Newbie and interview conundrum


(Andrew) #1

Afternoon all,

New to posting but have been a reader for a while.

I’ve got a bit of an odd question, I’ve got an impending interview for a new role and have been told that the interviewer would like to see documentation / diagrams of what I’ve been working on which I’ll have to talk through.

Now I’ve had a few interviews recently, none of which have asked me for such things. I’m reluctant to do this, mainly because although the company I’m interviewing for isn’t a competitor to my current company, I don’t feel comfortable sharing such information, surely there’s a data protection issue/IP isue here.

What are your opinions?


(David Shute) #2

I would decline to do so for exactly the reasons you’ve cited. Did you sign a non-disclosure at your current company? If so, that would preclude you from doing so and I wouldn’t find it at all unreasonable for an interviewee to say so. That said, I consider the request to be inappropriate from the outset, so it’s safe to say they may have a different response than I would.


(George) #3

The IP issue is an important point. On the other hand, if you have the choice of what to present at the interview, you might select something appropriate but not sensitive. Perhaps there’s some work you’re proud of that you’d like to show. Does it have to be an actual work product? Or could it be representative of your skills?


(Robert) #4

There’s a whole can of worms here just waiting to burst open!

Under what circumstances are you looking for a new role? Does your present employer know? If you’re just looking to move on, almost certainly anything you’ve done in your current role would be subject to broader issues of commercial confidentiality, whether you’ve signed a non-disclosure agreement or not. Safeguarding a company’s intellectual property is almost certainly what is called an “implied term” of your contract - that is, any reasonable person would expect you to keep your employer’s business confidential, even if it isn’t explicitly written into your contract of employment. (And if you are currently in the Civil Service, even circulating a spreadsheet you’ve done for the office tea rota would come under the category of “information gained in the course of your official duties” [i.e. making tea for colleagues] and therefore would fall under the provisions of Section 1 of the Official Secrets Act 1911! :grinning:)

OTOH, if you are being made redundant, then although you still have a reasonable obligation to safeguard your employer’s business and intellectual property, they in turn would have a reasonable obligation to help you find work. I know when I was made redundant a couple of years ago, my managers would probably have provided the necessary documentation themselves and happily facilitated my running stuff off on the A0 plotter if it would have helped (especially as the reason for the redundancy was that the projects I was working on had all had the plugs pulled on them because the company’s owners had decided to buy apps off-the-shelf rather than continue to develop in-house. On those grounds, a continued insistence by the company on its commercial confidentiality would be considered most unreasonable).


(Chris) #5

Nope, don’t do it. What you could do is tell them that you’re willing to create sanitised or brand new versions of documentation/diagrams for a different system which you can talk through. I can’t imaging an employee revealing the company tech stack or server architecture or even a code diagram to another company without severe repercussions. I’m shocked that they’ve asked, but maybe it’s a way to get free corporate spies. If you don’t flat out refuse the request I strongly suggest talking to your employer to come up with a set of artefacts that they are happy for you to share. I’m sure you’ve signed a few infosec documents and your contract which probably means you’re contractually obliged to keep documents internal. Even if you didn’t it’s awfully bad form to leak company information.

It sometimes happens that people ask for weird things. I declined an interview once because after my application and before my interview they asked me to fill in a form granting them access to my private medical records. I pointed this out to my recruitment agency, and that it was illegal to ask for them, and she said “if it were illegal they wouldn’t be allowed to do it”. This is the world we share.


(Simon) #6

Chris,

Is it illegal to ask for them? I thought they could ask but you didn’t have to consent (just been doing a bit of reading up on the access to medical records as is the kind of thing I keep an eye on since I have epilepsy). I think it matters what they want the information for, and I think the law has some specific purposes they can request access for - but I think the overall desicion stays with you. I wonder if its illegal to ask for them and turn you down for an interview on the sole grounds of your refusing access?


(Robert) #7

Simon,

For the instruction of others (because I’m sure you’ve seen this already), the relevant bits of the Access to Medical Reports Act 1988 say that an employer (or prospective employer) may reasonably ask for medical records:

  • for a pre-employment check where health or physical ability is a relevant factor for the job;
  • as a prerequisite for membership of an employer’s health insurance scheme; or
  • to assess whether an employee is suffering from a physical or mental impairment which might constitute a disability for the purposes of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) and/or to determine whether any reasonable adjustments that might assist them to carry out their job are required under the DDA. (Other circumstances are also legal but are not relevant to this discussion.)

