It's no secret that starting a job as a QA (Quality Assurance) game tester is one of the most frequently traveled roads to game development. In addition to our overview here, there are many sites online that do a great job of explaining the role of QA Tester in more detail.
For the purpose of this post let's assume that you have decided to give it a go. You are interested in becoming a QA Tester, either for your long-term career or as stepping stone to a different discipline, and you would like to know how to get an edge over the competition. Here are some thoughts on things you can do to set yourself apart from the crowd.
Beta Test, Post in Forums
These days there are numerous opportunities to be accepted into the beta tests for games, especially online games. Developers use beta tests to achieve a number of goals such as finding and eliminating bugs in the game, testing server load (what happens to the game when lots of people play at once), and as early advertising or marketing for the game. As an aspiring QA Tester you can actually get started right away by joining, and really committing yourself, to one or more of these beta tests.
Treat the test like your first job by repeatedly playing through the levels, carefully logging bugs and gameplay issues that you find, and professionally reporting them in the provided forums or in-game submission form for the developers to review. What's the worst that can happen? You get some hands-on applicable experience for your resume and to discuss at future interviews. With some luck however you may even be able to catch the eye of the developers of the game you are testing and gain either an industry connection or possibly even a job opportunity.
Choose Companies, Play Games, Write Bug Reports
Do you have your eye on specific companies that you would like to work for? Buy some of their games, play them extensively, and write bug reports on what you find. Taking things a step further, why not create a free blog that categorizes and tracks all of the bugs reports that you find and write up? Imagine how impressive your resume and online portfolio will be when you are able to point to high quality bug reports for products that are now live made by the company that you are applying to!
Gain Tester Experience by Testing Mods or Indie Games for Free
Last but not least the advice I have for QA Testers is the same advice I have for aspiring developers - do the job to get the job. Combine forces with indie developers or mod creators and offer your testing services to them free of charge. Again I suggest tracking your bug reports online so that you can share them with prospective employers. Make sure to really dedicate yourself to this effort and do everything in your power to ensure that the game is completed and released, preferably with minimal bugs. The difference between your resume and someone with no experience at all will be stark putting you well ahead of the curve.
When you have some experience under your belt and a compelling resume and online portfolio now you can begin applying for positions. Here is a great reference to see open spots, but you should know that many QA Tester positions are not posted online so I encourage you to submit your resume to studios whether they show an opening or not.
For additional information on the best way to apply and follow up for a position, take a look at Step 7: Finding Your First GameDev Job.
Good luck, you can do it!