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?