Tips for interviewing testers

A discussion I see come up frequently on Slack but not yet on here is one about interviewing experiences. Many of us have been at a stage in our careers where we have had to interview testers. Most of us will have no experience of interviewing people before.

Some posts here talk about technical tests for testers and practical interview tests.

I was wondering if any of you had any more tips and suggestions for interviewing testers? Do you have a go to set of questions? How do you prepare to interview someone? How does your approach differ depending on the level you are hiring the tester at (e.g. junior, mid level, etc)?


I always enjoy using an ice breaker/fluff question during interviews at all levels, especially if I my time with the candidate is toward the end of a long day of interviews (for them). When evaluating people for my team, I take the opportunity to gage their responses to an unexpected question.
My current go-to is simply "Star Trek or Star Wars?"
Why this question?

  • Just about everyone has an opinion on this.
  • There is no wrong answer.
  • Because the questions is sufficiently vague, I can evaluate the candidate’s ease at asking follow-up questions… TOS? TNG? Or can we ignore ep 1-3?
  • I can evaluate the candidate’s ability to provide a detailed answers, either organically or with mild prompting.

And if they say “What?” or “I don’t watch that cr*p!” you know they’re not going to be a good fit for your team :wink:

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I’ve never watched either of them intently. Not that I actively avoided them. Should I get on to watching one if I want to work with you? :stuck_out_tongue:

And this discourse is why I love the question!
Your responses are edge cases in an interview. Flipping it back to me as a challenge demonstrates that you are comfortable asking questions in the moment.
@heather_reid - Star Trek might auto-advance you to the second round of interviews - it’s about team work and investigation. Star Wars is a fantastic example of a hero’s journey… cool but canon. Just to be clear, this is all in fun. I appreciate both and have never discriminated against the Force.


I love it :grin: I haven’t watched them but I’d probably come back with “I never got why the episode order went backwards for Star Wars” and I’ve always had to investigate the episode order when someone mentions it!

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Similarly to @emily.waddy I prefer to use an ice breaker question. Mine is:
“What is the best bug you’ve ever found?”

I love this question because:

  • Everyone has an answer to it and it’s not quite as nerdy as “Enterprise or Millenium Falcon” :wink:
  • I can see how passionate the candidate is about testing and quality - if telling the story of the best bug doesn’t trigger emotions in the candidate that can be a warning sign
  • I can see how well the candidate can explain/talk about bugs. The better I can follow the story the better a developer will be able to do the same…
  • It allows for follow up questions, e.g. “How did you discover the bug?”

My response would be to reply “Babylon 5”. Which I suspect would either result in my being shown the door or told “No further questions - the job’s yours.” :blush:

We live for the One, we die for the One.


I’ve been asked to be involved in some interviews for a test automation position that’s only being offered internally. I’ve never been in an internal interview before (on either side), plus the company is small so i know everyone fairly well who will be applying, so I’m fairly nervous about this. What are some things i can do/ask/etc to avoid angering off the people who won’t get the position? How would you approach an internal interview differently than an external hire?

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In my experience (having been on both sides of that particular table), it’s actually easier if most or all of your applicants are from inside the company, as everyone knows that not everyone can get the job. And the candidates will have an opinion about the relative merits of their rivals. It’s actually harder when there is a mix of internal and external candidates (especially if the job goes to an external candidate) because it’s harder for the unsuccessful candidates to appreciate why the successful candidate landed the job.

You can’t really control how someone is going to react to not being hired and some degree of disappointment is natural. I don’t approach internal interviews significantly differently from external ones. You might be able to skip over some of the skills testing if you’ve directly observed said skills, but internal candidates should expect to have to make their own case for the position. Setting that expectation is important.

Be matter-of-fact and up-front about your hiring criteria and whether the candidate is internal or external, offer feedback on improvements the candidate could make in relation to this position. If there is an objective third party you can bring in with enough knowledge to have an informed opinion, consider doing so. Not only will you have another point of view to help decision making, but it will be more difficult for internal candidates to accuse you of playing favourites.

Lastly, there’s a certain level of professionalism expected of folks in the workplace. If someone pisses and moans because they didn’t get the gig, that lack of maturity is a data point that you can refer back to them (once they’ve had a chance to cool off and process).


Ben’s absolutely right when he says "Be matter-of-fact and up-front about your hiring criteria ". The role I held for fifteen years cam to an end partly because the (non-testing) job I applied for as internal candidate went to an external appointee and in the feedback session it was made quite clear to me that the external candidate was who the managers had set their heart on, and I was a candidate entirely out of the left field. (It was also partly symptomatic of how testing and data management was viewed in the organisation.) So be careful how honest you are in giving feedback!

