How to stand out when Interviewing – Part 10: Accepting a Job Offer

In the last post, we discussed common interview questions and answers you can provide. In this post, we’ll discuss how to deal with being accepted by the company and potentially accepting a job offer, or being rejected by the company, which can happen for a variety of reasons.

Getting the News

When you finally hear the news of acceptance (offered a job in this case) or rejection, how you take it depends greatly on your mindset. It’s easy to be happy when an offer is extended, and it’s just as easy to be disappointed or upset when things don’t go your way and you are rejected and removed from consideration for a position.

Getting Rejected

When I was applying to positions for my first job after college, I faced rejection a lot. I applied and interviewed with over 150 companies, so I got told that they were going with another candidate quite often. After a while, it was really disappointing and eventually, I started to wonder, “Is anyone going to hire me?” Because I think honesty is important, I’m going to get very raw here. At some points, I really didn’t think that I was worth something to a company and it made interviewing with other companies hard. It was a hard hit to the self esteem hearing “no” so many times. At times, I cried. It took a really long time to separate interviewing from self-worth.

But, eventually, I understood that companies were not rejecting me as a person, but were rather rejecting the skill set and experience I presented.

Note that word there, presented. This took me a while to realize. When a company rejects you, they aren’t actually rejecting you, but rather the skill set and experience you portrayed. When a company rejects you, one of two things actually happens: you didn’t accurately depict your skills and experience (if you were a true fit), or you simply weren’t a fit. If it’s the latter, that’s perfectly okay. The company was looking for something different than what you bring to the table.

If it’s the former, there’s opportunity to be capitalized on. Something isn’t connecting and keeping track of how companies respond, how far you are making it into the interview process, and how many callbacks you are getting can help you figure out what’s not connecting. It helps to understand that this is an objective process, much like a science experiment, and treating it like an experiment can help you make big gains.

 Getting the Job Offer

If you winded up getting a job offer, you typically have the opportunity to negotiate it. I’ve always been given a verbal offer first to negotiate and nail down the specifics before being given a written offer to sign. I’ve never had a problem with this, but other people may want a written offer before negotiating, but this can slow down the negotiation process because there’s an extra step in the process, rather than simply just getting on the phone or sending an email.

Based on research you did earlier in the post series, you should have a good idea of what you are worth by using websites like Salary.com and PayScale.com. I’ve also used Glassdoor.com to get a better idea of whether the company would be good to work for, which works well for larger companies.

One of the best ways to prepare for a negotiation is to build a “Conversation Map”. You build a conversation map by stating a point, then writing down the possible paths the conversation could take based on the responses you could get, such as a negative response, a positive respond, or a deferral. This can greatly help your preparation by giving you the ability to prepare yourself for the various paths a conversation could take. What if they propose an offer that’s lower than what you expected? What if they won’t negotiate on salary? What if they are more flexible with stock options or time off? How are you going to prepare for this and what are your must-haves? A conversation map can help you get to the result you want more quickly because you are prepare for all of the various contingencies.

When you decide to negotiate a point, such as salary, you’ll typically need to make your point then stop talking and wait for an answer. I’ve seen a number of people hesitate when making their point or continue talking after they’ve made their request and blow the negotiation when they probably could have gotten what they wanted. It’s VERY hard to do your first time if you’ve never negotiated before because you are typically dealing with people who negotiate on a daily or weekly basis. You’ll need to make your point firmly and stop talking. If they counter back with something that’s other than what you want, tell them you’ll need to consider it for a day or two to give you time to prepare if you haven’t already.

Action Steps

Below are your action steps when preparing for a negotiation.

  1. Double-check your desired salary or salary range by going to Salary.com and PayScale.com.
  2. Double-check whether you want to work for the company that you are receiving an offer from by using Glassdoor.com.
  3. Build out a conversation map based on three different initial job offers: Getting the salary you want or more, get a job offer for a salary 5k-10k less than you want, and a job offer 20k or more less than you want.
  4. Practice a few possible paths through your conversation map while being recorded by a video camera. Review the footage and see where you hesitated or kept talking after you made your request.
  5. Follow through and decide whether you will be accepting a job offer or negotiating it.

One final thing I want to bring up even though I said it before. Negotiating is difficult if it’s your first time negotiating, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t get everything you want. You’ll have another chance to negotiate the next time around, so brush it off if you don’t get the results you want and see how you could do better next time.

Let me know how your next negotiation goes by posting in the comments below. Tell me what went well, what didn’t go well, and what could be done to improve your next negotiation.

If you found value in this content, I encourage you to read the rest of the posts in this series about how to stand out when interviewing:

  1. Picking a new PositionOne of the biggest problems people encounter when they are looking for a new job is, “What do I look for now? Should I get the same job somewhere else? Should I try to move up? What if I’m not qualified?!” In this post, we discuss a couple of methods you can use to help you get clarity in which direction you should head with your career.
  2. Gather Data about YourselfThis post discusses some ways you can use to get concrete insight on information you can use to prove your skills and experience throughout your job search.
  3. Craft your Theme - Once you’ve gathered the data, you should either see or develop some sort of trend in your work. You should also try to craft this theme to fit into your overall career goals. Your theme should provide a narrative behind where your career has been and where you are proactively directing it.
  4. Writing your Base Resume - I recommend you write a base resume to help you get a solid grasp of the direction you want to head with your career. This post discusses an approach I take to doing this.
  5. Build your Portfolio - By providing a portfolio of your work, you not only tell the person or company you are interviewing with that you are awesome, but you give them examples of your work so that they can investigate it for themselves.
  6. Practicing InterviewingWith this post, we talk about some methods you can use to practice interviewing.
  7. Picking the Companies to interview - In this post, we’ll talk about picking the right companies to interview with so that you know how to tailor your resume.
  8. How to prepare for an interview - While you are waiting for companies to respond back asking for interviews, you should be breaking apart the job descriptions even further and writing down examples of work you’ve done previously to satisfy each requirement that they are listing. You should be also boning up on the basics of your potential job and the theory behind it.
  9. Common Interview Questions and Answers - You’ve made it this far and you’re starting to interview with companies. During each interview, you want to ask 3 specific questions which I’ll cover later in this article.
  10. (You are here) Accepting a Job Offer - At the end of the interview process with each company, one of two (obvious) things will happen: rejection or acceptance. I’ll discuss how to deal with each one of them and where to go from there.

How to stand out when Interviewing – Part 9: Common Interview Questions and Answers

In the introduction post, I mentioned that there were three questions that you will want to ask while you are interviewing. Those are all interview wrap-up questions and we will get to those in a bit, but for now, I want to focus on things that happen during the meat of the interview.

Common Interview Questions and Answers

When we go into an interview, we typically get asked the same types of questions. These common interview questions can boil down to following generalized statements and questions:

  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. Tell me about a project you worked on. OR Tell me about this specific project.
  3. What is a weakness/strength you have?
  4. How would you solve a particular problem?
  5. Tell me about a time when you dealt with a conflict.
  6. Why are you looking for a new job?
  7. What types of relevant job experience do you have?
  8. Tell me about your technical skills.
  9. How well do you fit in with the team?
  10. What types of leadership skills do you bring to the table?

Practically every interview you will be in will be focused on these common interview questions and answers that you give show how prepared you are to answer these questions and others.

But, the question we should be answering most importantly that a company will never ask is:

What VALUE do you bring to the company?

While you are interviewing, you have to continuously and consciously be showing that provide value to the company. You have to be illustrating ways that you understand the business objective, can measure it, break it down to the smaller problems, and solve it.

The reason a company will never ask this question is because it’s too vague, so they ask other questions to try to gather pieces of the puzzle so they can fit them together. If you were to be asked this question, it would probably stop you cold in your tracks, no matter how much of a hot streak you had been on. This question is HARD to answer and that’s why this entire post series has been about providing you a strategy to understand the value you bring to the table.

However, they may ask this question in different ways, such as “Why should we hire you?” or “What makes you the best candidate?” Understanding what they are really asking, also called answering the question behind the question, can give you a bit of a different viewpoint to consider when answering questions.