If the first of those applies and you refuse access, then that would probably be legal, though you could argue that they should say why they wanted to see your records. If health or physical fitness is not a relevant requirement for the job, the employer has no right to access your records and turning you down on those grounds would probably be illegal (but just you try enforcing it…)

It may be that their HR team and the IT team haven’t spoken recently about issues surrounding IT and epilepsy. (I once had a close friend with epilepsy, so I know some of the issues.) In the days when monitors were CRTs with slow refresh rates, people with photo-sensitive epilepsy sometimes had problems working in IT, though there wasn’t a 100% correlation between exposure to VDUs and likelihood of seizures. Now, of course, LCD monitors don’t have the same issues - but I wonder if the company’s HR team are up to date on that? (You will probably know the answer to that far better than me.) Since you’re on this forum and applying for IT jobs, I assume you have no problems in that direction; but do all employers know that? Are they aware of the implications of the issue? Just plain turning you down for interview on the grounds of your epilepsy is without doubt a breach of the DDA.

Having access to medical records to assess possible adjustments required for a new starter under the DDA is a wholly laudable reason to ask. Some employers may ask to establish if any adjustments are needed for interview, though frankly that’s a bit of intrusive overkill when the simplest thing to do is just ask the candidate. Of course, then rejecting your candidature on the grounds of disability is in breach of the DDA; again, you try enforcing it, especially as they won’t actually tell you the real reason for your not getting the job unless they’re monumentally stupid (and you’d be surprised how many employers are monumentally stupid when it comes to this sort of thing).

I speak with the benefit of twenty years’ experience as a trade union representative in a (small) Government department. I don’t recollect ever having to argue over anyone’s disability; that one at least my employers signed up to; they could hardly break laws that the same Government actually passed, though you’d be surprised how often they tried (mainly through ignorance).


(Chris) #8

It’s important that I was asked for medical records before a job offer, or even an interview. I didn’t know if I was going to want to work for them. It was for a permanent software testing job, on site. My research indicated that I couldn’t be asked for access to my medical records without both a job offer and a good reason.

It should be noted, in due reverence and with intent of focus and understanding, that I am not a solicitor, and I didn’t press the legality of the matter; only that it was breathtakingly offensive and presumptuous. I mentioned that it may be illegal based on my gov website research, but I couldn’t quote you the section of law. I pay other people to know that sort of thing.


(Kate) #9

On the US side of the pond, it is illegal to ask about anything related to disability, age, family (such as leading questions to a woman about having babies or whether the person is likely to need to take time off to look after sick family members), religion. The last I heard, in some states they’re adding criminal records to the list of things that employers can’t ask about.

Since I’ve got narcolepsy I’m pretty careful about such things (thankfully I live in a state that doesn’t ban me from driving because of the narcolepsy - but it does reserve the right to require medical certification to allow me a drivers license if I ever have an accident), and try to keep on top of what’s required as it relates to me.


(Simon) #10

I’ve been lucky with my employers over here. Through the years they’ve all been supportive, and the only time I’ve really encountered a problem is in one interview. I’m always upfront about my health condition and in this instance the lack of driving licence was thrown back as the reason for terminating the interview process, despite the person specification not mentioning this at all.


(Cassandra) #11

It’s really interesting to read the responses here, as I seem to have taken the request “to see documentation / diagrams of what I’ve been working on” in a completely different way from everyone else here.

On reading the original post, I didn’t even consider that it might involve revealing specific details of a current employer / project. Instead, I took it as a question about learning and development:

  • What kind of system(s) are you currently testing? (web, API, mobile, database, etc.)
  • What skills are you working on developing or improving? (SBTM, writing automation, using proxy tools, monitoring, etc.)
  • What else are you involved in? (test strategy, quality coaching, running workshops, documenting processes, etc.)
  • What do you outside the office? (write blogs, give talks, run meet ups, mentor other testers, etc.)
  • What do you have planned for your learning and development? (a list of books, courses, videos, etc. on your learning to do list)

None of that has to involve revealing any specific details about employers or projects.

Given my interpretation of the question / request, I see nothing wrong with it, apart from its apparent ambiguity.

@roosh, I’m now super interested to learn if you proceeded with the interview, and what they were actually meaning to ask! Please let us know.


(Brian) #12

If this is the context, I would then have a bit of advice which has helped me in interviewing for work.

Over the years, I have created a notebook of “interesting things”. I intended for these things to be a quick-reference for myself for helping my testing activities, and I use them in much the same way as I would use a test-sphere deck if I had one.

