Whether you’re at the start of your QA career or thirty years in, it’s always a good idea to know how to negotiate salary, advocate for a promotion, and navigate difficult situations in the workplace. On top of general career best practices, there are also aspects specific to software testing careers.
Taking QA Careers From Junior to QA Lead to QA Manager
When starting a QA career, many testers have the word “Junior” in their job title. Even if it’s not part of the official title, it’s usually a given that your first QA position will be entry level or close to it. But after you’ve learned the ropes and started to enhance your QA skills, you may set your sights on becoming a QA Lead.
Tips for Becoming a QA Lead
- Take a mentality of “slowly but surely.” Remember the fable of the tortoise vs. the hare? This can be one of the most successful ways to take your QA career from junior to lead. It can be hard to feel patient, but if you rush your attempts to get promoted before you’re ready, you won’t be taken as seriously when you are.
- Work your way up. Even if you get offered a QA Lead position, if you don’t have the necessary skills and knowledge, it will be harder to succeed. Take advantage of any opportunity you get to deepen your QA expertise, whether that means being mentored at work or taking courses online.
- Climb the ladder at the company you’re already at. It’s much easier to take on an advanced role at your current job than to get a QA Lead position elsewhere with only junior experience on your QA resume. Ask your manager what you can do to progress past a junior role, and map out a plan (whether formally or just for yourself). If you like your coworkers, enlist their support as well. And although you shouldn’t have to take on extra tasks without a raise, it can be worth it when you’re trying to grow from a junior to a lead QA role.
Transitioning From QA Lead to QA Manager
If you’ve been in the QA space as a lead for a number of years, you might have a goal of becoming a QA manager. While this is definitely not for everyone, there are a number of ways to work towards it if you’re the right fit.
Tips for Becoming a QA Manager
- Do a self-evaluation. Do you have what it takes to be a manager, and further, do you want to be a manager for reasons beyond pay? Although management positions will typically pay more, if that’s your main motivation, it’s not fair to the people who would be working under you. There are also other ways to increase your income without becoming a manager. (For example, if you’re a manual tester, you could take on automated testing.) Managers can make or break the amount of work stress the people working under them experience. Being a good QA manager takes a dedicated individual who knows how to help guide workers without being dictator-like, and to have the courage to stand up and protect them when other departments may intervene. If you’re passionate about helping guide others’ careers and have the right combination of empathy towards those who work under you along with knowing how to implement QA processes and push for progress, then you you’re on the right track.
Make your intentions known. It’s unlikely that anyone is going to offer you a QA Manager position apropos of nothing and without experience. Talk to people you’ve networked with, and supportive colleagues at your workplace. If you currently have a QA manager, ask if they would consider mentoring you, or if you can be the back-up QA manager when they’re out of the office. As with going from a junior to a QA Lead position, you’ll have a much easier time segueing to a managerial role with the company you’re already working at. It may not happen overnight, but being open about your goal can bring on new opportunities.
- Prioritize experience over salary at the beginning. Of course, you always deserve to get paid fairly for the position you hold. But the reality is that you may get opportunities to advance without very much of a corresponding pay raise. When trying to become a QA manager, experience will enable you to make much higher income down the road. Once you have the title on your resume, it will be much easier to get a QA Manager role at a different company – and you can negotiate a higher starting salary on your way in.
Learn more in our guide on How to Be a Good QA Manager.
How to Negotiate Salary
When you’re in the process of being hired for a new job, it can be nerve-wracking to ask for more money. You might be worried that you’ll come across as greedy, or risk your chances of closing the job offer. But you also want to start at the highest rate possible. After all, it can be very difficult to even get inflation increases at some companies, so you need to go in with your best financial foot forward. Here are some tips on how to do just that.
