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Talent - Job Hunting - Tue Nov 1 2022

How to Talk About Past Roles & Projects in Interviews

“Tell me about a time…” when you had to answer a question phrased like this!

Asking about past roles and projects is a common practice during software developer interviews. But how do you talk about your recent experiences without giving a laundry list recap of your resume?

We’ve put together these pro tips to help you “describe your recent experience with similar projects” with high impact and poise.

“Describe your recent experience with similar projects” and other questions

Often questions about your past roles and projects will be expressed in the following ways:

  • “Describe your recent experience with similar projects.”
  • “Tell me about similar... ” roles, projects, experiences, etc.
  • “Tell me about a project…” where you struggled, went above and beyond, learned something new, etc.
  • “Tell me about a time…” when you faced a challenge, failure, conflict, etc.
  • “Describe your recent contributions…” to a project, team, product, etc.
  • “What’s your proficiency level with…” a certain technology, tool, framework, etc.

Fortunately, all these questions can be answered using our expert tips, which we’ll go through below.

Tips for interview communication skills

Software-engineer-having-a-great-communication-in-her-job-interview

1. Don’t answer with “too good to be true” examples

To get started, you’ll want to choose the right examples to talk about past roles and projects. There’s no need to pick examples that display your skills perfectly. In fact, this may be seen as dishonest and “too good to be true”.

Instead, think of examples that showcase your soft skills and contributions, even if you also faced challenges, setbacks and less-than-ideal results.

2. Focus on past roles and projects with direct impact

A typical mistake is to ramble during your interview. Avoid giving a summary of your developer resume when asked about your past experiences. Instead, select 1 to 3 moments with direct impact to the opportunity you’re interviewing for. The more recent, the better.

Some ways to identify high-impact examples include those with:

  • Similar daily tasks
  • Similar customer base
  • Similar technologies
  • Same field or industry
  • Relevant soft skills

Choose your experiences wisely and then give in-depth explanations of them, including any related skills, contributions, challenges, etc.

3. Show off your soft skills, as well as hard skills

It’s ok if you don’t have the exact skill set for the role you’re interviewing for. Instead, study the job description and look for opportunities to highlight what you do offer.

This goes for both hard and soft skills. If you don’t have a lot of overlap with the preferred tech skills, you’ll want to choose past roles and projects that showcase traits such as:

  • Learns quickly
  • Has problem-solving skills
  • Listens to others’ POV
  • Communicates clearly
  • Has a motivated work ethic

4. Quantify success using metrics or a portfolio

Whenever possible, it’s also ideal to quantify your successes and contributions. It’s much more powerful to cite metrics about your latest project than just to describe it.

If available, you should also give your interviewer a link to your portfolio in case they would like to peruse your contributions firsthand.

5. Stay positive and natural

When talking about past roles and projects, be sure to avoid criticizing your former boss, team or company.

While you should still discuss challenges and conflicts, do so without getting personal or mentioning individuals. Staying positive and forward-thinking will show the interviewer that you have strong emotional intelligence and will fit in well with the rest of the team.

You’ll also want to avoid memorizing answers, as this can seem unnatural and stiff. The interview is a chance to share your personality, so don’t stifle it with memorization.

6. Follow the CARL method for structuring your answers

Finally, if you’re not sure how to structure your answer, take advantage of the CARL framework. (Get an in-depth guide on the CARL framework here). The CARL framework breaks down your answers into four parts:

  • Content – the essential background information
  • Action – your response to the situation
  • Results – what happened as a result of your actions
  • Learning – key takeaways from this experience

Perhaps the most important section is the Learning section, where you discuss opportunities for improvement. At this stage, you can end with a goal statement about what you hope to do differently in the future.

What to do if you have seemingly irrelevant experience

candidate-talking-about-his-past-projects-in-an-interview

If you’re applying for a position or a technology you haven’t worked on yet, you may be faced with having seemingly irrelevant experience.

That’s ok! You can form your answers to account for your specific background. For example, you can spotlight your tech courses, certificates or coding camps; any personal projects or portfolios; your soft skills; and any traits related to cultural fit.

Some ways to phrase this include:

  • “This will be my first work experience in this field, but I’m excited to bring my skills in (technology) to the table.”
  • “I’ve worked on similar software development projects on my own time, such as…”
  • “I developed extensive skills in this technology through…”

Example answer for “describe your recent experience with similar projects”

Woman-describing-her-past-roles-and-projects-in-her-job-interview

Let’s go through an example answer for the common interview question “describe your recent experience with similar projects.” For the sake of this exercise, we’ll say that the job is for a JavaScript engineer at a games development company. 

“In my most recent software engineer role, I developed extensive skills in JavaScript while building a social media app. Though this product wasn’t specifically in the game development space, it involved a lot of advanced JavaScript features that were difficult to develop. At times, I didn’t know exactly how to code everything that was asked of me, but I researched topics using trustworthy sites and even asked some of my co-workers for their advice. 

Collaborating with my co-workers ended up being the best way to work through challenging areas together. While it took us time to figure out solutions and building these features took longer than the initial timeline, our client was happy with the end results. In this way, I got practical experience with a lot of new JavaScript topics that I imagine will be useful in this new role at your company. I also discovered that co-workers have a wealth of knowledge to share, so I hope to continue leveraging the experts around me to develop better JavaScript products.”

Improve your developer interview skills with Nexton

Now that you know how to talk about past roles and projects, you're well on your way to acing your next software engineer interview. Leverage our tips and examples above to stand out from the other developer candidates!

At Nexton, we’re committed to helping you land your dream job. Join our Talent Network to connect with incredible remote job opportunities in the U.S. and get even more tips for improving your interview skills.

Check also:

More on Talent - Job Hunting

WRITTEN BY
Leandro Passos

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