In the book are outlines, models and details about activities which I use in testing. So a page could be FEW HICCUPPS, the next could be a list of roles which I, as a tester, could fill. The next page could be a model of which tools I can use for different levels of testing (i.e. as an IoT tester, I describe the tools I need to test the thing, the tools I need to test the communications, the tools I need to test the user interface (both on the thing itself and on the app which interacts with the thing). All of the content of this notebook is general, and shows nothing of the specific systems I have tested.

When I first started this notebook, I took it to an interview. The interviewers questioned me on a topic where I had a detailed model in my book, and I let them see it. This not only answered their question, but moved the conversation to “What else is in my book?”

Since then, a large portion of the book has been dedicated to “Things which I do which may be interesting, but do not fit in every cover-letter or CV”. I take the book to all of my interviews now.


(Robert) #13

I think the OP was misled by the request to see “what you’ve been working on”. Cassandra and Brian’s interpretation represents a much more acceptable request.

It makes me think of my brother-in-law, who was a teacher in art and design. He was invited to interview for a job he really wanted badly, and which was some considerable distance from his home. So he went in and took over the interview, setting up a presentation on the work his students had been doing and illustrating his teaching techniques and philosophy.

This was long before the social media era - or even the IT era! - so a presentation with graphics and pictures was unusual in itself; that it allowed him to show his fairly unique design vision clinched the deal. Of course, nothing he was doing was commercially confidential, and there might be all sorts of guardianship issues and personal information implications that you’d have to be careful of nowadays, but showcasing something that is your unique selling feature, anonymised for any confidentiality issues, should fit this particular bill.


(Dan) #14

I must admit, I saw the request the same way as @cassandrahl .

I’ve asked people in an interview to draw some models. I don’t want to see specific info from your work. I want you to draw or map how you test. I want to visually see how you think, and what you think of certain things (e.g., I might ask a candidate: “where does testing fit in Agile?” And pass them a whiteboard marker…

You can definitely model and diagram your thoughts on testing in general without giving any of your current company’s info away.

That’s how I would respond if it was me being asked by an interviewer too. That’s much more applicable and it also indicates that you are able to think of different perspectives regarding the request too.


(Andrew) #15

Hi all, back again to follow up.

I won’t go into to much detail, but I didn’t get the impression, from what I was asked that they were looking for learning and development. Yes, I was asked to show what I had worked on, but seeing as I was asked for some odd examples and that most of my work is back end and deals with confidential data, I was concerned.

What I did take was a case study of a project I had worked on, explained what I did, the context behind the project and some documentation which I used to create my tests…

The day of the interview I get an email from the agent, asking for examples of automation work I’d done…which I was less than pleased about given I’d been off the week before and was quite busy catching up.

All in all I thought the interview went really well…nun till I got the call from the agent… They really liked me, but wanted more experience… (In my option more than was in the job spec)

Oh well, try again.
Roo


(Robert) #16

Tough. But when I was looking for work a couple of years back, it was surprising how many potential employers didn’t seem to have a good idea of what they wanted, or even contradicted their own job descriptions when giving reasons for turning me down. Some interesting conversations with agencies followed. “They said you’d make a pretty good UAT tester but that’s not what they’re looking for right now.” “Well, that’s odd because that was what they spent most of the interview talking about…” :thinking:

Better luck next time!


(Mary) #17

Another way to get around the data privacy issue is to present any non-project specific documentation you have written, such as procedural or training documentation. At one company I worked for, I, along with two other people wrote up documentation for how to use the system from the 50,000 foot perspective. It mostly included instruction on basic types of SQL queries that would be used for accessing data from the database, TOAD (the query tool we used) setup, high level system processing, etc.


(Andrew) #18

Thanks all for the replies, some good insight and some people saying to do what I did in the end which is good.

I was wondering though, how many of you are/have been part of the process of hiring new testers, and if so, would it be something that you would request of interviewees? I’ve been part of the recruitment process in my current job and in previous jobs and It hasn’t been required at all. In fact, the only times I have had to produce examples of my work was when I was interviewing for roles in the creative media industry (before I fell into testing!), which I guess is a given.

Recruitment is a funny old game… I could tell you some stories about my pursuit of employment, but those are for another day!


(George) #19

Yes, I have hired testers, for a large company that would not want the obvious legal liability. Besides, requiring a work product presentation shouldn’t be needed. I never saw it done in 25 years there, despite lots of variation in the interview process.
Instead, after describing our work and needs, I would ask the candidate to describe a previous test task, or two, that illustrated relevant skills. It was the candidate’s choice (see my Jun 7 reply above). Not only did the description provide insight into the tester’s skills, the choice itself indicated what the candidate thought we needed, what sort of challenge could be addressed, etc. The conversation could be informative for both of us, without the formality of a presentation, or the risk of sharing proprietary information.