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Success Story: Donna

Success Story
Mar 13, 2022

Donna is a 2021 Careerist graduate who recently found herself an epic job with a huge salary. She’ll share her experiences with you today, and she’ll give you some tips on how to handle the job search! Read Donna’s story below! 

Where in the US are you located?

I’m located just outside Chicago. 

Did you find a job in Chicago as well?

No, my job is in Emeryville, California, quite near to San Francisco. My job is with an e-commerce site, but I haven’t started my job yet, I’m still going through the onboarding phase. I start very soon though. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t nervous. To be honest, I’m a little bit scared, but I’m sure I’ll be fine. 

Awesome. Did you have a technical background before completing the training?

No, I didn’t really. I did some troubleshooting online with some booking tools, but it wasn't too technical. 

I’d worked in analyst roles in the past, but nothing really technical. I’d done some bug reports, but I’d only do them once in a while, but it wasn’t a QA role.

How long did it take you to find a job?

It wasn’t a long time, but it was a rough time. 

I started applying for jobs between 6-25 August. I might have applied for 40 jobs in total during this time, which wasn’t enough. 

When I started getting into the swing of applying for jobs properly, recruiters started calling me back right away. 

A lot of recruiters that initially called me needed automation or SQL skills, and that was fine. But I’d use the opportunity when I was on the phone to the recruiters to build a relationship with them. I’d discuss my background with them, so that they would think of me if ever a job opened up. 

I didn’t find any of my calls to be a waste of time at all. I enjoyed all of them. 

At Careerist we try to get our students to focus on applying for jobs rather than building relationships with recruiters. Typically, the more you apply, the more calls and interviews you get, and this eventually leads to more offers. Just focus your energy on that. 

You are totally right. 

Usually I would chat to recruiters to double check that I was suitable for the job they’d posted. Some recruiters said that they used a copy-paste technique when it came to writing job posts. So, they told me that you can’t always go by the job descriptions, and that asking questions about postings is good.  

Did you use a particular strategy when applying for work?

Initially, I used to apply for jobs in the morning. But then I started applying for work at night. I was surprised to see that the majority of the postings were comparatively fresh, being only four or six hours old at that time of the day. 

Moreover, a lot of postings only had ten applicants at that time too. You have to strike when the iron is hot, as they say. 

In the end I stopped applying in the morning and only applied for jobs at night. The influx of callbacks I received were almost too much to handle. Lucky for me I was out of work at the time, so I could deal with them all. If I’d had a full-time job, I don’t know how I’d have handled all the calls. 

And all of this was achieved by me actively applying for jobs at night, basically between 8 and 11 US Central Time. 

Which platforms did you use to look for jobs?

I applied on LinkedIn until they ran out of jobs and then I moved to Glassdoor. 

The reason I said ‘until they ran out of jobs’ is because I purposely narrowed my job search down. I only focused on jobs that said ‘remote’ in the title, because I didn’t want a hybrid role or to go into an office. 

That’s great. How many jobs did you apply for daily once you started to actively search for work?

Sometimes I applied for around 35 jobs a day, sometimes 20, it depended a lot on what jobs were available at the time. 

In total, I applied for 485 jobs. Out of those I had 21 meetings with recruiters, 8 interviews with hiring managers and 3 technical interviews. All of them were really, really good. There were a couple of jobs that I was really shocked that I didn’t get.

During the entire job searching process I actually kept a spreadsheet that listed all the jobs I’d applied for. I’d always copy and paste the job description online into a document, so that I knew what I’d applied for. I had a 500-page file at one time. 

When I’d get called for interviews, I’d find the role in the document, print the description out, put it in my folder and read it before going to the interview. I’d also write my interview notes on the document. 

That’s kind of how I kept track of what was going on. I usually knew where I was heading to next because I could look in the folder. I kept myself well organized. 

It was about six weeks of effort in total, and it was a very intense time. 

Can you remember your winning interview?

I had a good feeling from the very beginning about my winning interview because it went really well. 

After my first meeting with the recruiter of the company, I had another interview with the VP of engineering who happened to be the hiring manager too. That went really well, and then I got to meet the other team members. I didn’t have a technical interview for the job. 

The reason I had a good feeling about it was because they were moving really fast with me. They were in regular contact, and after just two days of waiting to hear from them, they’d already scheduled another interview with me. So fast! 

So, during this entire time I just kept my hopes up. I remained positive and I ended up getting the job. I was like ‘Oh, finally!’ by the end of the process. 

Do you have any interview preparation tips and tricks to share?

I’ll tell you this, when I started my job search it was rough, but I just thought of the entire process as a practice exercise. I knew I’d eventually get more confident with time. And anytime I felt discouraged, I would just brush myself off and move forward. 

I went to one technical interview, flubbed one of the most basic questions, and then I literally went home and cried for three days. Then I pulled myself together and started applying for jobs again. If you fail an interview it just means that the role wasn’t meant for you. The more interviews you go to the better you get.

The top 15 questions were taped up all around my kitchen walls at one point. They were there to help me learn the questions and my answers. It looked like the FBI’s headquarters! Everyday I’d walk into my kitchen and read the questions before me. 

