Are you certifiable?

Originally posted as a comment on

A few days ago, after just reading a bunch of blogs (and comments) on the perceived issues with the quality/content of the currently available certifications, I became aware of a posting in the LinkedIn group Software Testing and Quality Assurance. It was from a recruiter who had a ready-made shortlist of 50+ ISEB and ISTQB certified testers. The list was the result of a job he had done for a major Indian BPO looking to hire people to work in the UK.

In the light of my recent reading and as he obviously had screened the applicants for a certification I asked why he chose to do just that. I gave him a multiple choice question:

a) because you feel ISEB and ISTQB certification is truly reflecting the testing skills of your testers (i.e. they are certifiable so they must be good)?

b) because in your experience testers not holding a certificate probably are no good (i.e. they didn’t even bother to get certified, or they failed)?

c) because filtering/focusing on people holding a ceritficate make the recruitment business easier (i.e. they are certifiable so they must be good)?

d) other…

He answered:

Hi Geir, I may be laying myself up for a beating but in my experience it’s very rare to come across a competent tester who doesn’t hold either the ISEB or ISTQB certificate (or the occasional CSQA).

To answer your specific question it’s probably a mix of all three with a heavy emphasis on the first;

a) ISEB / ISTQB certification guarantees a certain level of competency in software testing. I simply don’t have the wherewithal to conduct a full technical test on 50+ candidates but I can ask to see a certificate. I’ll always favour candidates with a certificate that guarantees their basic ability to do the job in question.

b) Lack of certification is pretty rare in a professional tester. Certainly if someone claims to have 2-3+ years of relevant testing experience but no professional qualifications I would be instantly wary.

c) Like all recruiters I tend to follow the “path of least resistance” when it comes to recruiting. By screening by qualification I’ll probably discard several excellent candidates but (and it’s a big but) at the same time I’m also discarding practically all of the unsuitable candidates in one go while still keeping a core group of candidates that I’m 100% certain can do the job.

Now; I might not be a great tester (yet) but from what I have read lately I am far from convinced that getting certified would be the way to go. However, if this is a representative example I can see the value for one coming straight out of school/university just for the value of getting considered at all.

The discussion went back and forth a couple of times with a couple of others donating their “2 cents” before the recruiter finished off by stating:

The difficulty I’ve been trying to get across is that I’m simply not equipped to debate the relative worth of any technical certification (not being a technical specialist but rather a specialist in recruitment), only their use in the search phase of a recruitment process.

Am I throwing some babies out with the bathwater? Probably… but my clients do expect to see these qualifications, especially in those with less than 4-5 years experience and they expect to see shortlists in a reasonable timescale.

So, before this gets too long-winded; there are obviously companies asking for shortlists of certified testers and in those cases it would at least get you through the first screening. As the recruiter in my example admits he is not much qualified at evaluating the real value of the certification but why would he care? He is not hired to get good testers, he is hired to get a shortlist of certified ones.

It is unclear to me though if the recruiter picked the six people for the available positions or if that was done by the client.

One thought on “Are you certifiable?

  1. Good post!

    Imagine a recruiter that tries to gather musicians for a symphony orchestra. Also imagine that there was a certification made up for musicians. In order to pass this certification you need to get at least 30 out of 40 multiple-choice questions right.
    What would the musical director think if the recruiter came in with a list of candidates that all had passed the certification; and this was the basic criteria for finding candidates?
    I think that the recruiter would get fired…

    [Geir] Thanks Henrik. At first I was really blaming this recruiter too, but it all depends on the task he was asked to do. I certainly think screening for certifications is bad when hireing testers, but its the right thing to do if you are paid to come up with a list of testers holding such. I’m not sure about all the specifics in this case but I got the feeling that the person who hired him to get the shortlist asked for certified testers in particular.
    If that’s the case I think maybe sombebody else should be fired…

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