The Quality Assurance Job Description Demystified
That a clear and accurate quality assurance job description is hard to find is really no wonder. If pressed, most people wouldn’t be able to write a job description for the position that they hold themselves. What they can do is make a list of duties and responsibilities that they would like someone else to deal with. It’s the “here-is-all-the-stuff-I-don’t-want-or-know-how-to-do” job description.
Why am I bothering to be critical of the Quality Assurance Job Description? Because I have extensive experience being the person on the wrong end of…”if they only knew what they wanted.”
The subject is Quality Assurance. How can an applicant be expected to assure quality when they are actually interviewing to soothe nerves, massage egos, or do the Hokey-Pokey? If you want your product to be “quality” then that should be the focus of your quality assurance job description.
It seems to me that writing a quality assurance job description really should not be all that complicated, but alas, I am apparently in the minority. QA job descriptions range from cryptic to non-informative to just plain dangerous.
The titles lack uniformity which can cause confusion for the job seeker. The skill sets listed vary greatly; from very niche-specific software experience (regardless of whether or not it meets the needs of the job) to being able to write code (which should never be a main QA job); from establishing testing criteria (although no one at the company understands why that is a benefit) to language fluency so that you can be the “QA Manager” and direct an offshore team (whether or not you know anything about testing).
There are many pitfalls for a prospective applicant to navigate. I have stumbled into many of them myself and if you are interested in one of the many Quality Assurance Careers, you will too…time and again, I’m afraid.
Here I endeavor to bring some clarity to an otherwise murky subject. I hope that I can help you as you look for your first (or next) QA job. You will undoubtedly need to read a quality assurance job description or two to get there. I wish you luck as well as, hopefully, some perspective.
First we need to understand who is writing the quality assurance job description for a company. More and more, this task is being handled (or at least finalized) by Human Resources. As wonderful as any HR department is, they have no more insight into effective QA requires than anyone else outside of the Quality Assurance department.
Beginning from a perspective of “QA means testing” (after someone has written imperfect code), and believing that testing will fix bugs in the code, most people outside of Quality Assurance just don’t know what QA does or how they do it. This is often the genesis of some whacky job ads.
Even when they do gain some insight into Quality Assurance Methodologies and Processes, it is all too easy to fall prey to listing only easily measurable criteria. Many a quality assurance job description is too focused on the specific “technical” skills necessary for the position.
(Each of these is from an actual quality assurance job description)
It is much easier to state:
Than it is to try and quantify:
And thus, specific technical skills appear to be the most accurate part of the quality assurance job description. But beware! Often these listed technical skills are a wish list, and an inaccurate one at that.
When the question of “what skills do we need on our QA team?” arises, many answers are given. Each team member has an opinion, the engineering team has an opinion (or several), the product managers have an opinion, management has an opinion, and the list goes on.
When the person tasked with creating the job description finally attempts to reconcile all the noise thrown at them, the “specific” technical skills appear to be their salvation. They can ask for specific numbers of years and names of programs…all they have to do is put them together.
This may be what the QA team really needs and it may not. It may be a prime listed requirement in the QA job posting, but when you interview you might find that no one you interview with really cares about that skill.
Use the technical skills as a guide; are you even close? Are you familiar with any of the technology listed? You should be, but you should remember to ask about specifics regarding these skills when communicating with the poster about the job; Do they know what they want?
Also watch out for technical skill listings that you know won’t be necessary in a short time on the job. If you are the expert in Silk, or Loadrunner, or Java, or Perl and the tasks listed in the job description can be completed in a very short time, then what will your position be when you have accomplished the listed tasks? Not every quality assurance job description will list the specific goal for each role, but some do. If you are the expert, judge the listing like an expert.
Then they add the intangible qualifications:
Those are all fine and dandy, but what use do they serve in a quality assurance job description? Any of the intangibles listed above can be faked in most interviews. I have seen it done. “Why yes, I am quite enthusiastic!! I love technology and have ‘get-it-done’ attitude!” All sounds great in the interview…but how does this candidate actually provide value?
I suppose those intangibles are better than listing:
But really, do they get you a “better” applicant? If you saw a job description for a tester that included “self motivated and takes pride in work” would that keep you from applying for the position? I hope not.
What I am saying is that there are useful items in a quality assurance job description and there are throw-aways. You must pay attention as you read the listing to what the job really will entail. What are they really trying to tell you they are asking for?
And just because they always make me shake my head when I read a quality assurance job description, here are what I call the “are-you-serious?-qualifications”.