And then if I had an interview over the phone I’d sit in my kitchen and look at the questions around me. I didn’t have to ruffle through pages of notes. Eventually I got to the point where I didn’t have to rely on the questions on the walls anymore. 

Nice. Would you like to tell us about your job offer?

I got an $85,000 a year offer, and then I get a 15% bonus, which brings my total salary up to $98,000 a year. I also get $16,000 in stock and insurance, which is so phenomenal! The company is rated highly on Glassdoor and I believe that it’s going to be excellent working in the company. 

It sounds like you’ve landed yourself an epic job that’ll bring you a salary of almost $100k+ - which is excellent considering this is your first job in the tech industry. Did you negotiate your salary?

I actually named my price, I didn’t negotiate. I’d heard a lot of people saying that they got an offer of $85,000 a year. But you know what, I’d always said that I’d rather have a $70,000 a year salary at a good company, rather than an $85,000 a year salary at a horrible company. 

I did do some investigation into job titles and salaries in advance. I found out on Glassdoor that Quality Assurance Analysts are paid less than Software QA Engineers. So, I compared the salary of a Quality Assurance Analyst in Chicago to a Quality Assurance Analyst’s salary in Emeryville. I then worked out the average of these two figures, so I had a salary in my mind ready for when my offer arrived.

We’re happy to hear that you got an excellent offer! Can you remember any frequently asked questions from your interviews? 

I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t get asked many of the 15 frequently asked questions on the questions document. 

I had the usual questions like “Tell me about yourself” and “Tell me about the project you are working on”. I felt that I was ready to go to interviews once I’d learnt the software development life cycle, especially the part where QA comes in. If you know that you can basically talk about anything.

I had a lot of behavioral questions during my interviews. One hiring manager asked me, “What would you do if you were sitting on a train with the CEO of the company, who was also in charge of the technology department, and they said that they didn’t need a QA department. How would you convince them that QA was important?” 

Some of the behavioral questions were really off-the-wall. I would say 75% of my questions were behavioral ones and 25% were technical questions.

A point of interest: 

Here’s how you could answer the question above: 

Basically, you could suggest to the CEO of the company that a developer gets paid $100 per hour, and the time and effort they waste on double-checking their code will cost the company much more than hiring a QA analyst for just $50 per hour. 

Did you get a manual QA job?

My job is a manual QA job. I don’t know any automation skills yet, but I am willing to learn. I did like the sound of completing an automation training when Lana went over it with us one day. 

Automation is something I’m not sure I’m going to be good at, but I would like to give it a go. 

As a side note, it’s not usually a problem if you don’t have automation skills when looking for a manual job. It is nice to have the additional skills, but it’s not a must.

Awesome! And out of all the companies you were interviewed by did you receive just one job offer?


Eventually, I had so many recruiters calling me that I had to turn away some of them. I didn’t want to waste my time or theirs. I didn’t care much about building relationships with recruiters at that point, and I would just tell them ‘Bye’ if I didn’t have time to chat.

Everyone should keep in mind that in order to get one ‘yes’ you’ll have to get a couple of ‘nos’ too. There is nothing to stress about. Some people fail a couple of interviews, then they start stressing and then they give up on applying for jobs. But you should remain motivated and keep up with work trends, because this’ll help you get an awesome job offer.

Are you going to be creating test cases at your new job?

Yes. I will be creating test cases. At least that’s what I have been told. 

Sadly, I can tell you that many people have been told that they’ll be creating test cases but they never do. What are your working hours? 

The hours can be 9 to 5 or 10 to 6. 

Right now, I’m working west coast hours just until I’m onboarded. I’ll be working central time hours from then on. It’ll probably be 9 to 5 for a few weeks.

What keywords did you use when you were looking for a job? 

I was using all the ones that you (Careerist) recommend. 

I’ll tell you this, a lot more jobs come up if you type in ‘Quality Assurance Analyst’ rather than ‘Software QA Engineer’. It’s definitely worth making sure you actually search ‘Quality Assurance Analyst’ because there are tons of vacancies available with this job title.

We love to gather feedback and to learn more about keywords. What kind of educational background do you have and did you list it on your resume?

High school and Careerist. No other education.

Were your interviews usually via voice chat or video call? 

A lot of them were video calls, but the initial calls were all by phone. 

I had one interview where the interviewer wanted a meeting on Microsoft Teams, but something went wrong and we ended up on a phone call. I also had recruiters blowing me off. It was odd because they were so eager to set up interviews with me, but all of a sudden they didn’t call, and they wouldn’t say anything. 

Just be ready for calls like this and don’t let them bring you down. 

When did you complete the Careerist class?

I actually took the March 2021 class and completed it in April. I then had a two-week internship and that finished at the end of May. 

Due to some personal stuff my job search was delayed until August. I was on unemployment at that point, and it was finishing in September, so I figured that I only really had the month of August to find a job. That pushed me to take the job search more seriously.

