

1. If your business is that generic (i.e. that anyone can fill a testing role) then I suspect you’re solving the wrong problem by hiring generic people.

2. I don’t believe any two Testers are ever the same, so why should the roles they fulfil be?

As your business moves and grows (or shrinks), your products mature or you start to move to new technologies, techniques or processes it is inevitable that the roles you need will change also.

One of the major challenges a manager may face is ensuring that your teams skills and goals are in alignment with the business needs, and that your teams skills can/will change in line with your business.

I think that each team needs diversity of mindsets, skills and experience. I think each business needs different Testing skills at different times. A great team will acknowledge this and flex and grow with the business. Standard test teams won’t.

I think that all Test Managers who hire from a “standard” job spec do so because they know no different (or HR are forcing their hand). I did this for a few months and spent that entire time griping about how few good candidates there are. I was casting the net too wide and wasn’t 100% sure who I was looking for). I then narrowed and recruited an excellent team (If I say so myself 🙂 )

  • Do we just need a “standard” tester (whatever that may be)?
  • Or someone with Exploratory Testing skills?
  • Automation skills?
  • Database Testing skills?
  • Security Testing skills?
  • Web Testing skills?
  • Messaging skills?
  • Email and multimedia skills?
  • Specialist domain knowledge?
  • Managerial skills?
  • Leadership skills?
  • People skills?

I could go on for ever.

Why do we try to cast the net wide and grab the most generic person we can find when deep down inside we want someone with some specialisms, or a certain outlook on life, or certain skills and abilities?

  • Is it because it’s hard work initially to write new job specs and think long and hard about the actual objectives we want this person to achieve? Yep. Probably.
  • Is it because this process will take a longer time than the generic advert? Yep. It will do, but it will be cheaper in the long run.
  • Is it because recruiters are asking for generic job specs? Maybe. But believe me, there are some great recruitment consultants out there.
  • Is it because it’s always been done this way? Yep. Absolutely. But why should that stop you changing it?
  • Is it because I may have to get creative about the hiring process and work hard to find someone right, rather than someone who *might* be right? Yep. But that’s your job right?

So here’s what I believe anyone hiring for a tester (or building a new team) should/could/might do:

  • Define the personality traits of the person you want to hire.
  • Define the actual skills that person will need.
  • Define the activities they will do.
  • Define the outcomes you expect that person to achieve.
  • Write a new job spec for each position.
  • Screen, screen and screen – face-to-face interviews are expensive for everyone involved.
  • Interview based on the things you’ve defined above. Test them. Show them around. Invite them to meet other people. Ask varied questions. Tough questions. Be Open and Honest; make it clear what the objectives of the role are.
  • Be subjective in your decision making.
  • Be Open Minded and willing the flex on some things.
  • Be hardline about the things that really and truly matter.
  • Do not discriminate.
  • Get a second opinion.
  • Read Cem Kaner’s excellent interviewing article (

Offer to the right person and you will have no regrets. Offer to a generic person, for a generic role and I suspect you’ll have your work cut out in the months and years that follow.

Hiring the right person is going to take much longer but in the long run, but it’s a price worth paying.