So, how do you figure out the question behind the question? You’ll need to understand the interviewer’s viewpoint. Think about who the interviewer is, what their role or position is, what type of interview they’ll be conducting, and what they are looking to get out of the interview. Knowing this helps you understand their viewpoint. Do you give technical answers to someone who doesn’t have a technical background? Are you going to talk about how you fit with the team when you are asked to solve a hypothetical problem instead? Would you stay high level when asked how to implement a certain piece of functionality?

No, you wouldn’t. You should deeply consider why they are asking this information and who’s asking it. You’d give more high level answers to less technical people, but when asked by a Senior Software Engineer how to implement the merge sort algorithm and what it’s worst-case runtime is, you wouldn’t be talking about why sorting is useful, but rather what merge sort is good for, when it’s applicable, how to implement it, what it’s logarithmic running time (Big O Notation), etc. For those who aren’t software engineers, a wedding photographer shouldn’t be talking about ISO, Aperture, and shutter speed settings to a bride who’s got about 500 other things on her plate and just wants someone who’s going to capture the special moments on her wedding day. What they should be doing instead is showing their portfolio of past weddings they’ve done and how they captured that magic.

The Three Questions You Must Ask

I’ve already mentioned that I have three questions I must ask in the interview, but it’s important to understand where you stand in the interview and whether you are likely to move on. Below are my three must ask questions:

  1. What reservations do you have about me as a candidate?
  2. What are some problems the company is currently facing that someone in this role would be responsible for addressing?
  3. Who I interviewing with next, what is their role, and what type of interview is this?

The first question is my absolute favorite question to ask because it helps me understand why I might not advance in the interview process and it gives me a chance to address their concerns. It also gives me clues on what to address in the future when interviewing to make myself more compelling.

The second question clues you in on problems the company is facing and why they are looking to hire someone in this position. If you can get to the point where you’ve discovered problems the company has faced or is currently facing, you can use that to your advantage and hit “sore spots” when talking about the value you could potentially provide to the company.

The third question is what I mentioned earlier by understanding who your next interviewer is and what their role will be. This helps you more proactively prepare for the next interview because you’ll better understand the context and can reframe your answers accordingly.

Action Steps

Going forward, I want you to take the following action steps to get the most out of your next interview. You’ll need a notepad and pen, and take that to your next interview, along with copies of your resume and briefcase/portfolio.

  • Write down the Three Questions You Must Ask to remind yourself at the end of the interview.
  • Write down any concerns the company has about you, along with who you’ll be interviewing with next.
  • Write down questions you are asked during the interview.
  • Write down any problems you discover the company is facing so that you can address them in future interviews, even if they don’t bring you back. Problems are typically shared by companies in the same space.

We’ll cover how to handle acceptance or rejection in the next post. See you then!

If you found value in this content, I encourage you to read the rest of the posts in this series about how to stand out when interviewing:

  1. Picking a new PositionOne of the biggest problems people encounter when they are looking for a new job is, “What do I look for now? Should I get the same job somewhere else? Should I try to move up? What if I’m not qualified?!” In this post, we discuss a couple of methods you can use to help you get clarity in which direction you should head with your career.
  2. Gather Data about YourselfThis post discusses some ways you can use to get concrete insight on information you can use to prove your skills and experience throughout your job search.
  3. Craft your Theme - Once you’ve gathered the data, you should either see or develop some sort of trend in your work. You should also try to craft this theme to fit into your overall career goals. Your theme should provide a narrative behind where your career has been and where you are proactively directing it.
  4. Writing your Base Resume - I recommend you write a base resume to help you get a solid grasp of the direction you want to head with your career. This post discusses an approach I take to doing this.
  5. Build your Portfolio - By providing a portfolio of your work, you not only tell the person or company you are interviewing with that you are awesome, but you give them examples of your work so that they can investigate it for themselves.
  6. Practicing InterviewingWith this post, we talk about some methods you can use to practice interviewing.
  7. Picking the Companies to interview - In this post, we’ll talk about picking the right companies to interview with so that you know how to tailor your resume.
  8. How to prepare for an interview - While you are waiting for companies to respond back asking for interviews, you should be breaking apart the job descriptions even further and writing down examples of work you’ve done previously to satisfy each requirement that they are listing. You should be also boning up on the basics of your potential job and the theory behind it.
  9. (You are here) Common Interview Questions and Answers - You’ve made it this far and you’re starting to interview with companies. During each interview, you want to ask 3 specific questions which I’ll cover later in this article.
  10. Accepting a Job Offer - At the end of the interview process with each company, one of two (obvious) things will happen: rejection or acceptance. I’ll discuss how to deal with each one of them and where to go from there.

How to stand out when Interviewing – Part 8: How to prepare for an interview

Now, we get to the part that is the supposedly “hardest” part of interviewing. In this post, I’ll tell you not only how to prepare for an interview, but how to prepare effectively. People don’t prepare for interviews in general, so a little bit of effective practice and preparation can go a long way.

I’ll be completely transparent here: writing this post scared me a bit. I sat on the content for a long time. This was actually one of the first posts I wrote in this whole series because I wanted to get it exactly right.

This step and the next  (interviewing) can make or break your interviewing preparation and dramatically affect whether you get a job offer or not. 

In fact, these two steps are the hardest steps, but time and again we try to jump straight into interviewing without knowing how to prepare for an interview, thinking that we can simply go in and wing the interview to get the job.

It simply doesn’t work. I know it doesn’t because I’ve tried it… with over 150 companies.

Taking this approach is how I ended up interviewing with over 150 companies over the course of 7 months trying to get my first job out of college. When I did finally manage to successfully “wing” an interview, I ended up with an internship at a company that I didn’t enjoy working for. The reason I got so many interviews but failed so many times was because, on paper, I looked solid because I had gotten a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science and had projects and certifications to back that up, but when it came to interviewing I couldn’t articulate my value correctly. I had no clue how to prepare for an interview. I simply didn’t get what made me an attractive candidate… or in this case, the candidate you shouldn’t hire.

People would bring me in and I’d give them a smattering of stories and data, and they wouldn’t know what to make of me. I would go into an interview feeling super nervous, my stomach twisting into knots. Before one particular interview, I had to go outside to keep from vomiting. A different time, I went to the company and took an automated screener test, which would recommend jobs I was “good” for, and it told me I should be working in the mailroom as an analyst.

How to prepare for an interview… the right way

It doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t have to go through automated screener tests and wing interviews. In this step and the next, you’ll find out what works for you and how to prepare for an interview successfully. You’ll begin to get hard data about the resumes you’ve sent out, what’s connecting with companies and what isn’t, where to improve, and what stories to use in the interviewing room.

In this post, I’m going to introduce a technique that I use (and advocate my clients use) when preparing to interview called the Value Vault. Using the Value Vault, I figured out how to get my value across and tell my stories in ways that connect with the company. Remember, when I tried to get my first job out of college, I interviewed with over 150 companies and ended up with 1 job offer for an internship. The next time I interviewed for a job, I interviewed with 6 companies and got 5 job offers, all paying at least 20% more than what I was making with my previous salary position. By getting deep inside the interviewer’s head, I knew exactly how to build my Value Vault, which ended up getting me a job offer that had a 53% salary increase when moving to my next company. The next time I had to negotiate (at a different company), I was able to increase my salary by another 9k because I could illustrate the value I brought to the company.

I’ve taught this technique to my clients and the ones that use it get massive results. In one case, a client got a performance-based bonus structure set up at a company that had never offered bonuses before. Another client got their dream job working with Gary Vaynerchuk at Vaynermedia. One of my more recent clients got a job making 3 times what they was previously making. Understanding their value and being able to articulate it is what made all the difference. Knowing the value you bring to the table is what we are going to nail down in this post.

The Value Vault

The Value Vault is my way of getting all the information related to the work you do along with the results you achieve out of your head and onto paper. This technique builds on what you did in the second post in this series, Gathering Data about Yourself. In that post, we talked about specific types of data you could gather. This time around, we are going to build a much more holistic picture by taking specific questions and topics into account.

