It’s the end of the tech boot-camp I’m working at and I have a lot that I want to pass on to my students before they leave. One key thing is to practice telling your story for an interview.
- Write down your accomplishments
- Get others to help you
- Use non-tech related accomplishments
- Talking Points
- Communicate your Value
- Mock Interviews
- Use the job description
Telling your story in an interview allows you to paint every answer to a question into a narrative of your choice.
- You are the hero in your story and this is your chance to show that hero’s actions and results from beginning to end.
- It’s an opportunity to downplay negatives and upgrade positives.
- People love, remember, and share great stories that they hear with others. Imagine a recruiter being so excited about your story that they retell it with passion to a hiring manager.
- Finally, facts weaved into a story sounds better then random facts thrown at the interviewer forcing them to organize them.
A big advantage to telling a story is it helps you control the conversation. You can say something that will affect what questions the interviewer will ask you. Think about it, would you rather random questions that you may or may not be prepared for or questions about an experience you mention earlier. Imagine an interview where you talk about experiences you are excited about and brings out the best of you instead of boring interview questions.
Do you really want to leave it to chance that the interviewer will connect all the dots that you are fantastic. A better alternative is to be prepared with a story or set of experiences that vividly shows a positive narrative. You want to be seen as a HUMAN, not a number on a spreadsheet.
I try to weave a story of being an enthusiastic learner, experience UI developer, and the greatest ever team member. I did this by having several prepared experiences:
- Part-time boot-camp assistant teacher: Talk about technologies I taught, mentoring a small team of students, and building small apps to inspire the students.
- Part-time UI developer for a Startup: Describe my impact on the frontend, leadership role or project management initiatives for the front-end team, and technologies I learned to use on the application.
- Hackathon winner: Focus on my UI contributions, explain how my team functioned, and technologies I learned during the experience.
- Undercover developer on my non-tech day job: Preach about the technologies I learned while building apps to help my team be more efficient on the job and my mentor experience with junior members on my team.
I say all of this because many of my students are like me and come from non traditional backgrounds. We have to use the cards life dealt us and create experience while working full time non-tech jobs.
My opinion in creating a personal story is to first write down as many accomplishments as you can. When you are finished, determine what your accomplishments have in common. Try to describe those commonalities in as many ways as possible. This is your narrative. Use the best accomplishments to weave a tale of how AWESOME you are.
More importantly, get others to help you list your accomplishments. As humans, we may not acknowledge all that we do. Your friends, coworkers, family, and Slack/Discord channel acquaintances may be able to expand upon your past accomplishments or remember things that you didn’t consider.
These experiences or accomplishments don’t have to be purely tech related. A lot of my experiences I relate in interviews are from my law enforcement job, times I worked in restaurants, or volunteer roles. Each of those demonstrate teamwork, communication, and organization skills. Your non-traditional tech jobs are great talking points.
Being in a boot-camp or self-taught is a talking point. Every technology you have learned and everything you have built with that knowledge is a talking point. This is your story.
If the idea of a story is too much, then think of these as talking points. What 2-5 ideas about you that you want the interviewer to know. What experiences do you have that reflect those ideas? Write down those experiences and spend time pondering how you can use them in multiple scenarios.
An example is you are a full stack engineer with experience in UI/UX design, know how to implement an API, is a master with Angular, and ninja at styling (responsive design, animation, etc.). What experiences can you relate that reflect these talking point?
Practice in mock interviews telling those accomplishments in a way that adds to a narrative, a single idea, or a personification of you. My personal example is a friend who helped me prepare for three interviews (front-end developer, full stack developer, mobile developer). Over several weeks I use the same set of experiences to weave three different stories that follow a narrative of UI builder, teamwork, and super star learner.
I will scream it to the world, practice mock interviewing regular and often. My go to schedule was if I had an interview on Friday, I had mock interviews Monday thru Thursday with different people. I would fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed, succeed, succeed, and then be the best version of me at that interview.
Remember that interviews are not the place to be humble but one of the few situations you need to preach, “I’m the greatest ever”. Know your value and communicate that to the interviewer. An example is if you have made ten websites for mom and pop stores in your network then say that. Don’t be ashamed because it’s not a fortune 500 company’s website. You need to communicate how you can do that job with your skill set based on your unique experiences.
Prior to the interview, use the job description to determine what experiences in your past that can be used to highlight your skills. Go into the interview with a story, narrative, or talking points that shows you have what they are asking for. Don’t tell a story that includes experiences that have nothing to do with the job. If you do, at the minimal, be able and willing to relate how that experience is similar to the job.
An example is if the job mentions teamwork or is in a specific industry. You may choose to relate experiences about teamwork that isn't in tech or your time in the industry that reflect industry knowledge. Think of a ex-chemist applying for a developer job in a lab.
I converted several blog posts similar to this one into a free e-book called "Advice for Breaking into Tech". The book summarizes advice from 700 developers about learning how to code and looking for your first job in tech into an easy-to-read narrative.
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