Professional software testers need job-hunting advice, just like anybody else. The key takeaway from recruiters? Customize your résumé — and witch the typos!
Job hunting is no fun, whether you’re a beginner in software quality assurance or you have been doing it for decades. Whatever your experience level, however, the first step in finding a new position is to create a résumé – a prospect that intimidates everyone. What do you say? How do you say it? How can you get it past the gatekeepers?
We stormed the barricades for you to find out directly from IT recruiters what it takes to succeed. Here’s their advice – both general and specific – for getting your résumé into the hands of a QA hiring manager.
The key takeaway: “It’s important to tailor your résumé to the prospective employer,” advises Adam Bennett, a director of permanent placement services for Robert Half Technology. “It doesn’t take as much time as you might think, but can make or break your chances of landing an interview.”
Don’t mass apply with the same résumé. That may go against the advice of well-meaning family and friends, and it certainly takes more time than a copy-and-paste. But think about it: Nobody is qualified for hundreds of professional jobs. You’re not one-size-fits-all. Your work history isn’t one-size-fits-all. You’ve got particular skills and particular experience; they fit very well for certain jobs but don’t sync at all with others.
Create a generic résumé, for starters. But then target your search and customize it for every job you apply for. What’s important, says Michael Fitzgerald of the Arizona office of Vincent Benjamin, isn’t to include everything you’ve done, but to create a narrative that shows a career trajectory. “If you want to be a QA, you shouldn’t be listing your food service industry experience.” Instead of the résumé telling the story of “who you are,” he says, trace how you’ve always been the person you want to be.
Let’s start with the basics, before we decorate them with the QA-specific examples. Depending on where you are in your career, some of this advice may be familiar. However, it’s worth reviewing, because résumé styles go in and out of fashion.
If you’re applying to a company directly, include your phone number and personal email address. However, if you’re entering your résumé into an online database, protect your privacy by deleting your phone number. You may want to consider creating a separate email address for job searches so you don’t risk having your personal address spammed.
If you’ve applied for work outside the U.S., you may have been taught it’s standard practice to include a photograph with a résumé. In North America, it’s just the opposite: Companies fear discrimination lawsuits. Leave out the photo! So that’s one less item to worry about.
Statement of objectives—no
It was once popular to include a “statement of objectives,” at the top of your résumé, but doing so is increasingly seen as redundant. Of course your objective is to advance in your field!
If you’re trying to branch out or change your career direction, make that case in a strong cover letter. A “statement of objectives” that says so only contradicts the rest of your résumé.
The Skills/keywords section functions as an abstract for your résumé. Included just after your contact information, it may be the single most important part of contemporary résumés. Human recruiters scan quickly, while computer algorithms seek out keywords.
Use an introductory phrase to quickly establish what you are (e.g. Quality Assurance expert with ten years of experience at Fortune 500 companies and successful start-ups), bullet points for details, and just plain keywords. Consider all the alternate terms used for the same things (such as “QA tester” versus “test engineer”) and do your best to weave each of them into the narrative.
Here are some of the most common QA keywords, according to Bennett: test automation, Jira, SQL, Java, scripting, database, user interface. Spell out quality assurance the first time you use it; you can write QA thereafter. Include all the computer languages you know and the tools that you’ve used, but leave off the “duh!” stuff such as Microsoft Office.
For every response, include bullet-point phrases that exactly match the specific requirements in each different ad. Rushed recruiters can miss that “QA manager at Microsoft 2012-2017” translates to “Must have experience leading QA teams at Fortune 100 company.”
Professional Experience—yes! 20 years—no
There are two schools of thought on how to present your experience: chronological and functional.
- The chronological résumé lists everything you’ve done starting with your current job and going backwards.
- The functional résumé lists your skills, with various jobs highlighting proof points.
For both types, use the specific job title you held, even if it isn’t quite what you did. The reason, explains Bennett, is when recruiters do background checks they check that title, and nobody wants to encounter a mismatch with the HR department. So if you were called Quality Administrator 3, use it on your résumé with a detailed explanation of what you actually did.