Think about the following topics as if they were questions that were posed to you. This will help you start to define entries in your Value Vault.

  • What Value do you bring to the team? - In other words, what makes you stand out from the rest of the crowd and why should I hire you over someone with 10 years more experience than you?
  • What types of relevant job experience do you have when looking at the job description? - Break the job description down line by line and give me a project or example that would fill that need.
  • Tell me about your technical skills.  – I need to know you can do the job, so tell me about the deep, technical skills you use to get your job done.
  • What do you plan to do in the Future? - What does your career path look like, and how does our company fit in? We are looking for you to have a career path and to be motivated to do a good job. Helping us helps you.
  • How do you fit in with the team? - What are deal makers and breakers? What is absolutely something you won’t put up with? What is something you absolutely need? Do you mind if some of your coworkers come in at 7am while others come in at 11am? Do you need a strict 9-5? Is overtime acceptable?
  • What type of “managerial” or leadership skills do you bring to the table? - How do you better the environments you are in through leadership and action? What initiatives have you pioneered? How have you taught your coworkers and reports to do their job better?

Now, write down each of the following details for each one of the topics above:

  • Problem or Experience: What was the situation that you were in? What were you asked to do? What was the business goal you were trying to help accomplish?
  • Actions: What were the actions you took? Why did you take those actions?
  • Results: What were the results you obtained as a result of your actions?
  • Message: What specifically do you want to get across with this story?
  • Data/Metrics: What are you improving, and how much are you improving it by? Can you tie it to actual dollars and cents the company saves or earns?
  • Specifics or Anecdotes: What are some details to really bring this story to life? Specificity is key to telling a compelling story. If you got frustrated, tell me that. If you
  • Analogy: For those less inclined in this area, how can you relay this message in a way that they could grasp?

Finally, I want you to come up with 10 or more value vault entries, ideally being able to answer the above topics, along with the below questions:

  • Why should I hire you?
  • Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a coworker.
  • Describe a decision you made that was a failure.
  • What would your former boss say are your strengths/weaknesses?
  • Why so much jumping around?
  • Why are you looking to quit your job?
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • How long will it take for you to make a significant contribution?
  • How do you compensate for your lack of experience in this industry?
  • How would you deal with the following problem…

Action Steps

Take make sure you are well prepared, perform the following action steps:

  1. Write down 10 separate experience/project/problem write-ups and create your Problem, Actions, Results, MessageAnalogyAnecdotes, and Data/Metrics statements for each write-up.
  2. Sit down in front of a camera and practice taking a question and delivering the answer you came up with based on the most relevant value vault entry you created.
  3. Review the videos you took and make sure your answers come in around 3-4 minutes long. If your answer is longer than this, you are most likely spending too much time answering the question, going off on a tangent in your answer, or rambling. Practice your answers until you have a clear beginning (introduction/problem statement), middle (actions you took), and conclusion (results you obtained and lessons you learned for next time).
  4. Review the videos you took and make sure that you are including a clear problem (an analogy works well if you are talking to a nontechnical person), detailing the actions you took, the results you got (further backed up by the data/metrics), and finally recapping with the lessons you learned and the message you wanted to get across.
  5. Go back to step #2 and do it all over again (and again).
  6. When you think your answers are spot on, practice with a friend and tell them to note any time you weren’t explicitly clear in your answer. Clarity is key when interviewing.

If you found value in this content, I encourage you to read the rest of the posts in this series about how to stand out when interviewing:

  1. Picking a new PositionOne of the biggest problems people encounter when they are looking for a new job is, “What do I look for now? Should I get the same job somewhere else? Should I try to move up? What if I’m not qualified?!” In this post, we discuss a couple of methods you can use to help you get clarity in which direction you should head with your career.
  2. Gather Data about YourselfThis post discusses some ways you can use to get concrete insight on information you can use to prove your skills and experience throughout your job search.
  3. Craft your Theme - Once you’ve gathered the data, you should either see or develop some sort of trend in your work. You should also try to craft this theme to fit into your overall career goals. Your theme should provide a narrative behind where your career has been and where you are proactively directing it.
  4. Writing your Base Resume - I recommend you write a base resume to help you get a solid grasp of the direction you want to head with your career. This post discusses an approach I take to doing this.
  5. Build your Portfolio - By providing a portfolio of your work, you not only tell the person or company you are interviewing with that you are awesome, but you give them examples of your work so that they can investigate it for themselves.
  6. Practicing InterviewingWith this post, we talk about some methods you can use to practice interviewing.
  7. Picking the Companies to interview - In this post, we’ll talk about picking the right companies to interview with so that you know how to tailor your resume.
  8. (You are here) How to prepare for an interview - While you are waiting for companies to respond back asking for interviews, you should be breaking apart the job descriptions even further and writing down examples of work you’ve done previously to satisfy each requirement that they are listing. You should be also boning up on the basics of your potential job and the theory behind it.
  9. Common Interview Questions and Answers - You’ve made it this far and you’re starting to interview with companies. During each interview, you want to ask 3 specific questions which I’ll cover later in this article.
  10. Accepting a Job Offer - At the end of the interview process with each company, one of two (obvious) things will happen: rejection or acceptance. I’ll discuss how to deal with each one of them and where to go from there.

How to stand out when Interviewing – Part 7: Picking Companies to Interview with

While you are practicing your interviewing skills, it’s time to start picking companies to interview. One of the big things about picking companies is that your narrative has to fit what they are looking for.

Picking Companies to Interview With

As I’ve said before, it’s a poor idea to take your resume and shotgun it out to every company even remotely fits what you are looking for. Instead, pick 5-7 companies you’d really like to work for (A companies) and pick another 5-7 companies that you’d be okay working for (B companies). These companies should have job descriptions up for the position you are interested in, either on their website or a job board. If not, see if you can network with an employee of the company to see if they have any positions not listed on their website. You can also use this to learn more about the job requirements, which I’ll get to in a little bit.

Once you’ve picked some companies, you’ll need to customize your resume to each, then apply to them in the order of least-interested to most-interested. You can also alternate between B companies and A companies when applying. This gives you a chance to work out the finer points of how you will answer questions and how to get the value you provide across before you get to the companies that you really want to work for. With B companies, you can be more aggressive in your interviewing and negotiating tactics because you aren’t as interested in working for that company specifically. If you go in the order of B companies then A companies, you should only start applying to A companies when you have a decent shot at getting the position, which can be validated by getting one or more offers from B companies.

Applying to a company

When you have picked a company you want to apply to, grab the job description for the position they have open and break it down line-by-line, noting what past experience you have that fills the job requirement or validates you to perform that task. This will feel like you are redoing your resume, and that’s because, in a way, you are. You are re-evaluating and tailoring your resume to show how you can fulfill the job’s requirements. I prefer to have a few things that I haven’t done before in a job I’m applying to because that leaves me room for improvement. The company should be gaining from you and you should also be gaining from being employed by the company. For instance, I might apply to a Build and Release Engineer position that uses Linux primarily, even though most of my background is in working with Windows. I’d show that while I may not have a lot experience working with Linux in a professional setting, I’d mention that I’ve been running a number of websites and online projects that use Ubuntu Server as the host operating system for a number of years. I might also write some blog posts showing that I have working knowledge as well to further back up the claim.

Deep Research

Do your best to identify what exactly they are looking for, whether that be someone who is reliable and is willing to work overtime on a regular basis, or a jack of all trades that can quickly pick up new skills and tools. Essentially, you are looking for their needs/wants. If you can position yourself and your narrative to fit what the company is looking for, you are going to come across as the person that can solve their problems specifically. Sometimes, you’ll need to do deep research by reaching out to the people with the low-down on the company. This might be former employees or existing employees. Investigate your personal network to see where you can make a connection. Don’t be afraid to ask your network to make introductions if an employee or former employee is a friend of a friend. This can greatly help you because then you can ask questions to find out the company’s true pain points, what they are lacking, and how a person in your position would be able to address their concerns.

