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So I have a predicament.

I have a proven track record of being extremely successful in my field. I have gone far above and beyond my job duties and always took the initiative to go above and beyond for my companies. I not only enjoy my job, I am extremely passionate and truly love my field. I am thankful and blessed to be in it.

My issue is anytime anyone asks me about any of my work, since I am constantly working on something new I never really know how to answer their questions. My history in the field is short (18 months) but I have already had 4 horizontal promotions and I am constantly being given the most difficult/technical tasks. Since I have such a quick rotation on my tasks I never get to deal with the nitty gritty details of them. I just go in, find the problems, fix them and move on to the next task. A lot of the tasks are not even related to my field.

I think it's because of the above that I have had issues finding the right words to describe regarding details of the different tasks that I have done with my position when asked regarding them. Due to this, it makes me seem like I either don't know what I am doing or worse, I am not telling the truth, when I am in an interview.

So to the question:

With all of the above, how can I convey to the interviewer that, essentially, I might not be the person they want if they want me to know the extreme specifics of the project but if they want someone they can just throw onto the toughest tasks that will quickly solve the problem than I am the right fit?

if it helps, my field is QA. I have background experience in basic Dev and do a lot of Dev work at my company but I have no desire to be in Dev. I love QA.

Update

I followed a lot of the advice here. The company gave me an in-person/Skype interview and it looks like I got the position. The steps I used:

  • Took notes of my previous experience
  • Took notes of questions I wanted to ask regarding the company
  • Studied the notes on my experiences for about 4 days prior to the interview
  • Asked each interviewer different questions, some were directed for all of the interviewers (IE, How do you feel about the communication and cooperation between departments?)

Being 'new' to this process, these notes helped a lot and a lot of the interviewers seemed impressed that I was asking such in depth questions that were relevant to my fit within the company.

Thanks a lot everyone!

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What is a horizonal promotion? –  HLGEM Mar 14 at 12:45
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Extra duties without extra pay. –  PaulDonny Mar 14 at 13:17
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I hope you'll forgive me for saying so, but if you've not dealt with the nitty-gritty details of your tasks, you don't really know them. No surprise that you can't speak well to them, and no surprise that people are unimpressed by that. –  Telastyn Mar 14 at 13:30
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@HLGEM: Euphemism for The reward for good work is more work. –  Joel Etherton Mar 14 at 13:30
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@PaulDonny, you ned to start retaining knowledge. thwere is no wau I woudl permit anyone to query a database who didn;t knwo what version he was on, it makes a differnce in what code can run, that is like not knowing what programming language you are using and if you don't know that then I am unimporessed with your skill claims. –  HLGEM Mar 14 at 14:43

6 Answers 6

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I think your real problem may be that you are having difficulty explaining what you did on the various projects in a way that makes the interviewer feel compfortable that you actually did the work. Most interviewers would not normally ask the types of questions you are talking about unless they were trying to decide if the guy was telling the truth or not which is generally only if you thought the intial answer was suspiciuosly low in detail. So try to do a better job of explaining your role in each project to start with. If you sounded unsure about what you did, interviewers are naturally going to probe deeper. If what you did sounded too general, they may wonder if you are lying about your involvement. You would be surprised at how many people can't answer detailed questions about what they did on a project if asked. Not knowing in detail what you did tends to make people wonder if you actually did anything. You are trying to convince them to hire you, you have to give them some reason to belive you actually accomplished what you said you accomplished and actually have the skills you are claiming.

Try practicing interviewing with a friend (preferably one who has been an interviewer) and ask him to tell you how your answers would sound to him if he didn't know you. You need to find out how to sell yourself so that your answers make you look competent and not like someone trying to exaggerate his real skills.

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I followed a lot of your advice, I actually went ahead and wrote down everything that I had done with the project. I took my notes with me to the in-person/skype interview. Having taken the notes and reviewing them several times helped keep the information fresh. I also wrote down the different questions I wanted to ask and used those notes to ask. The company was impressed and I am expecting an offer in the next couple days. THANK YOU! –  PaulDonny Mar 22 at 17:18

Well first off, I would say in an interview you're there to sell you not the projects you've worked on. That being said, the interviewer doesn't care about the project. He/she wants to know what you did to help the project. Your resume (and by extension your interview) should be based on the bullet points of your work. Your resume should highlight your accomplishments and any tangible metric that indicates results:

Solved anti-bacterial widget teflon problem for large scale company project. Resulted in 95% fewer bacterial without reduction in teflon "non-stick" requirements.

During your interview you would go into discussion on the description of the problem you solved, how you addressed the problem and what your measurements were that indicated a 95% reduction. They don't care that someone needed an anti-bacterial widget with a teflon surface to make better automobile brake linings. They are really only interested in what you did for your employer because that will tell them what you can do for them.

