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Hiring Technical Talent

[Checklist] Key Skills of an Effective QA Engineer

Written By Dana Frederick | February 21, 2019

QA Engineer Interview

This is part of HackerRank’s hiring checklist series, where we share insights to help you screen developers. You can find our other checklists here: 

Quality Assurance (QA) Engineers are the unsung heroes of a successful engineering organization. They make sure your software won’t break when it matters.

Chosen correctly, a QA Engineer can safeguard your team from errors, inconsistencies, or even downtime. Ultimately, a good QA Engineer means less issues. And less issues means less lost revenue. 

So, what makes an effective QA Engineer? In this post, we’ll discuss what QA Engineers do, how they contribute to a team, and most importantly: what separates top candidates from the rest.

It’s worth noting that the term “QA Engineer” has different meanings for different teams. They can fall into a number of specialities: from load and performance QA, to security QA, to networking QA, and much more. For the purpose of this checklist, we’ll be focusing on key skills for web QA roles. 

How QA Engineers work on a team

In a nutshell, QA Engineers are the last line of defense between development and production. Without their approval, things don’t get shipped. Their goal is to ensure new software won’t break once pushed to production.

They do this by designing and carrying out tests—most frequently, automated tests—on proposed contributions to the codebase. Utilizing their codebase knowledge, and the software use case, they put the contributions through high-stress trials. The goal is to replicate the demands of the production environment as closely as possible.

In turn, those stress trials that help surface potential software quality issues. The QA Engineer’s job is not only to identify quality issues, but to find their root cause. Once the root cause is clear, they can suggest fixes to the code’s author. 

The role isn’t designed to point out faults. The goal is to work collaboratively with developers to ensure the overall health and stability of the codebase.

TechBeacon put it best:

The relationship between development and QA shouldn’t be the same as the relationship between an artist and an art critic. It should be more like the relationship between a writer and a copy editor, both applying their specialized skill sets to make a quality product.

They play a key role in the testing phase of the development cycle, are often involved in other phases in order to inform better testing:

6 Stages of Software Development Lifecycle Infographic

Like most development roles, the scope a QA Engineer is up to the interpretation of the team. Make sure you understand how your hiring manager intends to utilize the role.

Key skills for a QA Engineer

If you’re looking for a QA Engineer, start by asking these questions. Note: qualifications may change from team to team. But these asks are some of the most common:


  • Do they have strong logic skills, and good basic programming skills?
  • Are they comfortable preparing testing notes, test cases, and documentation for a variety of scenarios? Do they have a strong grasp of QA methodology?
  • Do they show strong creativity in their work? Can they think up relevant uses cases independently, and test accordingly? Do they test to break?
  • Can they thoughtfully interpret test results, and advocate for quality throughout the development process? Do they carefully track and monitor issues through resolution?  
  • Do they have strong debugging skills? Are they able to analyze issues and their root causes?
  • Are they familiar with your team’s go-to test automation tools (e.g. Selenium)?

Team Compatibility

  • Will they be happy working on the “behind the scenes” side of development?
  • Are they team-oriented and diplomatic? Can they tactfully work with a diverse mix of developers (spanning many job functions, experience levels, and personalities)?
  • Do they have a knack for process? Can they manage and maintain quality procedures?
  • Do they have strong technical communication skills (both oral and written)? Can they report issues with clarity and accuracy?
  • Are they comfortable with self-direction?

Soft Skills

  • Are they careful, and detail-oriented to a fault?
  • Do they have strong non-technical communication skills (both oral and written)? Can they relay technical concepts to non-technical stakeholders (e.g. product and support)?
  • Can they stay calm under pressure? Are they comfortable acting as the final approver for their team’s work?
  • Are they able to triage requests based on priority and severity? Can they maintain a laser focus on their task list?
  • Do they have strong business and product savvy? Can they quickly grasp the business objectives of a new project?
  • Are they reliable? Do they show strong ownership of their deliverables?

Check on your candidate’s long-term plans

QA Engineers are unique in the professional landscape. After all, candidates that seek out QA roles aren’t always pursuing careers in QA. Entry-level developers, especially, will sometimes pursue QA roles as a stepping stone to development work, or to get a foot in the door at your company.

Make sure you understand the candidate’s long term vision. Are they looking to stay in QA long term? Or is QA only one step in their career path? There isn’t a wrong answer. Both types of candidates can add value to your organization; it all depends on the needs of your team.

Align with your hiring manager on what they need. Are they willing to create a career path to software development? Or are they looking for a tried and true QA veteran? No matter their answer, make sure they’re aligned with your candidate. It’ll help shore up retention down the line.

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