If you can manage to swing this, you can further narrow down exactly what to include on your resume. You can also think to yourself about the experience you have and the stories you want to tell and learn what is a deal breaker and what is a deal maker. Think of doing all this work as using a sniper rifle rather than the shotgun you were using before. Before, you may not have even tailored your resume to a single company. Now, you are doing deep research and getting inside the company’s metaphorical head.

Once you’ve broken the job description down and tailored your resume to fit it, feel free to send your resume to the company, ideally through a contact if you were able to secure one working for the company or directly to the Hiring Manager. Keep track of which resume you sent to which company. This will help you gain insight into which version or iteration of your resume is more effective, helping you to nail down exactly which lines are working and which lines aren’t. Feel free to ask the interviewers what stood out in your resume. This gives you the opportunity to expand on something they were interested in specifically.

Interviewing

By doing deep research into the company, you gain an upper hand on the competition by doing more work and preparing more than they have. It’s hard for someone to do this much research, but it pays off tremendously in the interview. Use the same words, phrases, and goals that the company has exposed or used in your deep research. This lets them know that you listen to them, communicate in ways they understand, and that you can align your goals to theirs.

Doing the deep research lets them know that they have someone in front of them who will proactively do the hard work that they require because they went above and beyond what any other candidate did when interviewing. I don’t want to go too deeply into this now because it will come in a future post.

In the next post, we’ll talk about what to do while you are waiting for the company to call you in for an interview and between interviews. Later, we’ll discuss what to do when you start getting job offers, but to sum it up, You want to get the companies to compete against each other. We will go into more detail on this point in a later post.

If you found value in this content, I encourage you to read the rest of the posts in this series about how to stand out when interviewing:

  1. Picking a new PositionOne of the biggest problems people encounter when they are looking for a new job is, “What do I look for now? Should I get the same job somewhere else? Should I try to move up? What if I’m not qualified?!” In this post, we discuss a couple of methods you can use to help you get clarity in which direction you should head with your career.
  2. Gather Data about YourselfThis post discusses some ways you can use to get concrete insight on information you can use to prove your skills and experience throughout your job search.
  3. Craft your Theme - Once you’ve gathered the data, you should either see or develop some sort of trend in your work. You should also try to craft this theme to fit into your overall career goals. Your theme should provide a narrative behind where your career has been and where you are proactively directing it.
  4. Writing your Base Resume - I recommend you write a base resume to help you get a solid grasp of the direction you want to head with your career. This post discusses an approach I take to doing this.
  5. Build your Portfolio - By providing a portfolio of your work, you not only tell the person or company you are interviewing with that you are awesome, but you give them examples of your work so that they can investigate it for themselves.
  6. Practicing InterviewingWith this post, we talk about some methods you can use to practice interviewing.
  7. (You are here) Picking the Companies to interview - In this post, we’ll talk about picking the right companies to interview with so that you know how to tailor your resume.
  8. How to prepare for an interview - While you are waiting for companies to respond back asking for interviews, you should be breaking apart the job descriptions even further and writing down examples of work you’ve done previously to satisfy each requirement that they are listing. You should be also boning up on the basics of your potential job and the theory behind it.
  9. Common Interview Questions and Answers - You’ve made it this far and you’re starting to interview with companies. During each interview, you want to ask 3 specific questions which I’ll cover later in this article.
  10. Accepting a Job Offer - At the end of the interview process with each company, one of two (obvious) things will happen: rejection or acceptance. I’ll discuss how to deal with each one of them and where to go from there.

How to stand out when Interviewing – Part 6: Practice Interviewing

So, you’ve picked a new position, gathered data about yourself and your work, crafted the narrative or theme you want to convey, written a base resume, compiled a portfolio, and you are wondering what’s next in this journey to sharpen your interviewing skills. This post begins the most important and impactful part when sharpening your interviewing skills: practicing interviewing as if you are in the room.

How do I actually practice interviewing in the hot seat?

Interviewing is one thing I wish I had practiced a lot more in college. I should have gotten a group of friends together and practiced questions we could find online, and when we were close to graduating, practicing questions we were getting in interviews. This is something I actively do now, even when I’m not interviewing with companies or going for a raise because it gives me a chance to be on the other side of the table when interviewing and preparing myself when I do have to interview candidates in the future.

I highly recommend to practice interviewing with friends, coworkers, or family even. However, the quality of the interviewer is something to take into consideration. It can be easier to deliver your theme when you are speaking with “birds of a feather”, so to speak, so practicing with people that have similar skills sets can prepare you for the technical aspects of your job and can help you figure out how to prepare and deliver your theme. If you are a software developer looking for a job and you have the option to practice interviewing with a member of HR, even if you don’t know the person, take it because this can get you out of the technical aspects and you’ll learn how to deliver your experience and theme to more people, especially people that don’t know exactly what you are talking about. Being able to convey your skillset, narrative, and background to more people can open up you to new opportunities you may not otherwise encounter when interviewing.

You can practice interviewing alone even, which is one thing that 99% people just don’t do, but can ultimately have some of the biggest impact. You practice alone by doing at least one of two things: Get in front of a mirror and answer questions and/or record a video of yourself answering questions. The reason I bring this up is because it is extremely unnatural and throws everyone for a loop the first few times they do it. Standing in front of a mirror is great because then you have a face to look at, and we are so used to talking with other people that seeing our face can set us on edge as well. Being uncomfortable is a pretty easy feeling to practice with and yet so few people do it. They say things like, “I’ll look stupid,” and “I can’t believe I’m doing this.” I used to say it myself but I’ve gotten over it. The only way to get better at interviewing is by practicing. I really like recording a video of answering questions and practicing interviewing because it’s a great way to see how you answered a question, where you weren’t clear, what you could do to make the answer stand out more, checking your timing to make sure you aren’t going to fast, and where you stumbled, adding words like “umm” and “uhh”.

Ok wise guy, you showed me how to practice, but how do I answer questions?

Sometimes, I wonder if people want me to spoon-feed it to them. I swear.

Before I go on to giving you some tips on how to answer questions, you need to promise me that you will practice this, otherwise you might as well close this browser tab right now and shotgun out your resume a few hundred more times. There’s nothing worse than giving people advice and them saying, “That’s nice, I’ll do that later.” If you don’t do this, you are simply wasting your time.

Pretty much every interview question will follow or be a variant of one of the questions listed below:

  1. “Tell me about yourself.”
  2. “Why do you want to work here?”
  3. “Why did you leave your last job?”
  4. “Why should I hire you?” OR “What would you bring to this position?”
  5. “Can you give me an example of when you used your X skills (optional: with outstanding results)?”
  6. “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
  7. “Tell me when something went wrong and you had to fix it.”
  8. “How do you deal with X situation?”

Before I dig into the meat of the guide to answer the questions above, I want you to remember a couple of “suggested” rules I have:

Rule #1: Remember your theme/narrative that you want to get across and make sure your answers follow that theme. People want to know your story and how you can provide value to them. There are at least a hundred different people that can give the same answer as you at this very moment, but they don’t have your story or theme/narrative. Your theme is one way of illustrating value.

Rule #2: Providing value is the whole point you want to get across. As you answer questions, you want the person sitting on the other side of the table to nod their head in agreement and think, “Hmm, yeah, that does sound exactly like what I need.” You also want to show how they are getting a great deal by hiring you over the next guy. A great deal in the sense that you provide 2/5/10/100 times more value than the other candidates because you not only do the work, but that you are a top performer and proactively bring solutions to their problems and you know how to implement them. However, because you are more valuable than the competition, you should be compensated more.

Back to the questions listed above. You’ll notice they fall in one of three categories: Tell me about your Experience, Why You, and How do you deal with X. A great way to prepare for these categories is to look at the data that you’ve gathered about yourself because you can come up with stories and experiences to answer the first category, the fact that you perform analysis and develop insight that sets you above the competition to deal with the second category, and because you take a data driven approach to deal with the third category, you can come up with better approaches and have the data to back up your viewpoint.

