Gaining “Street Cred”

When faced with the prospect of starting a new job, it’s common to get a little freaked out. Losing the stuff you’ve accrued at the current place might feel like you’re starting over.

But: For QA to be successful, we have to move around a little bit. There are all kinds of things we learn in current roles, that when combined with knowledge gained elsewhere, makes for a powerful force of testers.

Are you in this situation? Are there interesting roles that look like fun growth opportunities, and turning them down hits you in the feels because of everything you’d be leaving behind?

Well, today, I want to show you how you can build your credibility–your “street cred”–quickly, and get back to where you were much quicker.

And it starts as soon as you polish your resume.

When You Update Your Resume

If they don’t already know you, this document is the only thing hiring managers have to go on. If it doesn’t convey the right information, they’ll put it in the Nope Pile, even if you actually are the best fit for the job.

So many people will put every responsibility and every thing they’ve ever done in their resume, and hand in a 3-7 pager. That is just begging for it to be mangled by an ATS, and risks it not landing in the hands of the right person.

But you will put results in yours.

Each line (and they should ideally be a line each) should convey the positive impact you had, not just what you did.

Here’s how that’s going to look:

  • How did you add value? Did you make or save money for the company? Can you quantify it (saved X hours per week on [this], or increased monthly revenue by $money dollars)?
  • How did you impact the team? Did the people working with you work better because of something you did or stopped from happening?

Why? Because you want to convey the message that:

  • You value the reader’s time,
  • You know what they’re looking for in a resume, and,
  • You know what the heck you’re talking about.

And here’s where I’m going to plug for a pretty neat resume tool, called Enhancv. They have a free trial where you can put together a nice looking resume, that helps it stand out from the rest.

When You Read the Job Requirement

Pick any job, and I guarantee that it’s there because of some kind of business pain. They need help either making or saving money.

A job req can give you quite a bit of data about the company before you even agree to an interview.

First: check out the company itself. If you’re going through a recruiter, they might not tell you who it is until you show interest.

What’s being said about it on Glassdoor? Connect with people who have left–they’ll probably be more honest than someone who’s currently working there. What were the common problems?

Next: look at the job req for info about what tools they’re using.

Is there a large list of tools they’d like to see experience with (e.g.: 10+) or a smaller list? Do they use commercial tools or open source? What are some challenges you think they might have with their choice of tools? Are the tools focused on a certain kind of testing (load/performance, security, UI, etc.) or is it more of a scattershot thing?

Finally: See if there are any tells about the company culture. These may be rare, but are very informative when you find them. Phrases like, “should be able to take constructive criticism,” or “able to juggle multiple priorities to meet tight deadlines” mean something.

(A lot of people will apply for a job the standard way–and these tactics will work with that too. But at this point, if you’re doing this on your own, without a recruiter, you can do this with multiple reqs for the same company, and build a “business pain fingerprint” of a whole company. And, if you’re lone gunning it, you can reach out to key people at the company, and start building up to getting an interview that way too.)

When You Land the Interview

If you get an interview with someone at that company, this puts you in a very powerful position, because you now have their attention.

Question is: whatcha gonna do with it?

Regardless of how many people are involved, or how many interviews you get, all of the interviewers have the same question on their mind: Can this person do the job and help our company be better? 

Now, you know the answer is probably “yes”, or at least a “probably”. But they don’t. Not yet.

This is where tactical questions come in handy. There’s a semi-standard list that I use, which is talked about over here, which is extremely helpful for getting specific answers to specific problems they might be having.

When You Get an Offer

Most excellent–if they’re making an offer that means you still have their attention, and you’ve successfully hustled them into thinking you can do the job 🙂

(totally kidding about the hustling part)

But seriously, the biggest point I want to convey here is that an offer is NOT written in stone. If you get an offer, you have more power than before.

And I hope you haven’t been beaten down so much that you think you have to just take what they offer, because this is the time to close the gap (if there even is one) between what you were getting at the previous place, and what they’re offering you at the new one.

Most companies can afford a lot more than what they let on, and don’t offer the complete budget for the given position. They do want to come out ahead after all. So if you can make the case for what they’ll get for your services, and quantify that amount somehow, it’ll be a lot easier.

When You Accept the Offer

Don’t rest yet, we’re not done. Accepting the offer means that in two weeks, they’ll have a place dusted off for you to come prove yourself.

During this time, think hard and creatively about what kind of problems you might run into at the new place.

(And just a heads up: most, or even none, of what you thought up might happen. The point is to get your brain accustomed to being ready to react to whatever’s coming.)

Come up with strategies on how you might fix the problems you think are at the new place. What are some titles of people you would talk to, to get more information? How might you deal with people who could be hard to work with? How might you approach telling someone that maybe [this] isn’t the right tool for [that]?

And then gear up for your first two weeks at the new place, cuz it’s gonna be intense.

During Your First Two Weeks

The first two weeks at a new place, I think is the most crucial, for three reasons:

  • Not as much is expected of you at first,
  • You are “just-got-hit-invincible” during this time, and
  • You don’t know what’s “impossible” yet.

A lot of people know not much is expected at first, and will slowly ramp up during this time, gradually increasing business knowledge, and build credibility that way.

But you know what? I think that’s a trap. And in an age where we’re trying to move away from information silos, it’s not enough to just know a ton about the business.

Instead, use this time to your advantage.

That “just-got-hit-invincible” thing I mentioned is from when you play video games, like Super Mario Brothers, and if you get hit by something, your character flashes for a few seconds and you can run right through enemies.

And: it’s easy for people who have been in the trenches for awhile there, to think that some things are impossible, when they’re not really–they’re just hard. And maybe it’s just that they don’t have the time to make the change they need to make.

But guess what: you do! 

Using what you’ve learned about the business pain, identify some people that are overworked, or some processes that seem really inefficient. Build relationships, glean information, but most of all work quickly. Use every trick you know–clean, dirty or otherwise–to make a certain problem go away within the first two weeks.

The goal here is twofold: free up some time for people, and make it known that you get stuff done.

This is the kind of credibility you want to build, and it’ll reap enormous benefits for years to come. Trust me on this.

And then remember what you did, and stick it in your resume 🙂

Until Your Next Change

Listen, nobody performs at 100% all the time. I get that. But if you’re focused on results, you’ll be in great shape.

Until it’s time to change to the next position, continue that trend you started in the first two weeks, of focusing on how you can provide value.

Don’t just be a warm body, or another finger in a dam trying to prevent leaks, actually work on getting altitude on the problem, and then fix it.

But I Can’t Do That!

Yes you can. I hope very much that you’re encouraged by this post. If you’re on the fence about going to a new place, don’t be! Things are rarely (if ever) as scary as they seem. Just do it!

I don’t think the QA discipline can afford people staying in one place too long. Software’s a complex critter, and we need a large variety of knowledge and tricks to keep up. 

I know some tricks, and am happy to share them with you, for a nominal price. I will answer any question about test automation, continuous integration/delivery or QA. If I can’t answer, you don’t pay!


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