Preparing for a job interview is compounded by the stress generated by the entire job search process. No matter why you are seeking a new position, whether you are new to the market, were recently laid off, or have decided you are ready for a new architect role or any other, the interview process is a stressful one.
There is a secret weapon, though: You. It is important to remember that you and your experiences are completely unique. No other candidate comes with your knowledge or your way of working. The ability to recognize your unique qualifications and showcase that skillset is key to landing the job you are after.
I received interview advice years ago by the author of OMG I Need a Job and CEO of Famous, Bob Braham: You need to prepare three different stories to showcase your readiness for the job. These stories answer any question someone asks you, whether it is the basic strengths and weaknesses question, favorite projects, or what you have learned throughout your career.
How does that advice work in practice?
Interviews are two-sided. As much as you are selling yourself, you are also trying to understand the role, culture, and work environment to determine if the position is a good fit for you. Understanding that the interviewer will be asking the same questions to each candidate, you need to establish a way to stand out by telling your story in a cohesive manner. It is vital for the interviewer to understand who you are and what your work ethic is by sharing stories in a focused and precise way.
Characteristics of your three stories:
The Passion Project: Simply put, this story should exemplify what you are passionate about. This passion could appear in various ways, such as learning and professional development, giving back to your community, mentoring, excelling in competitions, or a myriad of other goals. The passion project should show who you are as a person, how you help others, and who you will be as an employee at the company. This project is commonly an open source project, a community-driven project at a non-profit, or some specific way you have given back to your company or community at large.
The Group Project: This is the project that will help showcase your leadership skills (even if you are not the “captain”). You should be able to provide specifics with details and your distinct role and contribution. With this story, speak about how you work with others, what leadership roles you prefer to take on (the challenger, the cheerleader, the do-er, the planner, etc.), and what types of personalities and groups you work with best. This tends to either be your current job or a senior project.
The Success Project: This project should be the central driving force of your interview. You should speak about what you learned, what you personally were recognized for, and how that impacted you and your growth. You should be prepared to talk about the impact of your contributions and how those contributions made the overall project successful. As this is your headliner, this is where you discuss your mistakes, growth opportunities, and how you would respond differently now with the knowledge you gained from that project. Since this project is your success story and something to be proud of, you should speak with confidence about the positives and negatives of your decisions and the decisions made around the project that changed its course.
Having three stories where you had a positive impact to pull from, you can enter into any interview with confidence and be prepared to answer any questions that may arise, whether technical or not. No one can say what you did better than you, and you can shine with your confidence, uniqueness, and transparency in your interview.