One thing that people routinely bring up is “How do I answer a question about my weaknesses?” People routinely get blindsided by this question even though they KNOW it’s coming in the interview. Not being prepared for this question is like walking into a minefield of mines YOU planted. Also, it helps to prepare for this question by coming up with a collection of weaknesses you have, that way you can prepare for each one. The reason I suggest this is so that you can rank them on severity (minimal impact to this-would-screw-the-project) and can use the least impactful one for the interview. For example, if you are going for a managerial position, the company may not care as much that you are not a detail-oriented person, so you could present the fact that you glaze over when someone presents you with a lot of details.

If you found value in this content, I encourage you to read the rest of the posts in this series about how to stand out when interviewing:

  1. Picking a new PositionOne of the biggest problems people encounter when they are looking for a new job is, “What do I look for now? Should I get the same job somewhere else? Should I try to move up? What if I’m not qualified?!” In this post, we discuss a couple of methods you can use to help you get clarity in which direction you should head with your career.
  2. Gather Data about YourselfThis post discusses some ways you can use to get concrete insight on information you can use to prove your skills and experience throughout your job search.
  3. Craft your Theme - Once you’ve gathered the data, you should either see or develop some sort of trend in your work. You should also try to craft this theme to fit into your overall career goals. Your theme should provide a narrative behind where your career has been and where you are proactively directing it.
  4. Writing your Base Resume - I recommend you write a base resume to help you get a solid grasp of the direction you want to head with your career. This post discusses an approach I take to doing this.
  5. Build your Portfolio - By providing a portfolio of your work, you not only tell the person or company you are interviewing with that you are awesome, but you give them examples of your work so that they can investigate it for themselves.
  6. (You are here) Practicing Interviewing - With this post, we talk about some methods you can use to practice interviewing.
  7. Picking the Companies to interview - In this post, we’ll talk about picking the right companies to interview with so that you know how to tailor your resume.
  8. How to prepare for an interview - While you are waiting for companies to respond back asking for interviews, you should be breaking apart the job descriptions even further and writing down examples of work you’ve done previously to satisfy each requirement that they are listing. You should be also boning up on the basics of your potential job and the theory behind it.
  9. Common Interview Questions and Answers - You’ve made it this far and you’re starting to interview with companies. During each interview, you want to ask 3 specific questions which I’ll cover later in this article.
  10. Accepting a Job Offer - At the end of the interview process with each company, one of two (obvious) things will happen: rejection or acceptance. I’ll discuss how to deal with each one of them and where to go from there.

How to stand out when Interviewing – Part 5: Build Your Portfolio

Introduction

This post talks about building a portfolio for when you are interviewing, which is the perfect compliment to the previous post, where we learned how to write our base resume. A great portfolio can really highlight exactly what value you bring to the table by showcasing your talents. An interviewer can more easily see how you fit into their organization when they have an example of your work.

Types of Portfolios

Building a portfolio is a great way to give them a visual example when interviewing of your thought process and the quality of your work. If you work in software development, for example, you could show your interviewers software projects on GitHub that you are working on, so that they can get a feel for the quality of your code. This also shows them that you aren’t afraid of having someone else look through your code. This is something that I’m working on myself, and you can see the projects I’m working on by going to my GitHub profile.

Another part of your portfolio could be a blog. A blog is a great way to show how you think about and what you think about the industry you are in, and you can garner a bit of a following by posting regularly and staying informed on topics you are interested in. You can show off tutorials of how to utilize a technology (such as memcache or Ruby on Rails). A great example of this is Ryan Bates’ RailsCasts, which covers how to utilize a wide range of Ruby on Rails capabilities and associated gems in a video blog format. Ryan can get a Rails job just about anywhere he wants to because of his videos.

Photographers do it right (generally)

My favorite entrepreneur-ish type that needs a portfolio is a photographer. People hire photographers for one reason: to take amazing photos that capture a certain moment just right. Photographers absolutely need a portfolio, because their careers live and die by the quality and evidence of their work. Seeing a great portfolio with well designed and well framed photographs really captures the abilities of the photographer and entices people to inquire about their services. A lot of photographers have profiles on websites like Flickr and DeviantArt. Another popular option is for a photographer to have their own personal website where you can see some of their work.

The reason I wanted to point out photographers especially is because you look at their work and can get a solid feel for how they frame shots and what they like to highlight or expose. If a shot looks flat and there’s not a clear subject, that can tell you that this photographer may not be someone you want to choose, whereas if something vividly stands out and catches your eye in a certain way, this photographer may be just what you are looking for.

I’ve got some things to include in my portfolio, now how do I use this when interviewing?

So, you’ve got a blog, some software projects, maybe some video tutorials, and now you are thinking, “What do I do with this? How can I accent my skills with this when interviewing?” As I’ve said in previous posts, you’ll want to include things that are relevant to the job. Make sure that what you choose to include is publicly accessible and that security settings aren’t an issue (Ryan Bates wouldn’t want to include Pro material if the interviewer didn’t have a pro account). Also, make sure that you have the rights to be able to showcase it. You may get bogged down in legal issues if you break a contract by showing client-only material or violate an NDA by talking about company secrets or intellectual property.

Let’s say for instance you have the following items to include in your portfolio and you are going for a job at Remember The Milk or RescueTime:

  • A couple of github projects:
    • A small utility to transform a folder of MP3s into an ISO to be burned.
    • A utility to darken the screen outside of the focused app to help you concentrate.
    • A project that schedules reminders and prompts you when certain things have occurred.
  • Some blog posts that talk about productivity and focusing on tasks, building sustainable habits, a recent trip you took to China, and a short series on how to take better photographs.
  • Some youtube videos demonstrating your github projects in action, other productivity tools you use, and a video of a monkey on your trip to China.

You could wrap the productivity related items of your portfolio up when applying to a company like Remember The Milk or RescueTime to show them that you aren’t just applying to the company because it’s a job that you qualify for, but that being more productive and getting things done have been actual interests of yours for a long time, so you have a genuine interest in making their product better. You have a long-standing interest in products and technologies similar to what they work on, and it comes across. You also have experience with other tools and can bring a well-informed opinion to the table when new features are considered. This is a decent portfolio.

For a better portfolio, let’s say you are applying for a company that has a culture of spending the time to do something the right way, as in they want to write high-quality software, such as a medical device company. You could wrap up blog posts about Test Driven Development, Dependency Injection, how you practice principles you learned from your Software Craftsmanship group, etc. And, because you were really on top of your game, you published all the code for those blog posts on GitHub. You could also show them how you got a beginner’s course about implementing DRY principles published on PluralSight. Rather than just being a candidate that said they are driven by writing quality code, you have examples and social proof to back it up.

One last thing to note is that you should start this as soon as you can, before you start looking for a new position ideally. You don’t want them to see that a huge flurry of content was created in the past month that you’ve been looking for a job, but rather that this has been a long process of genuine self-interest and you’ve been sharing what you’ve learned willingly, not just because you need to get a new job.

If you found value in this content, I encourage you to read the rest of the posts in this series about how to stand out when interviewing:

  1. Picking a new PositionOne of the biggest problems people encounter when they are looking for a new job is, “What do I look for now? Should I get the same job somewhere else? Should I try to move up? What if I’m not qualified?!” In this post, we discuss a couple of methods you can use to help you get clarity in which direction you should head with your career.
  2. Gather Data about YourselfThis post discusses some ways you can use to get concrete insight on information you can use to prove your skills and experience throughout your job search.
  3. Craft your Theme - Once you’ve gathered the data, you should either see or develop some sort of trend in your work. You should also try to craft this theme to fit into your overall career goals. Your theme should provide a narrative behind where your career has been and where you are proactively directing it.
  4. Writing your Base Resume - I recommend you write a base resume to help you get a solid grasp of the direction you want to head with your career. This post discusses an approach I take to doing this.
  5. (You are here) Build your Portfolio - By providing a portfolio of your work, you not only tell the person or company you are interviewing with that you are awesome, but you give them examples of your work so that they can investigate it for themselves.
  6. Practicing InterviewingWith this post, we talk about some methods you can use to practice interviewing.
  7. Picking the Companies to interview - In this post, we’ll talk about picking the right companies to interview with so that you know how to tailor your resume.
  8. How to prepare for an interview - While you are waiting for companies to respond back asking for interviews, you should be breaking apart the job descriptions even further and writing down examples of work you’ve done previously to satisfy each requirement that they are listing. You should be also boning up on the basics of your potential job and the theory behind it.
  9. Common Interview Questions and Answers - You’ve made it this far and you’re starting to interview with companies. During each interview, you want to ask 3 specific questions which I’ll cover later in this article.
  10. Accepting a Job Offer - At the end of the interview process with each company, one of two (obvious) things will happen: rejection or acceptance. I’ll discuss how to deal with each one of them and where to go from there.

