Tips when applying for jobs and interviewing

I have volunteered to help Turing School graduates with resume reviews and interview practice over the past few years. As both a hiring manager and a job seeker I’ve seen a lot and practice what I preach. Here’s some of my advice…

Use the cover letter

There are too many people applying for too few jobs. Even software engineers now are struggling; I often see hundreds of applicants for jobs on LinkedIn. You should take any opportunity you can to stand out to the person responsible for deciding who moves forward.

My biggest suggestion is to find a way to tell a unique and memorable story. I come from a non-traditional software engineering background. I anticipate people stopping and saying about my application (“hmm, he hasn’t been a developer..”) and can proactively speak to my valuable and varied engineering-related experiences and how that’s benefitted my teams in the past (and will for your organization).

Tell me about yourself…

Don’t assume I remember your resume: a sourcer (someone who finds people and asks them to apply) or a recruiter (the person responsible for getting you in and, ideally, hired) may have seen and heard about you a few times, but it’s worth a very quick reverse-recap of your relevant or interesting experience.

  • Get to the point: help the interviewer understand where you’ve come from, where you’re going, and how it relates to this role and organization, I suggest you find a way to re-tell your unique and memorable story here.

  • Practice, practice, practice: when we don’t we may either meander and say too much or be too terse and not say what’s important.

By aiming for about 2-3 minutes, this quick introduction has helped me begin interviews with what I want to be known for with positive energy.

Build your library of experiences

When in a tense situation like an interview our minds can sometimes go blank. Or we can only think of something that happened recently. Combat that by detailing and cataloging a bunch of examples you’ll use in your interviews.

Think back on all your recent experience: interesting stories, things that you show you at your best, or times when you learned a valuable lesson and can apply it.

Categorize those however you like: lessons, collaboration, “good decision making”. And then have those ready when you prepare for the interview.

Look for the competencies

Most established organizations have good processes in place to try and reduce unconscious bias. They typically start from the job description: what are the 3-5 “must have” skills or competencies this role needs? OK and then what questions should we ask to assess those? And then what criteria will we have to show what good versus great responses to those questions look like?

In a job description, you’ll likely see phrases or keywords like “team player” or “worked on a team”. So, given you have a library of experiences: what should you be prepared to speak to? Specific examples of “collaboration”, of course!

Sometimes you’re lucky and a recruiter will walk you through this: “the first interview will be evaluating X and Y”. Take notes and prepare accordingly, they’re doing everything they can to help you be successful.

Use of “I” versus “we”

We often talk about group situations from work, projects, and school with “we did”, “we learned” or “we accomplished”. This is good when sharing credit but the interview is about you.

Be sure to clearly say “I did” when talking about your actions. Otherwise, when assessing if you have the competency or experience, it may be unclear: did someone else on the team decide and this person observed it? Clearly show your contribution and the (collective?) result.

Remember STAR when giving examples: quickly explain the Situation and Task. Then focus primarily on (your) Action. And the (positive) Result.

Take a beat

It’s always okay, even appreciated, when you listen to the question, jot it down so you can refer back to it, and then answer it.

Find your example. Think about how you’ll respond. And then respond.

There’s no need to rush and get to the first thing that comes to mind! You prepared… which will likely help you do well at this moment.

I don’t claim to know it all, and there may be advice to the contrary but I hope this is helpful to someone!