Persona Based Interviewing

Why you may need to do some actual testing in the interview for your next testing role

Interview

 

When I was starting to think about writing some posts to help out those who are either recruiting testers (see here for my first post), or for testers looking for new roles, the obvious first post was going to be around interviews. Interviews are scary, interviews need preparation, etc.

But to be honest, there is already so much available on the web that’ll teach you the basics, that I’d be re-inventing the wheel.

This is the second post in a series on finding a job within testing – the first one is Starting a New Job In Testing which you can also read on this site.

Basic interviewing techniques

If you need some help on basic interviewing techniques then I’d recommend spending some time on Ministry of Testing, looking at the recruitment resource section. What I want to discuss in this post is an interviewing technique we are using where I work, in order to help us recruit testers. It’s not new but it’s also not typical, and so hopefully it helps you.

 

A typical interview

A typical interview has a set of questions, and sometimes a script to follow. While the questions may not be written down, an experienced interviewer typically has a number of questions in their head that they can tailor to the interview situation, and use to steer the conversation in a particular direction. There may be a formal test, or the interview may just be conducted verbally.

Simply asking someone questions about testing, and gauging their responses, is one way of understanding in more detail what they know. You can also find out more about who they are, and what they can bring to the company. While we are following this approach, we’re also doing things a little differently.

 

Persona based interviewing

In a persona based interview, each of the interviewers play out part of a task based story, which the candidate is also a part of. One of more scenario’s are played out, normally based around a task that the candidate would typically face if they were successful in joining the company. The interviewers take different persona’s, each playing the part of a role or person that the candidate would need to interact with, in order to successfully pass the task that they are set. In this way the interviewers can understand how the candidate approaches particular tasks, how they solve problems, and how they interact with others.

For our interviewers for mobile test positions we typically play out some scenario’s based around testing our applications on real hardware. I won’t go into too much detail, for obvious reasons, but the candidate receives a certain testing task, and then is expected to start testing and exploring the application in order to successfully find bugs within it.

We play the parts of other people in the story. These could be the Product Owner deciding on re-prioritisation, other testers being able to offer advice, a developer being difficult or helpful, or even a senior manager wanting to know the progress of a testing task. As we go through we throw in these sorts of requests, and other changes to the scenario, in order to see how the tester works when requirements change and the pressure mounts.

Attempting to complete the tasks without interacting with the other roles within the scenario is very difficult and we are looking as much towards how and when the candidate asks for help, as we are to the testing skills that they show.

After the scenario’s are complete then we discuss with the candidate how they think the scenario’s went, what they thought went well and what they would do differently if faced with them again.

 

Is persona based interviewing useful for test roles?

We think it is. Mainly because:

 

It gives us a better idea of how the candidate thinks, and how they approach a testing problem

I’m a firm believer in context-driven testing and Rapid Software Testing in particular, as is the company I work for. To me, being able to observe how someone approaches a testing task, who they communicate with, and what questions they ask is very important. Being able to get an understanding of how they change their approach based upon the context is also much easier within the scenarios. Using persona based interviewing I get to discover more about ‘how they tick’ rather than what testing terms they can remember, or how much of their career story they can tell.

 

We get to see a candidates real, practical skills

By giving the candidates tasks based around testing our live applications, usually on an iPhone or iPad, we give the candidates an opportunity to demonstrate the real, practical skills that they have. We encourage the candidates to talk us through what they are doing and give them the opportunity to demonstrate what they know. Being able to demonstrate ability also puts people more at ease and we get to see what they can really do.

 

It focuses on critical assessment and improvement

By having a de-brief or lessons learnt session after the scenario’s have played out, we also get to see how a candidate critically assesses themselves, and discover what they would do differently given another chance. Making mistakes is human but learning from them is the important thing, and I don’t expect testers in my teams to get everything right first time. However I do expect them to be able to recognise ways in which they can improve.

 

It’s more fun than just answering questions

It’s certainly more fun for the interviewers, and hopefully it’s also a bit more fun for the candidate (as much as interviews can be anyway). Asking questions isn’t much fun, and only being able to show your skills in simple answers, is not the best way to spend your time. Demonstration of skills tests how a candidate works not what they can remember.

So, why not try persona based interviewing next time you are recruiting for testers. It can be a great way of finding really good people who you can have confidence will do a good job.

 

The next post in the series will be about C.V.’s, and what you need to highlight in order to get noticed.

Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

5 thoughts on “Persona Based Interviewing”

  1. Nice approach – how has it been working out for you ? Has it resulted in the hires you’ve made being more successful ? How have the candidates reacted to being put in that situation ? Are they made aware beforehand of the structure of the interview ?

    1. Hi Phil,

      It’s been working out OK so far. So far it hasn’t resulted in any hires (it’s still a relatively new way of doing things and we’ve been using it for one role) but it’s certainly shown that there’s a wide range of ability in those that we interview.

      Candidates are made aware of it beforehand. Most have reacted well (or at least appear to have) – certainly as a candidate I’d appreciate the chance to demonstrate my skills rather than just answer questions.

  2. Hi Stephen,

    We use an approach along these lines too. In ours, the candidate is sent some information when invited to interview and is asked to prepare and submit a response in advance of attending it.

    During the interview, the stuff they’ve prepared is used as the basis for the interactive exercise. We get value from seeing the initial submission – it’s an additional filter in the interview process; it shows how they can think and report without the interview pressure etc – and the same kinds of value as you from the interview itself.

    1. Sounds like a great idea and removing that interview pressure can really help to see the true abilities of the candidate. Something for me to consider so thanks for the comments.

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