Goal Setting in 2013 and a Review of 2012

At the beginning of last year, I wrote a blog post that talked about the goal setting I did for 2011 and my accomplishments, what I did wrong, and what I did right. I followed that up with another blog post that defined my goals for 2012. This post will recap those goals and how I fared this year, including what I got right, what I did wrong, and how I’m going to address the items in 2013.

Goals for 2012

As you can see, I accomplished 3/5 goals. This was better than the previous year, but the big-impact goals (such as publishing a mobile app and starting a business) didn’t get finished. I did a couple of other things, such as join Ramit’s Brain Trust, which have been greatly beneficial. I’ve also been addressing invisible scripts that I have that hold me back, such as a fear of tackling projects I’ve never done before, which includes the mobile app and starting a business.

What I did wrong when Goal Setting in 2012

There were a number of things I did wrong when I set goals for 2012. Namely, some of the following things came to mind:

  • Set a goal (starting a business) around something that I haven’t done before and knew almost nothing about. I should have set a goal that was an extension of my abilities, like the mobile app. I should not have set a goal of starting a business unless that was going to be my only goal for the year (since it is a large goal because I have not done this before).
  • Didn’t develop a plan and follow through. One of my invisible scripts is that I get incredibly nervous when acting without a plan. Because I didn’t develop a plan for each of my goals, I set myself up to fail by essentially triggering my invisible script and killing my confidence before I even got started. I realized this far too late (last week of December in fact) and will address this   in my goals for 2013.
  • Set goals that were not compounding goals. What I mean here is that I set goals that did not build on one another. An example of compounding goals would be setting a goal to build a blog focused on software development tips with 15 posts. I’d set another to get feedback on my blog posts and begin developing how-to’s to do a certain type of thing (such as Ryan Bates’ RailsCasts). I could then set a final goal to create a product to consolidate that knowledge in an easy-to-follow format, such as an ebook. When I set up my goals, I didn’t take this into account and set up goals that sent me in different directions, like blogging on whatever, developing a mobile app, setting up a web-based SaaS business, etc. I should pick one theme and focus on that for the year.

What I did right in completing my 2012 goals

To touch on a few things I did right in 2012:

  • Identified a major invisible script that severely holds me back. An invisible script is an assumption that you make or a deep-seeded thought that you have (sometimes unknowingly) that crops up from time to time in specific circumstances. My invisible script is that I get incredibly nervous when I don’t have a plan and try to tackle something new for the first time or when working on something I haven’t done in a while. This severely hinders my progress and in some cases, totally blocks my attempts to get work done. I’ve identified this and have been working on coming up with highly-actionable plans that I can follow through on.
  • Met some of my goals instead of getting discouraged and not working on any of them. This is something that happened in 2011 and I pretty much blew the rest of the year off. I tried to set more obtainable goals in 2012, and actually got some of them done, even if they were the easier ones.
  • Started to organize and take notes much more. One of the things that I hated was when the end of 2011 came, I didn’t have much to show for it (or I didn’t think I did). One thing that happened in 2011 was I joined a company that required me to track my time down to the hour. This actually fostered a beneficial habit that I’ve been following at work since then where I keep a weekly log of what tasks/projects that I work on and complete, the accomplishments I develop, and metrics I try to improve. Something else that happened as a result of joining Ramit’s Brain Trust is that I’m taking more notes and trying to contribute more to the group. I’m not great at taking notes, but other people have found value in this already because I share the notes I take with the group.

Goals for 2013

Now, we get back to goal setting, and 2013 is no different. I’m going to apply the lessons I’ve learned over the past years and do my best to develop highly-actionable, compounding goals. My goals this year are:

  1. Publish 25 blog posts after this one. I have some more posts left in my interviewing tips series, but that won’t fill up all 25, so you’ll see some more great content as the year continues. Don’t forget to sign up for my email list to get my best material and so you don’t miss my next product. Which leads me on to…
  2. Release a product about interviewing and how to make job hunting easier. As you’ve seen recently, I’ve been talking about How to Stand Out when Interviewing, and this goal ties right in with that. I really want to help people with the knowledge that I’ve gained, and sometimes that hard to do across blog posts, since it may not be the best format for the message I want to get across.
  3. Guest post on 5 different blogs. I really want to build the traffic to this blog (as well as the subscriber base for the email newsletter), and one of the best ways to do that is by guest posting on other blogs. I’m going to identify 5 blogs that have audiences I want to reach out to and work on guest posting for them if they are interested.

As you can see, there’s quite a bit planned for 2013, and I hope you stick around to watch it all unfold.

How to stand out when Interviewing – Part 4: Writing your Base Resume

In the previous post in this series about interviewing tips, we talked about how to craft your theme. I also mentioned that having a theme can help give you a solid foundation to build your resume off of.

I used to think that I could write one resume for the position I wanted and shotgun it out to companies to get an interview. That doesn’t work and it wastes a ton of your time. However, having a solid base resume can cut down the amount of time you spend tuning your resume in the future when you go to apply for a position.

The Base Resume

A solid resume gives you a way to get your foot in the door rather than a dead tree in the trashcan. This is done by making sure your resume fits your theme. If you are a software developer that wants to get into management, put appropriate items on your resume, such as an Open Source project you lead that has multiple releases each year, or the last batch of interns that you lead and acted as the Project Manager for. You need to be able to include metrics in your resume (this is half the reason you record them!). Whatever your goals are, you need to show that you’ve hit previous goals over and over and over again. The company (if they are decent anyway) wants people that get shit done. Your resume is the perfect place to capture this.

An example of a goal I’ve made before was to eliminate errors in build processes at work. I did this by looking at the custom build scripts used and tallying up how many builds had breaks that were related to the custom build scripts versus the total number of build breaks and I found that more than 95% of the build breaks were related to those custom scripts. I reimplemented them in other ways and removed parts of the build scripts that were no longer necessary, and ended up throwing the scripts out entirely after a while. This sped up our builds by about 25% and also made our builds more reliable since they didn’t have to process error logging as much. This is something that I’ll include on my resume if it’s something that I think a company would be interested in.

I prefer to layout my resume with my name and contact information at the top, my skills/technologies used next, then experience, followed by recognition I received, my schooling, and lastly my certifications. I’ve tried a few different layouts, and this one works best for me currently, but that may change as I start hitting different audiences in my career. You can download my current resume here. I find that this layout works well at presenting relevant experience. There are other layouts you can find online to emphasize things such as education, skills, etc.

Turning Experience into Entries on your Resume

Concisely turning an experience into one or two entries on a resume is a very valuable skill. In my experience section, I try to make sure that each line states a result I achieved or helped a team achieve. I also add clues that this was above and beyond what was expected of the position, like the following line:

Performed daily builds and deployments with an eye on process improvement.

What does this line tell you? It says I handled the day to day tasks in a way that was looking ahead. It doesn’t say what I mentioned that we should (and did) implement, but it’s an enticing enough statement that it gets asked about in a fair number of interviews. Since I posted this on my resume originally, I’ve taken this a step further and started to put better lines on my resume, and if they aren’t up to at least that quality, I rewrite them and make sure they fit my standards level. An example of another line would be:

I analyzed, corrected, and optimized issues in the build process which lead to a reduction in execution time by 40%.

