Highly Questionable - Being Interview Ready Masterclass further discussion

Tonight we’ve had an excellent masterclass from the wonderful @ben.kelly, author of Standout, a career guide for finding employment as a software tester.

If you’ve thought of more questions to ask or you’re catching up on the Dojo or perhaps Ben didn’t get to your question on the masterclass, why not ask them here?

A recording of the masterclass will be available to Pro Dojo members in the masterclass section.

PS: all proceeds from Ben’s book for November and December go to the fund to help Linnea.


I enjoyed the webinar and agreed with most things I but I thought some things were missing.

i.e. on the cover letter and cv.

On the cover letter, if you’re applying for a role. As a recruiter with an inbox of 200 plus resumes and cover letters, I’m not interested in a general blurb. I’m there to put your resume initially into 3 categories; the No pile, the Maybe pile and the Yes pile, in order to then call you. That’s the point of the resume, to lead the decision maker or screener to make a call.

So the cover letter - copy and paste the requirements, or summarise the requirements and address them.
It shows that you have read the advert, an activity that most candidates don’t actually do.
It shows that you’ve thought about the role.
Over 67% of decision-makers polled, want to see customised cover letters, short and to the point that address the requirements. In a way, it’s the start of the conversation.It’s part of communicating with another person.
It doesn’t mean you have to MEET all the requirements you may not. You might not have a skill, but you can learn and you discuss a few options that you can take to get up to speed quickly.
Over 99% of all cover letters, even when specifically asked to address the requirements testers don’t do. So the 1 or 2 people that do, always get called even if they’re resume isn’t a match. And it’s always proved worthwhile to talk to those 1 or 2 exceptional people.

I find employers look for at least 3 things, this might be because Australia is small. So the focus is on 1) does this person have some kind of personality, can you get a sense of who they are, so you can get a sense of whether they’re a cultural fit 2) the core or base of skills you’re looking for, they might not be a perfect fit but they have the base skills to quickly come up to speed 3) do they have a growth mentality is their evidence of ongoing learning.

So I DO want to get a sense of their work environment, certain things tell me - the size of the team, what product they tested, what typical challenges around that product, how they prioritized testing, do they understand what mattered to the company/users/stakeholders of that product. What are the problems the product solved? What were the typical types of bugs? In other words, did the tester really understand what mattered?

The tester works in an activity that’s both technical and social, so you do want to know how they put the software together.
If it’s a start-up that person will have a very different skill sets attitudes and capability from someone who’s only worked in a large hierarchical establishment. How did they create software? Are they embedded in the development team and testing is all the way through. Or in a large test team (Wipro or Tech mahindra style) and testing is done at the end for example. What is the problem-scape of the team she worked in, poor scoping, no time, understaffed, or budgeted, working with colleagues in different time zones, constant interruptions etc. Who did they interact with? Usually what you see is a spaghetti list of regression testing, Blackbox testing, automation blah blah. And other buzz words which are kind of meaningless.

I notice Candidates always list their achievements, usually, however, there is no context to that achievement, e.g. “I was made a test lead of 3 others for a government project.” Was something a candidate put on their resume as an achievement. What really happened is that they learned a functionality/feature of a product that no other person in the company took to learn, so that when the client needed that capability she has put herself in a position to be promoted to leadership around that skill because of her proactive initiative.

…Anyway I think I’ll write my own blog post on this. Because I get people to update their resumes as part of a practice to prepare for the phone and face to face interview.
I also don’t believe in resumes, I got jobs for ‘unqualified’ disadvantaged kids by using portfolios instead, so they could compete against degree qualified experienced testers. Much more useful.
E.G look at young David’s portfolio he’s up for an inteview with Amazom tomorrow, he’s never gone to University:


Hi Catherine, I’d like to challenge you on your point about cover letters. You mention you’re a recruiter, I wonder if this is agency or in-house? The reason I ask is that you’re recommending one approach, to please one type of person. However, for me, my CV and cover letter tend to go directly to the team lead of engineering manager of the team I want to join. Re-hashing the requirements is not valuable in this instance, though I will make sure somewhere in my CV is hitting those notes, I use the cover letter to stand out, give the team points to ask me about at interview which I can expand on, clearly point out why I want to join this specific company/team, why I will be valuable to them and generally stand out. If I used the more generic approach, my cover letter would look the same as all of the others and though it might ‘get me in the door’ so to speak, when it comes to interview, the usefulness of that endeavour is greatly reduced.

To take it to an extreme, if you write your CV & resume to pass an automated filtering step, it’ll likely be standardised and boring for those actually interviewing you later on. It’s worth thinking a little longer-term.