Interview questions i got from 4-5 separate interviews:

-Write out how you’d select a record from a table in Sql
-What’s the difference between an inner/outer/left/right join in detail
-What’s the difference between delete, truncate, and drop in SQL
-Tell me what happens in the background when I go to a website
-What are the HTTP status codes (100, 200 etc), what do they mean
-What is the difference between REST/SOAP
-What is oAUTH
-Look at this stacktrace and tell me what it says
-How would you test a logon page
-How would you test a survey pop up
-How would you test a coffee cup
-How do you test a banking spreadsheet
-How do you test a graph on the UI. How do you know the values of the bar chart/pie graph are correct?
-Look at this code sample and translate it to English
-What’s a collection/generic/interface in Java
-What’s autoboxing in Java
-What’s the difference between pl/sql and mysql
-What’s the difference between front end and back end
-Read these user requirements and tell me what information you need that isn’t in the requirements

  • How would you create a WSDL file?
  • Describe how you’ve automated API testing
    -Diagram the infrastructure of what you were working on last including back end, use the whiteboard
  • What information do you put in a bug report
  • What’s the difference between severity and priority. What’s an example of a low severity but high priority bug
  • Can you test everything? Why not? Can you automate everything? Why not?
  • How does DCHP work? How does DNS work?
  • How do you handle cultural differences?
  • How do you approach creating a test plan
  • How do you know what to test
  • How do you know when to stop testing
  • Give me an example of an interesting/difficult bug or a bug you’re proud of finding
  • How do you get information when there are few/no requirements
  • How did you get into testing, why did you choose this career
  • How do you convince a developer a bug is worth looking at
  • How would you create a linux bash script, use a for loop. General bash scripting questions
  • General linux questions (how do you find hidden files, what do you type to look at a log while it’s running)
  • How do you select fields from two SQL tables with similar information without duplication
  • What do you look for in a project manager
  • What’s the difference between XPath and CSS? Which one do you prefer and why
  • How do you look for a string in a locator that has " " ?
  • What are the tabs in chrome developer tools and how are each used
  • How do you test mobile devices?
  • What do you use for cross browser testing? How do you find out what browsers your users are using
  • What are the types of testing (regression, integration etc etc)
  • How do you test inputs into a search engine box with and without quotes using selenium
    -Whats the difference between http and https
    -What are your favorite testing tools that you use while running manual tests
  • Questions about lean/six sigma/blackbelt.
    -How do you determine project risk, bug risk? How do you write an RCA?
    -Use regular expressions in an example

Rather than jumping straight in with questions specifically about the role I focus on ice breaking and trying to discover if their values fit with ours. One of my techniques is a little unusual for doing this, I ask them to “build me something out of lego that represents what they will do for the company”. I leave for 10 minutes and then let them explain their construction. It gives great insights that start further conversations and often leads into the role questions


This is a new one, and for that you have my attention!

Let’s just say, as an example, that I didn’t build anything and explained that I’d spend my time on self improvement, process improvement and good software testing and my lack of lego construction represents my dedication to clear communication not constrained by plastic brick construction and a free spirit that finds the right thing to do in a way that’s supported by my skills and goals, despite instruction to the contrary.

Would that count against me as an insult to the interview process, or for me because it is technically following the rules of the interview process and it shows how awesome I am? If it’d be better for the question we can pretend that it’s not me being interviewed.

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Your example wouldn’t count against you as I’m interested in the explanation and what that reveals. Your explanation gives lots of starting points for discussions.

I use the lego to get people to think differently about “What would you do for the company” question. If I was just asking for a verbal answer to that question they nearly all end up being the same answer as everyone is coached for interviews in a similar way.

In your example, I might question why the lego was constraining and counter with how the Lego helps people think differently. The only outright fail to the Lego is walking out of the interview and that has happened once in the last year


That’s quite neat, I like it. My worry was that it wouldn’t accommodate a certain brand of pragmatism, but if it raises the subject of pragmatism then it’s already done its job.

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I can see where you were coming from. In the wrong hands or incorrectly applied it could be bad, but this is the general situation for any interviewing techniques.

I was exposed to the idea at The Ideas Centre in London and applied my values to assessing it. They regularly run free workshops on releasing creativity and I’ve made it part of my own professional development.

It’s been a long time since I last interviewed testers. But if I were to do so, I’d like to ask questions on how they learn or equip themselves. If they just rely on classroom training or company-provided training, then maybe that’s a bit of a red flag. Considering there are so many resources out there where one can teach themselves. Or maybe I’d ask how would they test something if they’re not provided specs. Essentially, I want to get an idea of how self-sufficient / independent this person works. I’d want a team player in my team who pulls his/her own weight without needing to be spoonfed.

I used to have a favourite scenario that I used to ask testers:

Scenario 1: It’s Friday afternoon and a product owner comes to you, a little stressed and askes. I know it’s Friday afternoon and there is only 4 hours left of the week, but we have had this change that we have done for a customer and you are the only one that knows the product. Could you have a look at it and give me your feeling for it before we give it to the customer this weekend?
Scenario 2: Same person, same product, same change but instead of Friday afternoon you get it Monday morning and instead of 4 hours you have the entire week.

If and how is the 4 hours in the Friday afternoon different from the first 4 hours on Monday morning?

What I am looking for is how you view your job as a tester, there are no right or wrong here.

Another scenario is:
Simple web app with web page with an input field, backend with database where the value is persisted. Identify all the boundaries for this scenario.

This being said, one of my favourite recruitment moments was where we had a test application that had 28 known errors in it and you were to test it. One of the applicants said, I won’t do that. I’m here to do performance testing, this is not relevant to me. He was hired!

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