Keep your descriptions anecdotal and on target. If an interviewer asks how come you don't know the details of the larger project be honest. Tell them it wasn't part of your pervue. Tell them that one of the reasons that the project manager came to you in the first place is that your lack of detailed knowledge kept your judgment from being clouded with assumptions. There are many reasons why you wouldn't have specific detailed knowledge, and any respectable interviewer will know that.

With all of the above, how can I convey to the interviewer that, essentially, I might not be the person they want if they want me to know the extreme specifics of the project...

Why would you ever want to limit yourself in this manner? You may not be the best person for such a case, but do you not want to be such a person? A potential employer is going to want to review people who are interested in being more tomorrow than they are today. If that's who they're looking for and it's not who you want to be then it should be fairly obvious up front. At that point the easiest way is bluntly to say, "I don't think I'm the right candidate for this opportunity. Thank you for taking the time to consider me." They'll appreciate that much more than gamesmanship and guessing.

In any case, if you identify the position as something you find interesting that you feel you can do well, focus on delivering your strengths to them. Let them know that you're a problem solver. Describe to them how you are able to solve complex tasks/problems even when they're outside of your professed field. These are all of the things they want to know about you, the candidate, and they have nothing to do with the details of any one specific project.

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+1. The bottom line is you sell what you offer, not what you think might go on a resume. What the OP wrote would be a good answer for the "tell me about yourself" intro question. Then as the interviewer asks more questions, elaborate on how the problems they solved, how they solved them, how they worked with a team to do it, etc, etc. –  Wayne Mar 14 at 20:43

First, 18 months is a pretty short career. I don't think anyone expects you to have extensive experience at this point. If you're in a technical field, you may have some trouble-shooting and bug fix experience, but don't let that hold you back.

finding the right words to describe regarding details of the different tasks that I have done with my position

Describe what you did as far as identifying and fixing the problem, then you can elaborate on your understanding of the technology as a whole and not necessarily how they are handle in this particular project. Example: You help with the alignment of an image in an html file. You didn't create the entire website and probably not even this page, but do you know how to do this in general?

Go into details about your knowledge of web page design. Don't do this for every project you've worked on. Focus on one that is most applicable to the job your applying for. Make connections between the work you've done and the requirements for the new position. Don't undersell being able to solve problems. That's very important. You've also demonstrated you can jump into a situation without the benefit of a lot of background knowledge and solve problems quickly. That is another important skill.

Based on the requirements of the new position, describe one of the problems you solved and then give details about your skills and understanding of the technology without relying on the details of the specific project. If you don't understand the technologies that are required, you may not be the most suitable candidate for the new position.

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They will expect you to know the details of what you did. They're trying to distinguish "was there when the problem was solved" from "solved the problem". If what you did was provide useful information to the problem solver, selling yourself as solving the problem will be hard. But "provide useful information" is a good skill to have, and with 18 months experience in QA is a big part of what I'd expect. –  Mσᶎ Mar 15 at 3:25

I think you're approaching this problem in completely the wrong direction. You say that you've been shifted to multiple different projects, touching upon and helping to fix the problems in each one. If you have indeed been doing well in each project, I would call that type of flexibility a strength, and would emphasize it in the interview.

You may not be able to go into great detail about each project you've worked on, but you can certainly emphasize the sheer breadth of your experience. And given the work you might be putting in will be entirely different than a previous project anyway, that's something worth emphasizing (though not in those words - emphasize your flexibilty, not the irrelevance of each position).

You could even say you were a real problem-solver for each task you were put on - which would be entirely accurate, and exactly the sort of thing a good employer would look for. Don't be afraid to admit, when the employer asks, that you never really got to go deep in on a project, but emphasize that you would like to, and would gladly do so given the opportunity.

Prospective employers are keen on a person who is flexible and can handle the real and constant changes of a workplace - so emphasize that as a strength of yours.

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Being honest is very important. Interviewers will find out if you are lying. But putting your best foot forward is always the best way to go. –  Zibbobz Mar 14 at 17:44

Write down a detailed list of everything you did on previous job. Memorize it. When you are asked questions in an interview that you don't know, say "I don't know that specific thing off the top of my head, but let me explain something similar I did in my previous job" and go into detail about a related task that you worked on.

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Try reframing your lack of in-depth knowledge about the details and history of a project as more of a 'imagine what I can do if I'm assigned to a project for an extensive period of time, if I can do all this so quickly' potential, at least in your head. You can do it all.

For interviews specificially, role-play. Practice interviewing with a friend (preferably someone who's in the same or a similar field) and find different ways to express yourself. Practice will give you confidence in interviewing, which is one of those intangibles that can make a huge difference in how you come across.

Also, stick with the positives. When you're asked about what you liked about your previous positions, talk about the excitement of being air-dropped into the hot zone, finding the problem, fixing it and moving on. Let the interviewer in a bit on what goes on in your head when you're presented with this scenario. Let them see that your ability to quickly assess a situation without having to spend six months knee-deep in legacy code is an asset (because it is!).

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