Thursday, June 17, 2010

Initial Screening Questionnaire

When I started hiring to build up my QA team I took a great idea from a friend who was hiring for her team: give potential candidates a questionnaire to fill out as one of the first steps of the interviewing process.

This turned out to be a huge timesaver – as someone managing a hiring effort, you have to absolutely focus on finding the small number of candidates who have the potential to improve your team. You don’t have enough time to talk with every potential candidate, and just reading through resumes doesn’t give you enough information to decide whether or not a 30 minute call is worth your while.

My screening process runs like this: My first screen is the cover letter/e-mail – if it’s incoherent or badly done then I don’t move that candidate forward. Next comes the resume, where I continue with folks who’ve mentioned community involvement, testing, and a number of other things I care about. At this point I’ve likely cut my potential candidate pool in half. I’ll send them the questionnaire and ask them to return it to me in a reasonable amount of time.

The last questionnaire I used included these questions:

  1. Describe in detail your approach to testing a software feature with which you are not familiar.
  2. Next I give them a use case where I point them to a public feature on our site and ask them how they’d test it.
  3. Describe when in the software development process you as a QA engineer would like to get involved in fleshing out the testing requirements for a feature?
  4. Describe how you see your interactions with the following team member roles:
    • Software Developer
    • Program Manager
    • Feature stakeholder
    • Technical writers
    • Support
  5. Do you have a blog? If so, what’s its URL?
  6. What have you done in the last week to improve your skills?
  7. Why do you want to work for Telligent?

This questionnaire focuses on a few key points for the type of folks I look for: are you detail oriented? What’s your approach to testing? How do you view the members of the team? Do you care about improving your skills.

The responses to these questionnaires are always very interesting and are a huge help in deciding who to continue the interview process with – at this point I’m now better able to decide who I’ll have an initial phone screen with. If that call goes well then we’ll move forward with the regular interview process.

For what it’s worth, only 10% of the candidates who submitted for positions on my team made it to the initial phone screen stage.

Feel free to steal, adapt, or ignore this concept. It’s worked very well for me!


Matt Casto said...

I like this idea, and I'm interested in more details.

At each stage of the process, how do you notify people who were cut? Do you not bother, or send an email, or phone call? If you contact the person, do you give details as to why they were disqualified?

Also, how do you sniff out embellishments in questionnaire answers?

Anonymous said...

What I really like about this approach is that you get to know much more about your candidate before the initial phone call. Because he/she knows you care and have read it they will be less nervous on the phone screen and you can have a good conversation.

Also you will attract better candidates who want to work on a team that is passionate about improvement, growth and community.

I like that you mention the cover letter. Many do not realize its importance. A personal cover letter that explained the long gap in my resume, involvement in the community and self-learning was key for me to get interviews when I re-entered the work force after my SAHM time.

Jim Holmes said...

@matt: This questionnaire is just a starting point, so I figure out "embellishments" during the phone screen.

Also, I normally don't notify folks until the hiring process is complete and we've filled the position. The exception is folks who are patently unsuitable (I have war stories). Those folks I'll let know immediately with "Thanks. Keeping your resume and info on file."

@Maggie: You're absolutely right: This is *ALL* about opening up a productive conversation early on. Emphatic +1 on your cover letter thoughts, too. I was in the same boat as a SAHD. Cover letters are your first intro. How could you NOT take care on it? Yeesh!

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