That line wraps up a similar case to the example I mentioned earlier and tells you that I took the time to evaluate the current execution time of the build process, corrected problems I saw, and further optimized the process to run 25% faster.

So why did I give you all of these examples? You can’t have a strong base resume without having specifics, metrics, and a narrative. Condensing full experiences that took months or years to go through into a single sentence helps you prepare for interview questions because you can “unpack” them into experiences to provide an answer.

When you start to build your resume, make sure the format is clean (you’ll find examples of this in the miscellaneous tips post), and start writing down full experiences and examples of projects you’ve worked on and achievements you’ve obtained. What I mean by full experiences is the example I laid out in the fourth paragraph where I talk about an example goal. I then broke that experience down into the most interesting and impactful sentence I could. I  take one aspect of a project and distill it down to the single most important goal, how I solved it, and include a metric to back the statement up and give the interviewer a hook.

Some people include mission statements, interesting facts, and other anecdotes about their lives such as their personal interests and what they do on the weekend. I prefer to leave this kind of stuff off because it distracts from the message I’m trying to send. As I mentioned before, if it doesn’t fit my theme, I leave it off. One thing to note is that this won’t be the resume that you send to companies that you plan to interview at, and the reason for this is because you’ll need to further tailor it to their specific requirements. You may have a certain theme in mind and you’ll tweak your past experience to satisfy the requirements the company is looking for.

If you found value in this content, I encourage you to read the rest of the posts in this series about how to stand out when interviewing:

  1. Picking a new PositionOne of the biggest problems people encounter when they are looking for a new job is, “What do I look for now? Should I get the same job somewhere else? Should I try to move up? What if I’m not qualified?!” In this post, we discuss a couple of methods you can use to help you get clarity in which direction you should head with your career.
  2. Gather Data about YourselfThis post discusses some ways you can use to get concrete insight on information you can use to prove your skills and experience throughout your job search.
  3. Craft your Theme - Once you’ve gathered the data, you should either see or develop some sort of trend in your work. You should also try to craft this theme to fit into your overall career goals. Your theme should provide a narrative behind where your career has been and where you are proactively directing it.
  4. (You are here) Writing your Base Resume - I recommend you write a base resume to help you get a solid grasp of the direction you want to head with your career. This post discusses an approach I take to doing this.
  5. Build your Portfolio - By providing a portfolio of your work, you not only tell the person or company you are interviewing with that you are awesome, but you give them examples of your work so that they can investigate it for themselves.
  6. Practicing InterviewingWith this post, we talk about some methods you can use to practice interviewing.
  7. Picking the Companies to interview - In this post, we’ll talk about picking the right companies to interview with so that you know how to tailor your resume.
  8. How to prepare for an interview - While you are waiting for companies to respond back asking for interviews, you should be breaking apart the job descriptions even further and writing down examples of work you’ve done previously to satisfy each requirement that they are listing. You should be also boning up on the basics of your potential job and the theory behind it.
  9. Common Interview Questions and Answers - You’ve made it this far and you’re starting to interview with companies. During each interview, you want to ask 3 specific questions which I’ll cover later in this article.
  10. Accepting a Job Offer - At the end of the interview process with each company, one of two (obvious) things will happen: rejection or acceptance. I’ll discuss how to deal with each one of them and where to go from there.

How to stand out when Interviewing – Part 3: Craft Your Theme

As the previous post Gathering Data about Yourself discussed capturing metrics you’ll use later in the process, this post talks about one point where you can use those metrics to nail down more specifics to aid in your job hunt. This post talks about crafting a theme that will guide you for the rest of the process I lay out for interviewing.

What is a theme? How can crafting a theme help me when interviewing?

Crafting your theme is the idea that you want to tie your career goals and experience into an easy-to-understand statement. My theme is that I’m a quality-driven Release Engineer that saves the company time and money by creating and automating a reliable and repeatable build, test, and release process that can be executed by other members of the organization. There’s a ton of information packed in that statement. When you read that statement, you know exactly what I plan to do when I join a company. You know that I plan on eliminating work that others have to do by automating portions of the build-test-releas process so that they don’t have to manually run things like regression test suites or push builds by hand to QA environments. You know that I’m going to do it in a quality-driven way, which could be in the form of getting my code peer reviewed or supplementing my code with unit tests and integration tests. You know that I’m going to implement it in a way that others can perform the job in my absence and after I’ve left the company. This may be in the form of automation or documentation. This might be done by setting up alerts and reporting metrics. This also might be done by educating my fellow employees in what needs to be done in certain scenarios, such as when a build breaks or a deployment fails. These items all fit into my all-encompassing theme. I don’t want there to be single points of failure in the software development lifecycle, so I naturally build in things to address this.

It’s a good idea to come up with a theme for your resume and job hunt because when you go to write your base resume and tailor it to each company you apply at, the theme keeps the items on your resume that you include (and reject) in check. If I was trying to go for a Release Engineer position, and I had the theme above, I’d talk about things like cutting down build execution time, automating the creation of lab environments, and working with other groups to find out what are issues that they deal with as a result of the build process or that can be addressed during the build process. I wouldn’t necessarily include things like project management unless they were relevant to my theme or I could present them in a way that enhanced my theme.

A theme greatly helps you layout out your responses to interview questions and how to frame your experience, which we will get to in a future post.

Ok, I’m sold. How do I craft my theme?

To create a theme, look at the data you’ve collected so far about yourself and the work you’ve done. If you’ve collected enough data, you should see patterns emerging to help define your theme. If it’s still too early in the process and you haven’t collected enough data yet, you can start prioritizing items and metrics to collect data that will help drive home points that you want to include in your theme. If you were a software developer, you could ask yourself, “What type of software developer do I want to be considered as? Someone who takes measured risks that can help a company transition out of a startup and into a business by knowing when to automate certain types of tests and when to perform manual tests? Or do I want to be someone that is considered a team lead or senior engineer that can perform project management related activities?”

You can initially drive towards a theme by saying that you want to be X time of employee, such as the software developer that is someone that takes time to architect, design, and test things correctly the first time, even if it takes a little longer than the average developer. If you are a project manager, you could say that you are a “fix it” manager that can make appropriate adjustments to scope and planning to get a derailed project back on track and to release on time.

Try asking yourself the following questions:

  • What is the first thing I want people to think about when they see my work?
  • Do I work better as someone who takes a project and works on it in isolation or do I need customer feedback on a regular basis? – One way to present the first one is as someone who can wow clients with features they didn’t know they wanted/needed (the Apple approach). The second can be presented as someone that tailors solutions to customer feedback to give the customer exactly what they needed by working with the customer closely.
  • Do I provide more value by seeking out projects proactively or by honing my craft to do the best possible job I can with the assignments I’m given? – Think of this as the Jack of all trades or the Ace of Spades approach. A startup needs someone who can do a little bit of everything (Jack of all trades), but NASA needs someone who can develop a method or six of slowing down a car-sized robot in a thin atmosphere (Ace of Spades).
  • What are my strong suits? What am I terrible at?

As you gain more experience and want to further your career, your theme will change. This is natural progression, so don’t worry about this, but the idea is that you need to be able to present a coherent and well crafted argument every time you go to interview. By giving them a clear statement of what you do and how you do it, they will know exactly what they want to drill down into instead of asking you spaghetti-on-the-wall questions to see what sticks. The more specific questions they ask, the better the interview will go. Would you rather be asked, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and “Tell me about a weakness you have,” or would you rather be discussing how you eliminated 80% of the late nights in the last month of a typical release by writing a regression test suite that covered 50% of the code being released?

