5 Tips for Hiring Your First QA Engineer

Nothing is as costly as hiring mistakes; here’s how to avoid making them

Within a small company usually everyone is responsible for more than one role. At tech startups, you’ll often see CTOs write code, backend software developers run DevOps and frontend devs design part of the user interface.

When it comes to quality assurance, we see everybody and their mother put in time to test the app, and try to catch bugs before pushing new code to users.

It may be fun to test products once, but QA generally requires people to re-test every single feature after changes are made to the app. This tedious work is not fun anymore and certainly nobody’s passion — and nobody’s responsibility.

People will simply skip re-testing features “that always work anyway”. Even worse, developers being developers tend to try and automate their part of the job by writing browser and automation tests — only to end up spending a big part of their time maintaining those.

Building a QA team from scratch

Testing is rarely where startups add value, so product managers in particular are annoyed when feature development gets stalled, just to make space for something as lowly as QA. To free up dev time, the next logical step is to bring in people to address the issue.

The first question then is: who can they hire to get quality assurance sorted? QA engineers? Analysts? Testers? Where does QA fit in the team’s workflows and release schedule?

Your mileage may vary, but the QA team should be able to:

  • Perform regular auditing and testing to improve product quality
  • Analyze results, share them with the business and provide actionable reports
  • Help developers see where their products can be improved
  • Keep products compliant and help reduce security risks and vulnerabilities
  • Create, document, share, and repeat strong testing processes

At a startup, it’s only fair to assume that roles overlap, and some of the above will still be covered by existing employees. And so once you have an idea about the role, the next question is, finally: how to hire someone?

Here are 5 top tips for hiring your first QA Engineer:

1. Attract the right people

You’re more likely to make a quality decision if your shortlist is full of quality candidates. However, while you may have a good idea of the role and responsibilities of a QA, it can be difficult to dig deeper into areas such as priorities and challenges unless you come from a testing background. If you don’t, reach out to QA experts for support in writing job specs that attract and appeal to the right people. Keep an eye out for workshops or mastermind sessions where you can ask questions of experienced QAs.

2. Consider different opinions

Who’s going to help you make a decision? Your IT team? OK, but they might not know about testing inside and out. Your developers? OK, but ‘patch and move on’ devs don’t always understand the nitty gritty of testing. Basically, ask IT and they’ll back an IT-oriented candidate. Ask a dev, they’ll back a dev-oriented candidate. You need different perspectives, so be sure to involve a diverse group in the hiring process. The good news? Once you have a QA, they can help you find more!

3. Soft skills needed

A good QA doesn’t just have testing skills. They also have a range of skills that mean they’re able to withstand the challenges that testing throws at them. QAs need to be great communicators: they have to be able to share results and explain findings across all departments, so someone who can communicate both up and down is key. Similarly, testing can also be a repetitive and painstaking job, even pretty boring at times. It’s not a job for quitters, so it’s only fair to look for people who have strong motivation and are determined.

4. Take it slow

During these early stages, there’s no harm in starting with project-based hiring; hiring support to work on short term contracts to meet project demand. While this does mean you’ll need to deal with freelancers and HR again and again as new projects pop up, it also means that you have a great opportunity to identify the sort of person that works for your business – and the sort of person that doesn’t – without having to commit long term. Platforms like Upwork and Freelancer.com are great for dipping a toe in.

5. Build a good candidate experience

Not everyone you meet with will be your first QA Engineer. Or even your next QA Engineer. But they very well may play an important role in your business’ future. By working to create a positive candidate experience – by providing feedback, listening to feedback, and being respectful of the candidate’s time – you can help to improve your business’ reputation in the recruitment landscape. Hiring is very network-based. Treat candidates nicely, and they may refer a friend next time.

Don’t Lose Sight of What Matters

A report by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation shows that 85% of businesses have made a ‘bad’ hire. A ‘bad’ hire can mean many things, from hiring someone who lacks the necessary skills to do the job, to someone who simply doesn’t want to be there. Ultimately, this can have a big impact on organisations.

One mistake new businesses often make is hiring too late. Cash-strapped startups have to wait until a small skill gap becomes a major problem… by which time they have to juggle recruitment, and revert to ad-hoc HR processes while also racing around trying to put out fires.

Hiring your first QA Engineer – and taking those next steps towards growing your business – can be an exciting time. But don’t lose sight of what really matters: your customers. Try to find a healthy balance between building your recruitment process and maintaining productivity and product quality. Hiring with care and attention is crucial to reduce the risk of a bad hire, but don’t let it become a distraction.

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