Tips for Starting Salary Negotiation
- Know your bottom line. Even before you start applying for jobs, you should determine the lowest salary you’re willing to accept. This might change throughout the application process – for example, if you started out with savings that end up dwindling. But whatever that bottom line number is, it’s best to have it your head before beginning interviews. Otherwise, it can be easy to get caught up in the emotions or whirlwind of the job offer process, and end up accepting an amount you aren’t actually okay with. Of course, the amount you’re willing to accept will likely depend on the job. If the position is an opportunity to advance and learn new skills, or with a non-profit whose mission you’re passionate about, you’ll likely be willing to accept less than a job you’re solely taking for the salary. But you still need enough to live on. Review your monthly budget, and figure out your salary minimum.
- Don’t bring up salary until the very end of the hiring process. No one wants to waste their time, so naturally it would be preferable to know the salary before you start interviewing. But unfortunately, this isn’t typically the way it works with office positions. If you bring up the topic of salary too early on, it may make the hiring company think you only care about the money and not fulfilling their needs. Needing a paycheck is absolutely a valid reason to take a job. But even if that’s your main reasoning, being upfront about it with a potential employer isn’t going to get you any closer to that paycheck.
- Don’t be afraid to negotiate. You might get a job offer for a number that already sounds good. And even if the company can’t or won’t go higher, you may still end up wanting to accept the offer. But it usually won’t hurt to ask if they can go a little higher. You can name a specific number and ask if it would be possible to get that amount instead.
- Hold your cards close to your chest. Unless you’re truly at a point where you can’t or won’t accept the number that the company is offering, don’t say, “I can’t take this position unless I get at least X.” This can backfire in multiple ways. First, it lets the company know your minimum, when you otherwise might have been able to secure a higher amount. Second, the company might call your bluff – and then you could lose the job offer completely.
- Be confident and kind. If you project anxiety and act too submissive while negotiating salary, the company will know that they have an advantage over you. On the other hand, if you act aggressive and entitled, you might be seen as a bad fit for the company culture. The best path for success is to act confident and kind at the same time. This doesn’t mean that you can’t still feel anxious – and it’s completely natural, so you also shouldn’t feel bad or guilty about it if you do. But you can practice your tone and wording in advance, and find a balance of being taken seriously without incorporating rudeness.
- Keep it professional. Maybe your partner is unable to work, which requires you to make a higher amount of money. Or perhaps you have a large amount of student loan debt. While these are certainly valid reasons to need a higher level of income, a company is not going to consider them relevant to whether the salary they’re offering is fair for the skills needed. Bringing in personal issues can muddy the legitimacy of your negotiating process.
- Know your market. Before you start discussing salary with a potential employer, do some research on market rates. This should include not only rates for that position, but for your specific area as well. For example, you’ll be able to ask for more from a company in San Francisco vs. one located in a less tech-centered area.
Tips for Negotiating a Raise
While many aspects of negotiating a starting salary are similar to the raise process, there are some additional tricks to keep in your back pocket in your quest for a raise. Along with following the tips above, it’s a good idea to:
- Ask for more than you would settle for. This is also relevant to the starting salary amount. But with raises, you have less power going into it (unless you’re truly willing to quit your job over it). Therefore, it’s even more important to bring strong negotiating skills to the table.
- Bring receipts. If you can demonstrate how many bugs you’ve found per sprint, or point out how often you’ve gone above and beyond testing late night deployments, you’ll have a better chance at convincing your employer that you deserve a raise. Even if your manager wants to give you one, they’ll typically have to convince higher-ups, who may not even know who you are. If you can provide your manager with solid evidence, it can help them advocate on your behalf. And the more you link your role at the company to increasing their bottom line and profits, the easier it will be for them to justify giving you more money.
- Mention inflation if relevant. Let’s say it’s been a year or more since you last got any raise. Even if you haven’t taken on additional tasks or done anything specific to earn a merit raise, you can at least ask your employer if they can adjust your salary to keep up with inflation. If you go to the website USInflationCalculator.com, you can enter the year your current salary started, and find out what the equivalent amount would be in today’s dollars.
