How to Talk About Yourself in an Interview
Interviews can be pretty stressful at the best of times, which means you won’t always think through what you’re saying or how you act. So, being properly prepared will make a big difference.
Always remember that talking during an interview is not about filling the time, it’s about telling your interviewers what they need to know about you. It’s an opportunity to highlight your best attributes and skills so don’t waffle - make every minute count!
A good starting point is thinking role reversal and asking yourself what you would want to know if you were doing the hiring. Taking time to do this beforehand will help you talk with more confidence. Also, make sure you focus your thinking on hard facts rather than ‘what if’s. Ask yourself:
- What you’ve achieved.
- What problems you’ve faced.
- How you resolved these problems.
Preparing yourself by making notes
Interviewers want to hear about the projects and materials you’ve given them, so make sure you have prepared key information for each project or scenario you want to talk about. There are many practical ways of making notes to help you prepare for this. Revision cards are a bit old school but really do work for some people, others prefer simply noting down lists of information. Here is an example of how to prepare using revision cards.
- Use a new card or set of cards for each project or research topic.
- Write down the titles of the projects you have managed or been a part of.
- Under each title in turn write down your objectives for the project.
- Then, list the most important tools you used for each project.
- Under that write down anything that failed, and detail how you dealt with it, even if you still haven’t resolved it.
- Write down what worked well and what you learned from the project.
- You should then have a card (or set of cards) full about each project.
Using these cards is only an idea and may not work for everybody. It can be adapted to suit you, but these are the main things you will want to focus on and think about when preparing for an interview.
Practice out loud
There’s nothing like rehearsing what you might say in an interview. Ask yourself key questions and go through your thoughts and ideas out loud over and over, bringing your notes life. This will allow you to make mistakes so that in the interview you are able to convey your knowledge in a cohesive, convincing way. The confidence this practice will give you will enable you to show your interviewers your passion and experience.
Be Specific, not general
Try to make your interview as conversational as possible while transferring your knowledge and experience. Make an effort to say things that are specific and encourage the interviewer to ask more questions and keen to find out more. Avoid sweeping generalisations and focus on key facts.
Grab your interviewers’ attention
Having a punch line or striking start to the interview immediately makes you look interesting and will intrigue your interviewers. They will want to hear more about you and what you have done. Open by talking about a project you feel enthusiastic about and be specific about what it delivered. Start with just one sentence to get them interested.
Using an opening sentence that allows a multitude of questions, means you can then talk about the most interesting things you have done. Plan for these attention grabbers in advance in your preparation notes. Remember that specific information allows your interviewer to build on what you have said and ask questions which will then enable you to show your wealth of experience.
Telling the story
The way you tell a story gives a lot away to your interviewers. Most stories you tell the ending then you go onto explain how it happened and how you got to that stage. This shows the interviewer your thinking process and how you achieved your goal. This can imply that what you have said may not be completely truthful, and you may have adapted what had happened. The most important thing you need to get across is what happened, why, and how you fixed it. This shows how familiar you are with the projects and the problems faced.
When asked a question, don't carry on with what you are saying, make sure you take time to answer and expand on what the interviewer asked you. Not answering the question shows the interviewer you could be unsure about what you are talking about, and even lead them to question how truthful you are being. You do not want an interviewer to think you are lying or embellishing your own achievements and work. Everyone knows that miscommunications and misunderstandings do happen from time to time but aim to be truthful and as clear as possible when trying to explain.
After giving your opening statement, your interviewer should direct the questioning and what you should talk about based on what you just said. When talking about your projects talk about the things that perhaps didn’t work or didn’t go to plan. The interviewer cares more about how you dealt with the issues you have faced than the actual solution. Your thought processes, resilience and the steps you took are more important to them than solving every problem. The point of the interview is to explore how well you deal with problems, as that is what you are being hired to do. Talking to your interviewer about how you tackled problems is beneficial to both you and them as it allows you to transfer knowledge to them with solutions they may not have even considered. In general, interviewers like to learn something new from candidates. Talking through your working processes allows this to happen.
Don’t assume knowledge
In most interviews, you will not know the interviewer or the experiences they have had. However, you must assume they have some knowledge on developers’ work and how to tackle problems. While explaining your experiences, ensure your interviewer is following your story and has not got lost along the way, pausing for a short time to make eye contact (even in video interviews) or to wait for a gesture from them to check their understanding. You could also politely ask if what you have said makes sense to them. It is important to ensure your interviewer understands you as you need to show you can explain yourself well. Stopping to engage in this way will also help you to feel more at ease.
Try not to talk negatively about anything, as you do not know what the interviewer finds interesting. No matter how simple or uninteresting it is to you, make it seem important and talk confidently about it. Additionally, if an interviewer takes interest or looks enthusiastic about something, talk about it more and show off your knowledge on the topic.
Second guessing your interviewer, what they find interesting and what they want to talk about is a waste of time and is a pointless way to approach an interview. The best way for you to figure out what the interviewer wants is to make your interview into a conversation by simply asking them, something along the lines of ‘is there anything you would like me to expand on?’. If the interviewer is not specific or doesn’t target things written in your CV, it may indicate that they have not prepared for the interview with you!
Practice, Practice, Practice
Try and practice for your interview in everyday life, when talking to other developers. Do it as though they are your interviewer, and you have to interest and intrigue them. Use your opening statement, answer their questions by being specific and practicing putting all the above into action.
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