To be honest, I was afraid to apply for jobs to start off. I didn’t have the confidence I needed to have, but you have to build it up otherwise you won’t get anywhere. Getting the first few interviews under my belt was such a relief. And even if you mess them up, it’s totally fine. Just keep going and you will get better after each attempt.

We often hear about students being afraid of failure. But the faster you kickstart the job search, the faster you’ll start receiving calls and interviews and your confidence will grow. If you postpone something the worse your feelings will get about going back to it. Eventually you’ll switch to doing something else and you’ll lose motivation to work towards your goal.  

I agree. I wish I hadn’t put it off looking back. 

I re-watched the last lesson around three times. And the fifteen common questions weren’t a problem for me. The problem was the rest of the documents, I had to make sure that I knew everything.

If there was something I was fuzzy on, I’d go back to the lesson and rewatch the whole class. And I’d focus on specific sections of the lesson, like the parts I needed clarification on. 

The most useful advice I received was not to take notes, and to just listen to the videos. When you don’t have any background knowledge on a topic, you’ll want to take notes because you’ll want to absorb the information. Yet, when you do this you are not listening as much as you think you are. 

If you feel that you don’t understand something, it’s definitely worth rewatching stuff like the Chrome dev tool, or the Xcode, or anything you are unsure of. Re-watching any lessons will definitely help you to understand what’s going on better, because everytime you rewatch a video you’re just adding to your pool of knowledge.

Have you discussed how you’ll receive work from your company? 

No, they haven't discussed anything like this with me yet. But I believe they are going to be sending me assignments via Slack, and they’ll use video meetings to instruct me. 

My job description mentions Jira, and I believe that they do test cases in Jira too. I’m not sure if they use TestRail or anything though. 

I was worried that they would send me a Mac, but they provided me with a Windows laptop. They didn’t send me any mobile devices or anything else. This particular company doesn’t use any apps, so it’s just mobile and desktop website testing.

In the beginning, I was a little bit resistant and I didn’t follow the onboarding instructions properly. I guess you could say I was like an old dog who was having trouble learning new tricks. But once I started following the instructions, everything fell into place and I didn’t have to stress. You really have to follow the instructions.

So, you’ll be testing a website. There’s nothing to worry about, just make sure that all the buttons work and everything runs smoothly. 

Is the QA team you are going to work with big? 

It’s actually small. It’s just me and a few other people for now. But it's nice and diverse. We have an engineering team in Pakistan, and there’s a nice gentleman in Portugal. Then I have my beautiful Russian colleague in San Francisco and then there’s me in Chicago. We can draw on everyone’s experiences from around the world - I love my team. 

Careerist promotes diversity. Did you focus on full-time or part-time positions when searching for a job?

I preferred to apply for contracts that were 12 months long, and I looked for full-time positions most of the time. 

I saw one position at Estee Lauder and I really liked the sound of it. But the recruiter contacted me too late. By the time they contacted me I’d already made the decision to go and work at another company. 

Everyone should remember this, we don’t always get the job we want, but we will get the job we are supposed to get. All everyone needs to do is to just keep trying.

A point of interest:

When you see a contract that stipulates it is only three or six months long, you never really know how long the contract will go on for. I have seen people in my profession coming into the office on a one-month contract and then they’ve stayed for many years. 

Usually, companies pay more for short-term contracts. You can get up to $55 per hour, for example, at some organizations. Of course, you should continue your job search while you work on a short-term contract. And you should work towards getting a better salary, working in a different company, finding a job with more security, and getting a role that suits your lifestyle.

Did you have to be vaccinated for your job? 

Yes, I was vaccinated, but I thought that was the right thing to do anyway. They didn’t ask me to get it done, they are, after all, only in California and the job is remote, so it wouldn't really matter. 

What was your worst interview like?

Oh my gosh, do you really want to hear that story? I think this will make everyone feel good. I’m not even kidding.

I was at my first interview with a hiring manager, and I just got so nervous that I froze. I messed up the easiest question of all, the one on how you test a login page. I cried for three days afterwards, and I couldn't understand how I could mess up such an easy question. It would’ve been different if they’d asked me a difficult question. There was no excuse. 

Later on I persuaded myself that it happens to everyone and decided the job wasn’t for me.

What did you ask the interviewers from your worst interview?

I asked them about the size of the team.

I’d also signed up for an Amazon Career Day beforehand, and when I was there I got talking to a woman. This woman advised me to ask interviewers what rockstar employee they’d like to clone, and what three words would they use to describe that person. 

I asked these questions in my worst interview, and the answers I got back gave me a better picture of what the interviewers wanted me to be like. 

Any final words of advice for your fellow graduates?

What you are taught in class is essential, just be confident when you apply for jobs and go to interviews, and make sure that recruiters like you. Recruiters may even teach you things that you didn’t even know about. 

Recruiters really just want to make sure that you’re the right fit for their team. So, each interview is like a personality check.

Thank you for sharing your journey with us. We hope to chat with you once you’ve started your job for real. We’d love to hear about the industry, your insights and your work experience in the tech field. Please come back to let us know how you’re getting on soon!

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