How Strategic or Tactical is This Position?

I interviewed once for a QA Manager job. The position was supposed to run the SEPG and chair the corporate quality improvement team. The position was supposed to hire auditors to assess the organization against the CMM, and hire testers to test the product. In addition, the position was supposed to define test plans, and run some tests in the employee’s free time. The hiring manager actually said to me, “This is a technical position, and we don’t want the QA Manager to lose their technical edge.”

One person can’t do all that. Not just because they’d run out of time to perform the work, but because the work is at various levels of strategic work for the corporation, for the Engineering organization, and for the test group, and includes tactical work.People choose a level to work at, and then work at that level. If you’re trying to hire a manager, decide how strategic the work is, and then hire someone who can do the strategic work. Successful strategic thinking (and following through with defining and organizing tactics) is actually a rare skill. It’s much easier to find someone who can succeed at tactics that other people have generated.

If you’re interviewing for a job that has both strategic and tactical components, suggest where you can be most useful, and explain how that success benefits the company. During my interview, I asked about the SEPG and corporate improvement teams – how long had they been going, what was their roadmap. The manager said they were just starting both. I suggested that I could facilitate the Engineering managers in our weekly staff meeting to choose some small improvement wins, and facilitate the overall improvement efforts. I would forget the auditors for now, and focus on the testing, to make the product more successful. I told them I would review test plans, and help organize test plans, but I wasn’t going to perform testing. They finally (after some back and forth) agreed.

Remember that even if you don’t challenge the position, you’re going to find a level at which to work. Make sure that level is what your employer wants to see. And if you’re hiring for an open position, know that you can’t have it all in one person. Decide which pieces of the strategy and tactics are crucial for the position to be successful. Then hire against those.

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