Interviewing With Empathy

Management: Year One Series

This is my Year One series on Management. It’s going to be ongoing, kinda like a serialized comic of sorts. I’ll tag these posts when I make them so, at some point, maybe someone who is also getting into a management role can see they are not alone. Batman wasn’t Batman in a day. Even he has a Year One, Two, and Three.

Talking Your Face Off

I've had a lot of conversations the last few months with a lot of different people of various skill sets and talents. I've enjoyed speaking with most people and I have to tell you, dear reader, there are a lot of great people out there looking for a job. 

From time-to-time, I've encountered a few folks that I know I'm not going to be able to offer the job to, and they are looking for that first break. They have, something I'll call a spark, that tells me, if someone could point them in the right direction, share a few things, maybe they can find what they are looking for in their career. 

It's hard for me not to feel empathy for folks and it's even harder for me to sit back and play at being an impartial interviewer, because I'm not. I'm human. I want to acknowledge my biases and my faults, but I also want to be real with folks I know I could help, if I only said something instead.

So I've started saying something. 

I've had three instances where I've offered information, I've offered to connect on LinkedIn and I've offered to see if someone could take on a Jr Developer. 

The JR Dev Experience

There are a lot of Junior Developers applying for Testing Roles. It's odd. I'm not sure what to think about that yet. I also know that some companies welcome it to a degree. At the same time, I've counseled other newly minted developers, who are very interested in being developers, not to jump into testing unless they really care about it and want to give it a shot, or think it might be the career for them. There is still a lot of stigma around switching from testing to development. I would save folks that pain if at all possible. I wish it wasn't the case, but I've seen it too often. 

Also, it's a disservice to the person who wants to be a developer to stick them into a testing role that isn't anywhere close to what they expected to be working on or doing. Whether that person has a Computer Science degree or 400 hours of bootcamp training, they put in the time and want to be a developer. Like I put in the time to testing. It's always an option to apply for a testing job and see if you can get in a company that way, but I would make sure to state that the desired goal is to move onto a developer role. Companies can think about that, and that risk. Most are willing to take it on depending on the candidate.

The Under Skilled

This category is the one that hurts me the most. I've been exactly where these folks are and I've wanted someone to point me in the right direction. I've made career changes to get my hands on tech or to have someone teach me things I knew I would need to keep progressing forward. At one point in time I could write a SQL query in my head (simple join, nothing fancy), but I was working with SQL a lot, and Ruby, and Selenium. Turns out, when you change jobs, what you know and what you need to know comes into stark contrast. 

When I find a candidate that fits this criteria, I'll often redirect the conversation to talking about different resources I think would be helpful to get them more skills. I point them to all of the things I didn't have when I first started. 

There is a huge wealth of information out there! From Test Automation U to Ministry of Testing to Automation In Testing to Alan Richardson's Patreon, there is so much out there to help folks learn skills these days. That's not to mention all sites that help with learning languages or other skills like version control and shell scripting. I know there are a ton more too! (Mention your favorite in the comments!)

I can't sit quietly and let folks I know looking for better opportunities not know about these wonderful tools to learn that could help them grow their skills. They have a wonderful foundation knowledge around testing, and they only need someone willing to point to things for them. 

A Bit Of A Rant

I mostly blame companies that don't offer some kind of career development or education resources. Different companies think differently about this topic. I wonder at times, if instead of subsidies or tax cuts if cities and states could also stipulated that companies get those lush breaks for providing training and education to their employees and also the community where they exist. It makes sense to me. There should be more trade-offs. If companies want educated work forces, the should help communities grow them. 

The Almost Candidate

These are the tough ones. These are the ones that have all the skills and the knowhow and might be a good fit technically, but over the course of the conversation, you realize that they would be miserable doing the work you have available for them. 

These folks like more structured environments to work in, or more chaotic and less process oriented ones. They prefer offices to open spaces or vice versa. They want to start with something already in place, or they want greenfield and a chance to draw their own lines and make a mark. They want a ton of money - that they rightly deserve - but you have a budget you have to think about. They are a junior candidate which has a ton of potential if you had another person to pair them with, but you don't. For whatever reason, it's not the skills, it's literally some environmental factor. 

I never realized, when I started as a manager looking at these things from the inside out, that I would need to consider all of these factors, not just the skills someone brings to the job. Let me tell you, this is hard, very hard. 

The best you can do in these circumstances is make sure that you have a rubric, and a diverse candidate pool. Think about the problems, both technical and cultural, you want to address, the skills you need for the team, and then hope for the best. A lot of interviewing is fate, luck, and some mix of objective and subjective things that can help you can make a judgement call with in a very short amount of time. 

From the one that got away because you couldn't get them in to interview fast enough, to the one that got all the way to the end of the process and rejected your offer, it's probably the most disheartening part about going through the interviewing process from hiring side of things. 

I have way more empathy for how much time and effort it takes to hire someone than I did before. I've been the candidate with multiple offers and turned one down. Now I understand what that costs, literally, in people-hours and actual money. It's frustrating as hell, and I don't have a good suggestion here to make it better, unfortunately.

Thirty Minutes Could Change Everything

I've started looking at these 30 minute introductory candidate sessions as learning opportunities for me and for whomever I'm speaking with at the time. If I can help them, I'll try to do that, and if I can possibly work with them, I'll move them onto the next round. The time I spend working to understand folks that are applying for testing positions is not a waste of time. It's the start of something small that could grow into something amazing whether I'm involved later or not. 

If you are currently interviewing or helping to interview people, think about your approach. Think about the impression you are leaving with the person you are interviewing. Be honest about the next steps and your thought process. You can help someone the next time they interview, especially if they are open to it, do it. It's putting something great back into the world with very little effort. 


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