Interviewing as Exploratory Testing

I’ve been doing a bit of interviewing lately for additions to our team. This is how I model the interview.

I think of the interview as an exploratory test session (or series of test sessions depending on your interview model) and each question as a test idea to explore. Testers should be really good at interviewing because they’re skilled and practiced at predicting failure and testing for it. This is what I’m trying to do in an interview.

I’m learning and adapting as I proceed through the interview, coming up with new ideas for interview questions for the candidate based on what I’ve learned from the previous interactions. For example:

We may be running a hands on test exercise to explore knowledge around performance testing, then the candidate may mention something about the code in one of the responses that alerts me to a new “feature” of the candidate to explore. Perhaps I find out they know something about the technologies used in the application they’re testing, this prompts me to find out how much they know about the technologies involved and perhaps their experience with white box testing. Or perhaps they reveal to me in their response some very egregious assumptions and we explore that line of thinking to find out if there is maybe some one-off reasonable explanation for this or if it’s more likely a larger threat to the value they can provide.

The point of the interview is to expose value and any critical risks in the candidate that would either cause us to go with another candidate, or at least go into the hiring process with open eyes: understanding what we’re getting into with regards to expectations we can reasonably have of the candidate, what we’d be willing to pay for the candidate and feel satisfied we’re getting a solid ROI, how much and what kind of training the candidate will require, etc…

Just like a test session, I am well-served by having a clear idea of my chartered objective, ensuring the team understands it (if it’s a group interview), and debriefing afterwards with the interview team or hiring manager so we can decide if we met the objective and how much further interviewing needs to be done.

So, if you’re just reading off a list of canned questions, you’re really missing out on a great opportunity to dynamically explore the risks and values your candidate presents.


About David Slick

Agile software QA and delivery manager, trying to learn all I can, think critically, and build great software. View all posts by David Slick

4 responses to “Interviewing as Exploratory Testing

  • Vernon Richards

    So as with testing, how do you deal with things like, coverage, staying on charter vs going off charter, do you view the interviewee as a stakeholder, maybe the “system” (read interviewee!) isn’t in a “good” state to be tested? Stuff like that.

    Also since I’ve rarely been on your side of the table, I wonder if it would help for the person being interviews to view it as an exploratory exercise too? I’m thinking it probably would.

    • Trevor Wolter

      This is a really interesting way to conceptualize interviewing. I had never thought of it this way before but the model fits with what I consider to be a good interview: one that is conversational and not just a strict question and answer session.

      So Vernon, to your questions, this is how I would reply:
      Coverage – you have your standard set of questions/topics to explore but you allow the conversation to drive the interview. In other words you have the list to make sure you ask the things you want to ask but you don’t ignore other important questions as they come up.
      Going off charter – yes the conversation can deviate and that’s a good thing because it can expose useful information but just as in testing software, it’s a judgement call if and when to redirect the coversation. Is the tangent relevant to the purpose of the interview? Is it something to take note of and come back to later?
      The stakeholder – I would say that both the intereviewer and the interviewee are stakeholders in their own right: The interviewer needs to make sure that the interviewee is the right fit for the company meanwhile the interviewee needs to make sure the compnay is a good fit for him.
      System ready for testing – If the intereviewee is not in a state to be tested, the interview should end immediately because that’s the whole point. Interviewing is expensive and it’s disingenous to continue an interview where it’s apparent that it won’t result in progress forward.

      • David Slick

        Good questions Vernon, and I agree with all of your responses Trevor. Appreciate the thoughts.

        As far as the interviewee’s perception, I believe this is also a useful tool for them. If you are able to charter and drive the interview with your questions/comments, actively learn what the company/interviewer are looking for and respond with revelations from your experience that demonstrate your abilities and your fit for the company, as an interviewer, I would be very impressed. This also puts you in more control of the interview but in a positive way. The interviewer is getting what they need without having to pull it out of you. This can be especially helpful if there are inexperienced interviewers on your panel.

        With respect to the “system ready for testing” comment. This is a delicate balance. You want to optimize your time in productive analysis of the candidate (or of the company if you’re the interviewee) but at the same time make sure that you’re spending enough time to get a good lay of the land. It’s important you don’t make a premature judgment.

  • Five Blogs – 13 April 2012 « 5blogs

    […] Interviewing as Exploratory Testing Written by: David Slick […]

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