- Avoid taking on new responsibilities if you’re doing so with the assumption that you’ll be given a raise in the future. If you want to help out or have the opportunity to learn new skills that will help your career, by all means take on a new task. But do so knowing that you may not be rewarded or recognized for it, even if you bring it up. Instead, it may just be assumed to be a permanent part of your job now. If a company says, “If you take over this workload, we’ll keep that in mind when your next annual review comes around,” you have reason to be weary. If a company has the intention of paying you fairly for taking over part of someone else’s job in addition to your own, they usually won’t wait a year to do so. And once you’ve taken on new tasks, it’s nearly impossible to get them off your plate if you change your mind. On the other hand, if you’re willing, you can offer to take on new responsibilities during a raise negotiation, so that the company will feel more justified in increasing your pay.
Addressing Difficult Situations in the Workplace
Most people will experience stressful situations at work from time to time. For some, they will be relatively rare, while others may dread coming into work every day. Some scenarios require you to grin and bear it (and look for another job!), while others can be addressed head-on. Knowing the difference is key to navigating your career, managing workplace stress, and avoiding getting fired.
How/When to Advocate for Yourself
- Set boundaries early on. The standards you set at the beginning of your new job will have a lasting effect. Of course, most jobs will require you to do things that you may not enjoy. But if you have make-or-break boundaries, respectfully set the standards from the beginning when relevant situations come up.
- Speak up when issues become chronic. You should consider coming forward about issues before you’ve reached a breaking point of stress or unhappiness at work. But if your situation at work has led you to start considering applying for other jobs, you have even less to lose by addressing it (if positive change seems feasible). If you’re already planning on leaving, it can be a last-ditch effort. Speaking up also has the potential to help make the situation better for colleagues who will be stuck in it even if you do leave. (And when you cultivate this mentality, it can benefit you in the future as well!)
- Be firm but not aggressive. When you come forward about an issue, whether it’s to HR or an engineering manager, it’s important to strike the right tone. Even if you’re planning on leaving the job, you still don’t want to get fired or poke the bear right before you need references. Approach the discussion calmly and rationally, no matter how angry or upset you feel inside. Try to focus on the facts, and the impact the problem has on the company. The effect it has on you emotionally is valid — and something that you deserve to have addressed. But if your goal is a resolution to the workplace situation, it will be more effective to focus on why doing so would be better for the company, period.
- If it’s a legal issue, go to HR (if the company has it). Your manager may not take a legal issue as seriously as HR, who will generally be well-versed in employment law and the risks of ignoring it. However, it’s important to keep in mind that HR is not automatically on your side. When starting a career, many people don’t know this – but the Human Resources department primarily exists to protect the company.
When to Keep Quiet
- Timing is everything. If you’re in the middle of a tight release and things aren’t going well, it’s best to wait for the release to go live before broaching the issue. Ideally your team will have post-mortem calls to discus what went well (or poorly) during the last sprint. But even when that’s not the case, it’s still better to wait for a more calm moment. Otherwise, you risk making things even more stressful for everyone rushing to beat the block on a tight deadline. The people you need to talk to will also have more focus and availability to hear you out when not under fire.
- Avoid being reactionary. Always take the time to think before you bring up any kind of serious grievance at work. Even the most intense anger can dissipate quickly, and you don’t want to let the heat of the moment get the best of you. Doing so can make you look aggressive to your colleagues, which will also result in being taken less seriously. Give yourself space to think about how you truly feel after you’ve had some time to sit with your initial reaction. If you still feel justified in your outlook, by all means bring it up – and at that point, you’ll be able to do so more calmly.
Make the Most of Your QA Career
Your career has a huge impact on your life. This goes for not only the field you choose, but how you navigate it. By following the above tips, you can maximize your income and reduce the chances of chronic stress caused by your job. Another major aspect of achieving this is practicing good communication at work.