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I disagree with you Nicholas, 67% of decision-makers, that’s your engineering managers, test leads etc want the cover letter customised to real requirements. That’s not one person. Many companies, many different decision makers many different requirements.

Most people don’t do that, even when asked - I"d say 98-99%, you’re typical cover letter is some generic adjective filled waffle, that could be interpreted in a number of different ways. So that says most don’t read the ad. And they don’t, I took some time, once over a quiet period when I got ~ 260, to ask, why the cover letter doesn’t address anything in the advert, why was it a one-size fit all. The typical answer - they don’t read the advert, they just click on it, on the mobile. It’s a spray and pray approach. Click as many things as they can.

If they can also highlight what real commercial value they bring to the organization, I’m not saying don’t do that. If you can get a sense of problems they intelligently solved, things they changed or improved, great. Particularly if it’s not descriptive but some concrete deeds they’ve done. i.e. instead of saying I run really fast, say, (if true), I made the Olympic tryouts.
But most ignore the requirements and talk about themselves and don’t think of the audience they’re addressing.
I’ve recruited as a Manager of an organization and as an external recruiter. When you’re a manager you don’t have a lot of time, it’s not the key thing you want to be doing. Cut to the chase and speak to the requirements, indicate that you can actually read the requirements.

The other major point why you should address the requirements because it makes it so much easier to negotiate a higher rate of pay. And then add some value ads.

As someone who takes 2 days to write a 1-page cover letter for every single job application, I’m confused by the copy-paste approach, and the scattergun approach. If I did the copy-paste thing I’d run out of page quickly, so I agree, custom cover letter , which is what Ben was talking about doing in reality. It’s a lot of energy to put in, but I have to do it slowly.
If I’m applying to a huge corporate, then, copy-pasting buzzwords from the job description is a good idea. But be sure to work the buzwords in in a way that does not make them obvious. Your CV has got 30 seconds to grab someone, so get them asking a question in the mind of the reader, hopefully a good question.

I totally loved Ben’s take on this career building chance - I’m looking for a new job next month, so I went and got the book (in support of Linnea as well accidentally), hope that after reading it I do not have to re-write my entire CV.

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It certainly won’t take 2 days to write a cover letter if you copy and paste what’s usually 5-6 points and address them.
The point is you are responding to the person who’s asking can you do these things.
Most - don’t. Those who do stand out.

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Still, I encourage people to have a online resume like the one you shared Catherine.

I once set this up rather crudely at a time I was seeking contract work, it’s a bit fiddly, but very handy in the age of everything-in-the-cloud to really be fully online.

Hi Catherine,

to be honest, you have a wealth of experience here that I do not have, I’ve only sat in a few interviews. That said from my position of interviewing, I’ve always gone with the approach of a cover letter conveying a high-level interest in the company and position, then expressing a few points on how I specifically can be of value to them and why. I let my CV cover the points in terms of requirements for the job. For me if I was interviewing, this is how I’d want things to be presented to me. If you’re covering how you meet the requirements in the cover letter, it’ll also be covered on your CV, to me this is redundant and a wasted opportunity to impress the interviewing panel. Though again this is expressing my own viewpoint and that’s one with a lot less interviewing experience than you.

To your point about waffle, I certainly avoid this and wouldn’t recommend anyone do it. Though I do think expressing clear interest in the company/team with specifics is very helpful, it shows you’ve done your research and want to work there. The candidate you’re describing sounds very different from me, the spray and pray approach I certainly wouldn’t recommend.

Ultimately, I think we have in mind VERY different candidates or levels of performer. I do find what you’ve expressed very interesting and I do wonder if I would fall down in very competitive positions because of the approach I take. To date, this hasn’t been the case as I’ve generally been approached about a position rather than the other way round which I guess is a position of privilege and different in general. I find it a bit sad in general how little time people have to look at CVs or dedicate to recruitment in general, to me this is when the culture of a company begins to erode. I know at my current company there are a few people that would struggle to deal with more formal processes but they’re EXCELLENT at their job.

Thank you for providing a little more information on your experience!

I’ve found some questions that we didn’t get to in the Masterclass. Maybe you have some insights or suggestions for these.

Q1. Why should CV be “Inspiring”? When I recruit, I use CV to filter - standard is very useful for me.

Q2. Why most of the people don’t look at your past work like your code at github instead of asking problem solving question in testing interview

Q3. Have you ever done ‘pre-work’ for an interview? For example find out detail on their test suites and mention specifics on how you would improve it? To clarify, I mean turning up to an interview with something you’ve built to specifically solve a problem that company is having.