If you found value in this content, I encourage you to read the rest of the posts in this series about how to stand out when interviewing:

  1. Picking a new PositionOne of the biggest problems people encounter when they are looking for a new job is, “What do I look for now? Should I get the same job somewhere else? Should I try to move up? What if I’m not qualified?!” In this post, we discuss a couple of methods you can use to help you get clarity in which direction you should head with your career.
  2. Gather Data about YourselfThis post discusses some ways you can use to get concrete insight on information you can use to prove your skills and experience throughout your job search.
  3. (You are here) Craft your Theme - Once you’ve gathered the data, you should either see or develop some sort of trend in your work. You should also try to craft this theme to fit into your overall career goals. Your theme should provide a narrative behind where your career has been and where you are proactively directing it.
  4. Writing your Base Resume - I recommend you write a base resume to help you get a solid grasp of the direction you want to head with your career. This post discusses an approach I take to doing this.
  5. Build your Portfolio - By providing a portfolio of your work, you not only tell the person or company you are interviewing with that you are awesome, but you give them examples of your work so that they can investigate it for themselves.
  6. Practicing InterviewingWith this post, we talk about some methods you can use to practice interviewing.
  7. Picking the Companies to interview - In this post, we’ll talk about picking the right companies to interview with so that you know how to tailor your resume.
  8. How to prepare for an interview - While you are waiting for companies to respond back asking for interviews, you should be breaking apart the job descriptions even further and writing down examples of work you’ve done previously to satisfy each requirement that they are listing. You should be also boning up on the basics of your potential job and the theory behind it.
  9. Common Interview Questions and Answers - You’ve made it this far and you’re starting to interview with companies. During each interview, you want to ask 3 specific questions which I’ll cover later in this article.
  10. Accepting a Job Offer - At the end of the interview process with each company, one of two (obvious) things will happen: rejection or acceptance. I’ll discuss how to deal with each one of them and where to go from there.

How to stand out when Interviewing – Part 2: Gathering Data about Yourself

In the previous post, I wrote about some questions you can use to help identify which direction to take your career. This post will go over how to gather data about yourself to provide evidence and narrative to get your career going in the direction you want to go. The types of metrics I list below (and more that you’ll come up with) are the ones you want to look for because they are very powerful when provided on a resume or in person because they show that you took the time to measure and improve a portion of something you worked on to benefit the business more. 90+% of the resumes I’ve read don’t have these types of numbers to back them up but they should and would make the individual stand out much more. Also, metrics are great when interviewing because it gives the interviewer a piece of information to probe about, such as “How exactly did you raise customer satisfaction rates by 17%?”

Gathering Data? I’m not a scientist…

You can’t improve yourself if you don’t know what you need to improve, so you need begin to keep track and gather data about yourself. I advocate at least a weekly log of the work that you do, which is what I use. Some people advocate a daily log, but this introduces a little too much friction for me, however I won’t be offended if you use it as long as it works best for you. All you need to do is simply write down what you did that week, which will be done periodically throughout the week. Anytime you complete a piece of a project, write it down. Don’t get into the minutiae such as when you got coffee, but anytime you complete something that works towards your themes or goals, write that down.

What types of data should I gather?

Each week, I also try to post up one metric that I worked on to improve that week. One week, it might be cutting down the amount of time it takes to compile our code. The next week, it might be eliminating duplication or extra steps in the build process. Sometimes, I don’t have a metric to post that week because I’m in the development phase of an idea, but when I’m about to implement or replace something, I do my best to keep track of that in some fashion, such as time saved for a process to run or amount of build definitions reduced.

For instance, I was hired to improve the build process at a company, among other things. When I timed the execution of a build the way the company had been doing it originally, I found it took about 3 hours and had a number of manual steps that hadn’t been written down and were very error-prone. After I had incorporated my improvements and automated the process so that it was a one-click build process, it took about 45 minutes to execute, which came out to a 75% reduction in execution time in addition to the elimination of human input that could cause errors.

If you were a manager and attempting to gather metrics, you might take monthly surveys on how the team feels about their job, using something like “On a scale of Very Satisfied/Likely to Very Dissatisfied/Unlikely: Are you happy with your job? Would you recommend this company to other people? Are you satisfied with your opportunities to learn?” You could also ask for suggestions on things that need improving. Try to identify the root cause of the problem, and the answers you turn up might be very surprising. This helps greatly when members on your team feel like leaving the company because they aren’t being listened to as long as you act on it.

Another metric that you could track is the number of complaints or issues your group deals with and how processes or improvements you put in place reduced those complaints or issues. If that number doesn’t change the number of complaints or issues, see if the number of satisfied customers increases instead.

As an example to try to quantify metrics you may measure, we’ll use the example of a project that has a tight schedule and is stressing people on your team out. Let’s say that you adjusted the workloads by pushing completion dates back, and you found that by simply removing the pressure of getting things done one X date, your team was capable of actually getting the work done ahead of the original schedule because they felt like they had more time to go back through and do the work the right way.

If you take on new responsibilities or receive a promotion, mark that as well and show how you improved things in the new position. This proves you’ve got a track record of making dramatic changes that affect the bottom-line in a positive way as you move up the ladder. I’ve included some questions below that should help you begin to identify metrics that you can track:

  • Is there a task I do repeatedly that I can automate? How much time is saved by automating this process? How many people do this process by hand? How many mistakes are made in a given day/week when performing this task?
  • When is the best time to perform this task? Can this task be done at a better time? – Echoing something that Tim Ferriss did here where he cut down the amount of time he spent trying to sell a product over the phone. This is for something like sales with C-level executives and repeatedly getting their assistants instead of the person that can really make the decision.
  • Are people satisfied with the work that I do, or do I get a lot of complaints or bug reports? Is there something I can do to cut down the number of complaints/bug reports (such as talking to customers more to get to the bottom of why they are complaining)?
  • Are we currently tracking customer satisfaction and time to resolve their issues? If so, what can I do to cut response times down and increase satisfaction?
  • How many sales am I getting each month and what is my single biggest obstacle when closing sales? What can I do to get me 80% of the way past that obstacle and close more sales?
  • How many people are completing each step of this process? When someone doesn’t complete the process, are we asking them why they didn’t complete it? – This can help by identifying what items you can include when running A/B tests.
  • What is my current ranking for search term “X” when people use Google to search? How many blog posts do we have that talk about “X” and things that might use “X”? – Echoing Gary Vaynerchuk talking about wine. Gary ran a video blog about wine for 1,000 episodes and cemented himself as an influential catalyst in the wine world.
  • How much does it cost us to do “X”? What can we do to cut that down without sacrificing quality and user experience?

If you found value in this content, I encourage you to read the rest of the posts in this series about how to stand out when interviewing:

  1. Picking a new PositionOne of the biggest problems people encounter when they are looking for a new job is, “What do I look for now? Should I get the same job somewhere else? Should I try to move up? What if I’m not qualified?!” In this post, we discuss a couple of methods you can use to help you get clarity in which direction you should head with your career.
  2. (You are here) Gather Data about Yourself - This post discusses some ways you can use to get concrete insight on information you can use to prove your skills and experience throughout your job search.
  3. Craft your Theme - Once you’ve gathered the data, you should either see or develop some sort of trend in your work. You should also try to craft this theme to fit into your overall career goals. Your theme should provide a narrative behind where your career has been and where you are proactively directing it.
  4. Writing your Base Resume - I recommend you write a base resume to help you get a solid grasp of the direction you want to head with your career. This post discusses an approach I take to doing this.
  5. Build your Portfolio - By providing a portfolio of your work, you not only tell the person or company you are interviewing with that you are awesome, but you give them examples of your work so that they can investigate it for themselves.
  6. Practicing InterviewingWith this post, we talk about some methods you can use to practice interviewing.
  7. Picking the Companies to interview - In this post, we’ll talk about picking the right companies to interview with so that you know how to tailor your resume.
  8. How to prepare for an interview - While you are waiting for companies to respond back asking for interviews, you should be breaking apart the job descriptions even further and writing down examples of work you’ve done previously to satisfy each requirement that they are listing. You should be also boning up on the basics of your potential job and the theory behind it.
  9. Common Interview Questions and Answers - You’ve made it this far and you’re starting to interview with companies. During each interview, you want to ask 3 specific questions which I’ll cover later in this article.
  10. Accepting a Job Offer - At the end of the interview process with each company, one of two (obvious) things will happen: rejection or acceptance. I’ll discuss how to deal with each one of them and where to go from there.