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Beginning a career in quality assurance (QA) is often a somewhat personalized journey, though there are a number of things you can do to make the path an easier one. Job research is usually the first step; the field of quality assurance is a broad one that touches many different industries. Having some idea of what you want to be doing past the initial job title is often really helpful. From there, it’s important to get as much education as you can. Most jobs require a high school diploma, but any further training you can get, be it at a technical or vocational school or at a university, can help make your search more successful. It’s also usually a good idea to network with local professionals to get a sense of the available jobs in your region. These people can not only personalize the job but can frequently also serve as references when it comes time to apply for openings. In almost all cases, beginning a career requires a bit of humility and a willingness to start at the bottom of a company or organization and work your way up.
Understand the Job Generally
There are different kinds of QA jobs, but almost all involve the testing of products or services to ensure that they meet or exceed industry expectations. Specific position titles in the field include inspectors, weighers, testers, samplers, and sorters, and each position has slightly different expectations. Most individuals with careers in QA work for manufacturing companies, and their responsibilities revolve around ensuring products are safe and undamaged. These products can range from clothing, toys, and kitchen appliances to complex circuit boards, computer components, and medicines. Workers might be responsible for testing products using their sense of sight, touch, smell, hearing and, in some instances, taste.
It’s usually the case that the ideal candidate for this career will have a mind for math and mechanics. Strong communication, visual, analytical, and motor skills are also beneficial. The more advanced positions, such as inspectors of complex or dangerous machinery, may require training in automation and statistical process control. Often, individuals who have experience assembling, operating, and repairing the same or similar types of complex machinery being used are employed in these types of positions. If this is the sort of job you’re after, the sooner you can start preparing, the better.
Tailor Your Education
A high school diploma is often the only education requirement for careers in quality assurance; however, further education will likely become increasingly important as technology advances. Some institutions already offer post-secondary level training in the field. Technical and vocational colleges in the United States commonly offer associate degrees in quality control management, for example, and similar programs are growing in other countries, too.
Hone Your Experience
Getting some experience with the field while you’re still in school is often one of the best ways to get a jump on starting your career. It’s generally uncommon to find internships or apprenticeships in this field, but many companies are willing to hire students for very basic jobs, often on a part-time basis. Even if the work you’re doing isn’t directly related to QA, it can often give you insights into the world you’re hoping to enter — and can often also help prove your worth when those bigger jobs open up. As the field becomes more competitive, having a demonstrable interest in the work and the company can help set you apart from other candidates.
Even simply meeting with professionals in your area can meet this goal. If you can, set up informational interviews with people who have the sort of job you want. Ask them about what they do, and how they like it; if possible, also ask to shadow them for a day or so on the job. Maintaining contacts who are actively working in the field can help you boost your own skills, and these people might also have inside information about jobs as they open up.
Search for Available Positions
Available positions are posted in a number of places. Local newspapers and job boards may have them and online job banks are also usually a good bet. Social networking and knowing the right people can also go a long way in helping you find a position. Consider what companies in your area may have the sort of job you want, then contact them to find out if they have any openings and what specific requirements they are looking for in new hires.
In general, employers tend to prefer to train their QA workers on site. This training might include how to read and operate gauges, meters, computer systems, and other instruments. Workers will also likely be taught proper techniques for quality control, safety, and blueprint reading. Training is usually compensated, but not always.
Importance of Flexibility
Another important thing to remember when beginning your career is that it’s not always possible to be hired into the best or most lucrative positions right from the start. Beginning a career in any field of work often entails starting out a lower level, and quality assurance is no different. Many individuals start out as basic "work/not work" assembly line testers. There is, however, chance for career advancement, and many workers are eventually promoted to inspectors, managers, and equipment or material purchasers.