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It’s an interesting question. I’m not sure I entirely understand where it’s coming from. What is ‘standard’? What does standard give you? If you’re looking for a bunch of things that are largely the same, why bother with a CV at all, but let me anwer the first part of the question. - Why should a CV be inspiring?

I’m not sure that inspiring is the right word. As a candidate, I want my CV to distinguish me from all of the other applicants in a positive way. I want the effort that I’ve gone to and my abilities in the craft of testing to be on display. My CV is my first work product and so it is vital that I make as good an impression as I can.

As a recruiter, I want to see a CV that shows me the applicant is willing to do the work to improve themselves. If they’re up for doing that, then I’m keen to see what they can do for me as an employer.

Q2 Why don’t most people look at past work instead of asking problem solving questions in testing interviews?

I can’t speak for most people, but the rule of thumb I tend to see used is - trust, but verify.
It’s awesome if you have a good git repo. I love to see what people have done. I also want to know that it was them that did it and that their skills and thinking are current. Being asked technical questions in an interview isn’t a slight upon your character, it is an opportunity to demonstrate your tech chops. I do agree that whiteboard exercises aren’t really reflective of what you’d do if you had an IDE and StackOverflow at your disposal, but hopefully the interviewers are looking at how you go about solving a given problem as much as your ability to flawlessly recall syntax in a given language.

Q3. Have you ever done pre-work for an interview?
I’ve done plenty of research into points of pain that a company is having prior to an interview and brought possible solutions to the interview room. I’ve not gone so far as to actually implement solutions to said problems. There are pros and cons to such an approach.

  • You necessarily have to make a number of assumptions about how things are and why they are that way. Maybe your solution is awesome and yet not a good fit for what they’re doing. It might be an interesting way to show off your skills, but it also
  • runs the risk of being a bit presumptuous. I think if you were going to go down this path, it would be better to take a collaborative approach and let the interviewer know.
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Taking Heather’s three questions:

Q1. Why should CV be “Inspiring”? : my CV is about promoting me as a person; its emphasis is dependant on the role I’m applying for. The opening summary hits the reader with ten bullet points of key achievements, and that’s where I aimed to make an impact, not only with testing experience but also with my all-round abilities. It’s my opportunity to show what makes me different from other candidates and what makes me worth talking to at the next stage of the selection process. There’s little about my career path that’s “standard”; my CV is the chance to highlight that.

Q2. Why most of the people don’t look at your past work … instead of asking problem solving question in testing interview: in my case, they had to, because it was my past work that was my main attribute. But that was the point of the CV summary. Someone picking up my CV would see pretty quickly that they couldn’t ask about coding; perhaps the reason why I didn’t get asked problem-solving questions in the way you’re suggesting is that those jobs where such questions would have been asked were ones where I didn’t make it past first sift.

There was one exception to this. During my job search in the second half of 2016, one employer specified that I would need to show some knowledge of C#, which I had no experience in (my coding pretty much ended with PL/1 and BASIC - back before it was even Visual!) but they liked the rest of my CV so much (or the agency did such a good job of selling me) that they were willing to cut me a bit of slack at interview. But then again, that wasn’t a wholly conventional software testing job; the role involved designing, coding and then implementing test hardware for deployment into testing situations in the real world, and I was a bit surprised that they kept on saying that they wanted to see me despite knowing that I had never done anything like that in my entire career! Still, I didn’t get the job…

Q3. Have you ever done ‘pre-work’ for an interview? : Every time. Learning C# apart (see Q.2), for every job I did as much research on the company as I could, to try to get a lead on market, products and issues. On at least three occasions, I did that in so much depth that I think it actually frightened the employer off - “this guy knows our business better than we do”! In one case, being interviewed by a test manager more than half my age, I got the impression in the interview that he saw me taking his job inside a year; naturally, I didn’t get that job. It doesn’t always work; one interview I had was with a company who were recruiting a test lead for a project that was actually way outside their core business, and I’m rather pleased I didn’t get it.

These strategies paid off in the end. Last year, I was out of work for nearly six months; in that time, I applied for over 120 jobs (at that point, I gave up counting) and the CV got me in through the front door for 16 interviews (plus one pending that I cancelled when I accepted my current role). My career path has been fairly non-standard (though that seems to be the case for most testers of my vintage), and in that case the CV had to show off my Unique Selling Points. The 100-odd jobs where my CV didn’t get me in through the door were probably ones where I wouldn’t have been a good fit or happy in the role if I had somehow landed it; I don’t see those as CV “failures”, rather as cases where the CV did its job in excluding me from unsuitable roles.