Functional résumés are useful if you’ve done a lot of contract work and want to make a professional narrative out of lots of one-off gigs; they are also good if you’ve alternated QA with other types of work and want to focus solely on QA. Hiring managers are fine with functional résumés if they just want to be reassured that you have the experience they’re seeking.
Chronological résumés are often easier for more traditional employers (and time-pressed recruiters) to understand. These résumés are essential if you’re applying for a job that may require a security clearance, because eventually you have to account for everything you’ve done in the last ten years. If 2010 is a little foggy, you may want to consider applying for a different position.
Whichever résumé type you choose, make sure to be detailed when discussing your QA accomplishments. “Any résumé that doesn’t give ‘scope or scale’ can be hard for managers to relate to,” says Fitzgerald.
If you’re an older applicant, you know the Catch 22 about the Experience section of a résumé. Everyone says that you should not go back more than ten years, but that can mean vital experience gets chopped off. What to do?
Fitzgerald pulls no punches. “Frankly, most technologies that we used prior to 2000 have been completely deprecated in production environments.” While some protocols and embedded tech might be an exception, those rarely are relevant to QA professionals. The result is that there are few older types of experience that would be relevant for QA testers to list. “If they wanted to put everything in there, or had a great ‘feather in their cap,’ it should go into a ‘skills’ or ‘keywords’ section,” he adds.
Bennett agrees. If you accomplished something major that is relevant to a particular position for which you are applying, he advises, “Consider saving anecdotes about any QA experience beyond the ten-year mark in your professional background for the interview.”
All they need to know is if you graduated. Not when. The exception is a certification that’s critical to keep updated.
Only include certifications that are relevant to the position. Hey, it’s great that you’re a certified nutrition coach, but it’s not going to get you a QA job.
Side projects and volunteer work
Include these only if they’re directly relevant to QA or if they sync with the company’s corporate culture. For example, if you know the company truly values sustainability, mention your time helping recycle old computer equipment. Otherwise, just stick to QA projects.
Style and substance
Things have changed – somewhat – since the days when the first step in applying for a job was a trip to Kinko’s.
Formatting and length
“Résumés are far more basic than people give them credit for,” says Fitzgerald. “Often they’re far too stylized when all they need to do is convey information.”
Even creative types dial it back when it comes to résumés. No fancy fonts. No crazy colors. Black ink, white background. San serif fonts such as Calibri or Century Gothic, 10-12 point, single-space, 1 to 1.5 inch margins. You can cheat a little to fit text in, but don’t crowd it.
Keep your résumé to no more than two pages. Recruiters judge you on whether you can convey information succinctly. You can stick additional details on LinkedIn.
“Just keep it simple,” says Fitzgerald. Need a checklist?
- What have you tested?
- How did you test it?
- What tools did you use?
- What programming languages have you worked with? Which testing methods?
- Can you create automated tests? Can you build ATF?
- Mention team size and product/project scope.
“If it doesn’t relate to what you tested, who you tested it for, how you tested, why that test was done, or what the impact of that test was, it likely isn’t that important,” Fitzgerald adds.
Use statements that are direct, simple, past tense, and don’t exaggerate. Ever. “Only list things you’ve actually worked with and can speak to,” cautions Fitzgerald. “Expect that a manager may ask you questions specifically about your experience with it – and if you say, ‘Well, I used it once,’ it goes on to discredit the rest of your résumé. You leave them wondering, what else is B.S. on here?”
Companies love ROI, so quantify. If there’s anywhere you can make a strong before/after case, do so. “No matter how impressive or extensive your skill set, employers want to understand how your expertise in QA will affect their bottom line,” says Bennett.
And please, no buzzwords! Assume the employer knows you’re a team-oriented self-starter who can multi-task.
Our minds interpolate missing information, which is why you should never, ever the only proofreader of your résumé. You (we hope) saw that the word “be” was missing from the previous sentence. Have several other people read your résumé before you send it out. Overwhelmed recruiters are looking for any reason to cull the pile, and if your typo gives them a good excuse, they’ll take it.
Bennett lays it on the line: “The best QA engineers are detail-oriented, and that should come through in your résumé.”
Best wishes for success to all of you!
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by Karen Heyman
Karen Heyman has created content for Fortune 500 corporations, as well as freelanced for publications from Electronic Engineering Times to Science.