War Stories and Job Interviews

I’ve sat on the other side of the table in a job interview. It’s not uncommon in companies for a member of the software team to evaluate a potential candidate, because it’s this team member who will be working everyday with this new person. It’s important that an actual team member gets to review a candidate and has a say in the hiring process.

One thing I’ve noticed about myself when interviewing others is that I enjoy good “war stories.” And by that, I mean I want to hear the candidate talk about how they overcame obstacles. I want to hear about crazy bugs and how they were on a mission to squash it. I want to hear about server faults and out of control garbage collections. I want to hear about this new library or language they’ve tried. I want to hear how they’ve grown. Did you overcome it? How did you overcome it? What would you have done differently? What did you learn?

I bet I’m not alone in this. I even bet other interviewers in other career fields feel the same way.

With the idea of war stories in mind, a friend of mine asked to review his resume. He has a background in doing QA work and was hoping to break into programming. The first thing I noticed right away, he placed all his QA work experience at the top and a list of his programming skills and projects at the bottom.

Why would you do this? Remember, he’s using this resume to break into software development.

It’s not uncommon for an interviewer to walk through a candidate’s resume. And in most cases, they start at the top and work their way to the bottom. If you put your non-job-related material at the top, you’ll be spending a good chunk of your interview explaining away how these bullet points are not directly related to the job you’re interviewing for. And by the time the interviewer gets to the good stuff at the bottom of your resume, it might be too late. The interviewer, in their mind, might have already written you off.

So my advice was to rearrange it, put the good stuff at the top, which also act as great lead ins to his own war stories. And that when he does, he should take every opportunity to talk about the cool stuff he’s done, even if it was on his own.

Think about it, you get about 30 to 45 minutes with an interviewer on average. You want to “eat that clock” talking about the great things you’ve done. Like a politician, you want to stay on message.

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