March 11, 2006

Hiring QA Interns

Where I work now, we hire Interns from local colleges to augment our QA Team.  Typically we bring in two students at a time for a 6-month paid internship.

They each work with one of the Senior QAers in a variety of roles - Functional Testing, Scalability Testing, etc.  It works out well for us - we get two more QAers when the budget doesn't allow for full-timers.  And it works out well for them - they get some hands-on experience.

One of the challenges in hiring an Intern is finding two good candidates from the population of applicants.  They are young, inexperienced and most have little in the way of interviewing skills.  Some have done an internship before, but many have not.

We have found that it works best to talk with them once, then make a quick decision.  I usually talk with them first for about a half-hour, followed by a half-hour each with the two Senior QAers.  After we have spoken with a batch of applicants, we get together and discuss the candidates and decide which, if any, deserve offers.

Here are some of the questions I ask when interviewing a potential QA intern.  Most of them are not make-or-break questions themselves, but they help us quickly assess the candidate in very general terms:
Do you have any time off planned during the 6-month period of the internship?
In general, we are looking for people who can devote the full 6 months to the internship.  We don't want someone who is planning a 2-month trip to Europe in the middle of this period, for example.

What’s your current school schedule like?If the student likes to take a bunch of easy courses, then we may not be the right internship home.
I also like to find out if they are scheduling lots of days off in their week, or would prefer to be busy.
Last, I try to see if they are early-risers, or late-sleepers.  We have room for both - it's just nice to know where they fall.

How many hours per week would you like to work?
We try to make it clear in the job posting that we are looking to fill an 8-hours-per-day, 40-hours-per-week position.  But, occasionally we get a candidate who is only looking to work 20 hours or so.

What year are you in? 
Our past experience has shown that the later in their academic career we can get them, the better the internship.
For whatever reason, Juniors and Seniors end up being more serious, more experienced and more hardworking in general than their younger counterparts.

Have you worked an Internship before?Hey, you have to start somewhere.  But, if you've already done an intership before, you'll have a better sense of what is expected, and what is in store for you.
Not everyone likes working in a cubicle.  If you've done it before and want to do it again, that's a good sign.

Do you have reliable transportation?
We work in a suburban area.
There is bus transportation, but it's not the best way to get here - particularly in bad weather.
If the candidate has a car, we have found that they tend to show up on a more regular basis than if they don't.

What do you like to do when you aren’t studying?
If the candidate spends all their free time clubbing, that might be fun for them.
If they spend free time playing with computers and software, that might be a better indicator of potential success.

Do you know anything about testing/QA?
Few Universities teach anything at all about Testing or Quality Assurance.
But, some candidates have still found a way to understand what testing and QA are, and can express it.

What Operating Systems are you familiar with?
Some candidates know how to use only Windows, and perhaps a small bit of Unix.
Other candidates have been installing Windows and mucking around with Linux since they were children.

Have you had a chance to check out our web site?
We'd like to hire interns who have enough inititative to look at our web site and understand what we do.

Do you have any questions for me?
Hopefully, this open-ended question leads to a discussion of what my company does, what we in QA do, and what the intern can expect.
As I've said, none of these are make or break questions.  As much as anything we are looking for someone who is smart, wants to work hard, and is willing to learn.

We've been very lucky to have found some pretty good interns over the years.  Some have come back and become employees.  Others have gone on to positions in other companies.  Most of the time we give them a great recommendation.