If you’re planning on starting or continuing your job hunt this year, the beginning of the year is a good time to consolidate your past accomplishments. Doing so allows you to control your story and therefore shape how an interview will go, all by presenting the right information about yourself at the right time.
As a bonus, I’ll also include a section at the end with some tips for interviewers.
(Or your LinkedIn profile, or other representation of yourself.)
As an interviewer, I look at resumes to understand what experience a candidate has. By doing so, I can ask them questions based suited to that experience, especially as it relates to their role within a project and the layers of the stack they worked in. For that reason, it’s good for a resume to tell interviewers where you are in your career and what your areas of expertise are.
Early on in my career, I worked on whatever was available, with limited leadership responsibilities. Over time, I took on larger projects and did more on each project. You can see this on my LinkedIn profile, comparing the descriptions of earlier roles vs. newer ones. Either way, here are some ways to streamline your resume and online profiles:
If you didn’t have a large role in a project, as is typical earlier in your career, don’t make it seem like you did. However, be specific about what you worked on, namely the technologies and areas you worked in. This is helpful to pinpoint what you already know.
For projects where you had a larger role, still highlight your areas of contribution. For example, I make it clear I work on the backend, on distributed systems. You should also clearly communicate your role on the project, as you probably did more than write code. Use industry-standard terms, like “tech lead” or “architect”, for clarity if appropriate.
Finally, clearly state impact, no matter the role. Did you release a product? Did you grow a team or a tech stack from the ground up? What did you accomplish at the end of the day?
The other consideration is how to treat different types of documents and online profiles. I try to be very comprehensive and visual with my LinkedIn profile, linking my writing and videos of my public speaking. With my resume, I trim everything down significantly to fit on one page, highlighting what people need to know at a glance. And my Github profile is more about what I’m interested in, to show the breadth of my knowledge, as opposed to career accomplishments.
All of these documents and profiles are ways to communicate to recruiters and interviews what your expertise is. And if those people are doing a good job, you’re more likely to be matched with the right role and interview questions. (And if they’re not, then a good profile won’t help anyway.)
Introducing yourself in the interview
Once you’re actually talking to people at a company, you have a chance to really set the narrative. As an interviewer, I make sure to read people’s resumes, so I ask, “Is there anything else you’d like me to know about you?”
Whether or not the interviewer has done their research, focus on the most important parts of your career. Often, this will be your current role, as the technologies and product areas you’re involved in currently are the ones that are freshest in your mind.
Above all, get your story straight before the interview, so you can confidently introduce yourself.
If I were hypothetically looking for a job, here’s my two-minute introduction as of January 2021:
I’ve been working at LinkedIn for the last two years, and I’m a tech lead within the Messaging team. I work on both the foundational backend platform that powers messaging across multiple products at LinkedIn, as well as the APIs backing the flagship messaging product most people are familiar with. On the flip side, I’ve worked at small startups, building products and teams from the ground up. Even though my experience is primarily on the backend, I’ve worked on both web and native mobile apps, as well as in offline processing.
Good interviewers will have a back-and-forth with you about your experience, so I would start by hitting the main points first, instead of trying to be comprehensive.
What about the interviewer?
As an interviewer, this is a good time to reflect on your role within the company you’re interviewing on behalf of. After all, you also need to introduce yourself at the beginning of an interview.
A lot of the same advice as above applies, but focus on how you fit into the team and the type of the work goes on within that team. You’re representing your team, so your introduction isn’t solely about you anymore. Here’s my standard introduction during interviews:
I’ve been at LinkedIn for the last two years, though I was here before, left to do some startups and came back. I work on the Messaging team, on two parts of the stack. First, I work on the foundational backend platform that powers messaging all across LinkedIn, which stores and delivers messages. However, I primarily work on the APIs backing the flagship messaging experience, which is what you see when you go to linkedin.com or open your LinkedIn app.
I introduce the team and what the team does. The impact of the team is important, my specific contribution to the team less so. Finally, I give a little bit of my background so the candidate knows what experience I bring to the table, as well as give confidence that LinkedIn is a good place to work, given that I’ve come back after leaving.
How you present yourself in an interview sets the framework for how you will be evaluated. For that reason, it’s important to reflect on your accomplishments and take note of the areas you have expertise in. If you present yourself as knowledgeable about certain areas, a good interview process can give you a better chance of showing your strengths in those areas.