An important aspect of good career management is understanding your career story. Where you came from, where are you now and where you are going. Knowing this is critical to maximizing your market value and communicating that value to others (such as in interviews).
Let’s assume you are considering buying a stock. The current price is $42 / share. Should you buy? I hope at this point you’re thinking “I have no idea!”. Exactly.
If I’m interviewing software engineers I need to know not just where you are now but where you’ve been and where you’re going. Consider the following profiles for potential candidates:
- Middle-aged set in his ways who hasn’t changed in years
- Middle-aged who just changed markets and is slightly behind but clearly has a passion and ability to learn
- Middle-aged who is mature, rock solid and still has a passion for the craft
- Junior with very little experience but incredible work ethic and hunger to grow
- Mid-twenties “rock star” who’s smart with loads of talent but doesn’t have the hunger or humility to grow quickly
This list is by no means comprehensive. The point is to show that someone’s career trajectory is critical in understanding their real value. Are you a good investment? Or a liability?
Context is Critical
A subtlety of history and trajectory is context. Understanding the situations someone has been in and decisions they’ve made is incredibly informative. Great people can come from all sorts of backgrounds and crush whatever preconceptions you had about where rock stars come from and what really makes one.
For interviewers, the 5 Why’s is an excellent way of discovering someone’s depth. What was a big project you worked on or led? What were your responsibilities? What problems did you encounter and how did you solve them? Which design decisions did you make that you later discovered were wrong? How did you fix performance problems? What do you wish you had done? Dig down and find how they handle tough situations, how they think and their motivations.
Be introspective. Consider your own history. What do you thrive on? What do you hate doing? Where are your opportunities for improvement?