When you come across any sort of these absurd entries, send them to us. If they make me laugh as well, I’ll add them to the list (be sure to include your humorous thoughts when you send it).
Ok, more on the mystical quality assurance job description…
One section to be aware (and wary) of is the Responsibilities. Not always broken into its own section, you may have to sift through the whole posting to pick these out – but make sure you do so. This is where they will hide the “stuff-I-don’t-want-to-deal-with” list.
Watch out for line items that make you responsible and accountable, but over which you will have no control. This is not usually an evil trick. Most times what is desired is for whoever gets the position to actually succeed (often where the last person didn’t) – it’s just that you probably won’t be given the tools you’ll need.
Be aware of these entries. They are all too common. Dig them out and be sure to pursue a resolution that you are comfortable with if and when you interview; what variables will you be able to affect, what processes are already in place, what is and is not working right now? Get answers to these types of questions so that you have a clear understanding of whether or not you will have a chance to succeed.
Here are some real-world examples from actual quality assurance job descriptions. Do you see how not clarifying could set you up for failure?
If you have managed to navigate the quality assurance job description this far, here are a few more hints that you are reading a QA listing written by someone who just doesn’t get it. They probably mean well, but don’t understand what they are asking.
Be careful of listings that include these items, it shows that you are dealing with someone (or a company) that has no idea how to create long-term cost savings while improving quality. They want you to match their magic formula, and then produce the magic that their formula assures them you have – and in the ways that they understand. Good luck.
There are two potential challenges with meeting any of these requests. The first is that none of these requests is quantified. By how much are you to reduce cost, or shorten the test cycle? How are you to be judged as a champion for quality? These are glorious goals, but what is the reality?
The second challenge is that of implementation. If these things are so needed and do-able, then why aren’t they being done already? It is, of course, possible that the company does not have anyone as wonderful as you in place to meet these goals – that’s possible. If so, it should raise the question of “why not?”
Maybe they’re just finally getting around to it – again that’s possible. And maybe they have found you at just the right time – that’s great! But have you considered what you might be up against?
The company already has a way of doing things (obviously). What they want is for you to come in and change those established “systems”. Honestly, I think that is a very commendable request (mostly). But what is not taken into account is the resistance you may encounter.
In what painless ways are you going to reduce cost? Will everyone just trust you when you implement the new processes and procedures necessary to shorten the test cycle? It behooves you to get some answers to these types of job description entries when you are interviewing. Now is the time to unearth some of the nasty secrets that they didn’t post on the job board.
“Champion quality across the company…” has always just sounded ominous to me. This says to me that the company is already filled with enough people who either don’t understand, or don’t care enough about their product to make it better. Is there no one championing the cause of quality now?
Perhaps they just don’t know how to go about creating quality improvements themselves. Maybe they think that all it will take is someone to be the “bad guy” and tow the hard line – demanding improvement (not very inviting). Maybe quality hasn’t been a high enough priority before (DANGER!!).
In any of the scenarios above (however common), what you have is a company that has not seen fit to prioritize the quality of their own product over many other myriad tasks. Now they want someone else to come in and make it all better. Be careful, this may be like trying to teach pigs to sing.
Chances are in order to reduce cost, shorten the test cycle, and/or “champion” quality, there will be many and/or potentially severe changes necessary. This is usually difficult for people to adjust to. You are being brought in to wield the scalpel or chainsaw and make the changes.
It is common for people to not succeed in this task. Established, rewarded behavior can be very difficult to change (assuming the company actually wants to change). Your task is to fix quality by introducing more and better (and cheaper and quicker) testing.
“Won’t quality go up if we just test more?” is the common thought. Just sprinkle a little more testing in at the end and you get a better product, right? Wrong! Testing is a skill and a useful tool to enable an increase in quality. But unless you “bake-in” quality from the start, you are spending more, getting less, and cannot understand why your product can’t make the kind of improvements you want.
Being the “champion” will mean that you have to convince people that there is a better way to use their time – this is always greeted with great joy and fanfare, isn’t it? You get to show people that they are not using their time as effectively as possible – everyone takes this critique with open arms right?
Seriously, I am not trying to badmouth being a “champion” or carrying high the “quality standard” (read the rest of this site and make up your own mind). What I am cautioning is that when you see a quality assurance job description that is looking for an outsider to come in and be the torchbearer for quality for a company, you should ask yourself why. And then ask those that you interview with. It’s not that you shouldn’t take the job; it’s that you should make an informed decision as to whether or not you want the job.
“Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.”