This is the first question most interviewers will want. They expect you to be able to discuss your journey and your goals. You need to have this practiced without sounding rehearsed. But you also need to ensure that how you tell your story still sounds like “alignment” with their company. You’re there to convince them to hire you, after all.
As I discuss in the very first day of the daily email series, the interviewer is NOT asking for your whole life story. They’re not interested in stories from your childhood or upbringing.
There are exceptions to this, though:
This is your first job and they are looking for a lot of “team experience”. You could discuss team sports you’ve played, your role on the team, and what you learned about shared responsibilities and goals.
The company’s product is something musical, and you have a background in music arts. You’re suddenly far more interesting to them than someone else who only has the technical skill to fill the role.
You can rephrase the question like this:
“Tell me about your journey into tech. How did you get interested in coding, and why was web development a good fit for you? How is that applicable to our _____ role or company goals?"
All of this distills into a simpler question:
I recommend the following tips for answering this question successfully:
Ideally, aim for about 90 seconds of content.
An answer which is shorter than 90 seconds feels like you haven’t given much thought about what to say. For example, “I’ve always loved computers and working on web apps is awesome”. Your interviewer may think you have not done enough practice to know how to answer this question. You may come across as “unprepared” or “naive”.
Answers that go on for many minutes, though, will start to feel too long. Your interviewer’s attention span may not follow everything you’re trying to tell them. Your interviewer could think you are “unfocused”, or make them feel overwhelmed at the amount of information. Trying to explain 20 different ways that you’re perfect for this role could make you appear desperate.
Two minutes of speaking sounds like a lot, but with practice it will feel very natural. It’s a sweet spot between sounding under-prepared, and overwhelming them to sound more impressive.
Relaying your introduction story needs to sound like it “flows” naturally, and easy to follow.
Imagine a story jumps from present time, to many years ago, to a few years ago, then back to present, then back a few more years again… Your listener will easily become confused trying to keep track of important information.
As much as possible, practice telling your story in a chronological order. Or as close to a chronological order as possible that makes sense. This will help your introduction to be more easily understood from beginning to end (from past to present).
By practicing your introduction, you may start to notice “gaps” in the timeline of your story.
I’ve heard a lot of introductions that sound like, “I was an Uber driver, and then I got interested in coding.” There’s a large “gap” in there of what joined those circumstances together. How did driving for a car-for-hire service turn into an interest in software development?
Closing these gaps in your story is especially important if software development as a new career path. In the Uber-to-coding example above, there is a big “disconnect” between your last job, and starting to study software development.
What drove you (no pun intended) to examine software development as a new career? Did you dislike the applications or tools you had to use and that made you start thinking about how you would like to build those tools yourself? How long did you examine other career paths before picking web development? If so, what were those other career paths?
If you are a graduate straight out of school and this is your first career, then you’re less likely to have gaps in your story.
To aim for about two minutes of content, start by writing out your introduction. Talk about relevant background that make you perfect for this company. Mention any special skills you have that will benefit the company.
Next, find a way to record your voice, and practice reciting this text. You want your speech to sound relaxed and conversational, like telling a story.
Don’t talk faster to tell more information in less time. This will also confuse your listener.
I find two paragraphs of text is usually around 90 seconds in length for my own speaking speed.
In Reality, You’ll be Nervous
In a real interview, you’ll be nervous, and people tend to speak faster when they’re nervous. Keep that in mind as you time yourself.
This whole notion really comes down to the idea of determining your personal “brand”. This is a combination of who you currently are and who you want to be in the future.
Some in our industry think that personal brand is too muck of a gimmick. “We’re developers, we don’t need a brand.”
In my experience as a candidate and as an interviewer, if you want a positive outcome in an interview, you need to show “alignment”. While I usually hate buzzwords, this one has some strength behind its meaning.
This piece of content was shared by a former Turing student, Ryan Flach:
I’ve received this question at every interview I can remember, and it has always struck me as odd. To me, I find answering a question that requires knowledge of other candidates and what the company may be looking for outside of what’s written in the job description to be presumptive. Besides, isn’t this the very question you as the interviewer are trying to answer for yourself? I’d love to see this section fleshed out to include what question a hiring manager may really be asking with this wording, as it could be more helpful in phrasing a response.
My feedback to Ryan, at a high level was this:
They’re asking why you think you provide the most value to the company without knowing any of the other candidates.
I documented one of the biggest wastes of time on an interview that I had had in the Los Angeles region. It’s had a few views and upvotes.
This question from Ryan immediately made me think of this interview. The interview conducted was, effectively, one big “why should we hire you” session. In this case, I DID (kind of) know the other candidate.
This question is really just another variation on “Tell Me About Yourself”.
You’re going into this question completely blind. You don’t know how many people applied for the job. You don’t know how many resumes they screened and processed before calling you. You have no idea how many others are interviewing for the role.
It all comes back to the idea of “value”. There’s no way you could possibly say “well, I’m better at ___ than (other candidate’s name).” Unless, of course, you DO actually know any of the other candidates.
Be careful with your wording on this answer. If you come across “smug” or arrogant, it could cost you the interview and the job.
I would answer this question by reviewing the value I bring compared to the skills the company is looking for. Then I would reiterate the background and other skills I carry from other experience that would be relevant to the job.
Be careful not to sound like you’re replaying things word-for-word from your introduction. This is why you practice.
When you speak of “value” that you bring to a company, this is exactly where you need to show what you’re proud of.
There’s a reason they call it “humble”-brag, though.
This question really isn’t about “comparison”. Let THEM make the comparison.