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I'm a young software developer (2 years in the field). When interviewing, I am often asked to mention recent accomplishments. And to this day I cannot think of more than one example that truly stands out (automating something that was later applied on other projects of the company). I can only think of another achievement but it is not work related (I published a website with some college notes and besides the praise I got for them they became an open source project).

I assume that they are expecting tangible results, something "out of the ordinary", and not just things like "my boss/client said I did a good job" (cannot prove it), "I fixed a bug that was very hard to debug" (it was your job anyway) or "I enhanced an internal tool of the company even when I wasn't asked to do so" (doesn't sound so impressive). Also, while I'd love to mention something like "I gave a talk on so and so", I never had the chance (basically because I don't think I'm an expert on any subject yet).

What do you people say when asked this?

Edit: my ideal answer would be from an interviewer that can show good and bad examples of what to say.

2nd edit: there is a similar question here. I believe that my case is different because the person (a) is an experienced professional, and (b) the answers given aren't relevant to my question.

17

accomplishment

noun

  1. something that has been achieved successfully: "the reduction of inflation was a remarkable accomplishment"

Don't read more into the question than is actually there.

The interviewer will be expecting that you tell them where you were successful; that is, where you achieved the objectives of your role. They will not be expecting that someone with 2 years experience will have taken a company from start-up to IPO, or written code that enabled a manned mission to Mars: It would be nice if some of these were "remarkable" in this way but it is not necessary.

Simply state some of the objectives of you role and how you accomplished them.

  • +1 - accomplishments can be as simple as "consistently turning out quality work under typical project conditions" - but make sure to list the two outstanding cases, too - in all honesty, most employers want "consistent" over rockstars who might just come up with an app that makes millions and quit... – HorusKol Jan 5 '16 at 5:38
  • Dale M: when you say "state objectives of your role and how you accomplished them". I was a developer, there aren't many objectives other than to delevop good software, am I right? – Maria Ines Parnisari Jan 5 '16 at 10:33
  • Develop good software, build up your team's knowledge, help your team to improve in different aspects e.g. quality... There can be many aspects to a developer and even though it always comes down to writing good software, there are many things to do to achieve that, both individually and as a team. Learning something (a language, a framework...) can also be seen as an accomplishment, especially if done quickly. – Puzzled Jan 5 '16 at 15:21
  • @l19, while I've been a developer, I have also done database administration, network analysis, solution architecture and a whole host of things under the IT umbrella because I had to go from requirements to deployment to administration and thus it can be rather broad to know what was and wasn't done in that role. – JB King Jan 5 '16 at 15:34
  • 1
    @l19 the fact that you learned it is an accomplishment, how long it took is just detail – Dale M Jan 7 '16 at 3:49
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You seem to be framing the question to require things above and beyond the call of duty. That is not really what is being asked.

Rephrase the question in your head to "Tell me about times when you did your previous job particularly well." or "What are you proud of from your previous job?"

Having quantitative results for an answer is desirable, but is not always possible. Good qualitative results can be highlighted effectively as well, as can consistent solid performance.

Considering the examples you cite:

"my boss/client said I did a good job" (cannot prove it),

An answer of "I was given this task, completed it, and boss/client was so impressed that they singled me out for praise." is powerful. So is "I consistently received excellent feedback from boss/client about this function I was performing." Doing your job well enough to earn praise is exactly the kind of thing being asked about.

"I fixed a bug that was very hard to debug" (it was your job anyway)

Same concept. Yes it was your job; nonetheless completing the task is an accomplishment, and if you did it well then it is worth mention.

"I enhanced an internal tool of the company even when I wasn't asked to do so (doesn't sound so impressive).

You are right ... this doesn't sound impressive. If you are proud of it, then rephrase it to sound impressive. Perhaps you can say something like "I identified and implemented an enhancement to an internal tool that saved 100 man hours per month."

  • that saved 100 man hours per month - just to call out this bit, any time you can attach hard numbers to a statement, it makes it sound more impressive. Do this whenever possible (as long as it is honest) – Seth R Feb 9 at 4:13
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Using your "enhancing a tool" example, here are three variants of that:

Good Example (shows initiative, attention to business bottom line):

I noticed that an internal software tool used by the business could be enhanced to improve the quality/effectiveness/productivity (whatever) of the users. Because it was a change that would result in a clear savings for the company, I went ahead and enhanced it, saving the company $$$ per year.

This shows initiative and a sensitivity to cost and value. Many software developers pursue projects without regard to the business value, which is a mistake.

Neutral Example (shows initiative, but no business value):

I noticed that an internal software tool used by the business could be enhanced to improve the quality/effectiveness/productivity (whatever) of the users. I went ahead and enhanced it and the users were happy.

The above does not mention whether or not your fix cost more than the savings - but it does show initiative and concern for the business.

Bad Example (shows initiative, lack of concern for cost and value):

I noticed that an internal software tool used by the business could be enhanced to improve the quality/effectiveness/productivity (whatever) of the users. My boss had been putting off because he thought it would be too expensive to fix, but I went ahead and did it anyway because the users really wanted it, and they were happy that I did.

This shows initiative, but a disregard for value to the company and a disregard for authority.

4

Just to elaborate on the main paragraph where I have another perspective on this:

I assume that they are expecting tangible results, something "out of the ordinary"

Not necessarily. Software development can cover a lot of different possible roles as some developers may double as administrators, analysts and managers of various items. There can be database, network and system administration to be done. There can be business analysis, functional analysis, system analysis and probably a few others. Thus there is the question of what did and didn't you have to handle in your previous role. In some jobs, I had to put new computers onto the LAN that may or may not be what people would expect from a developer.

"my boss/client said I did a good job" (cannot prove it),

This is quite vague and thus would be a poor answer as there isn't anything really new added as I doubt you'd say you met expectations, right? Now, if you changed this to be, "The client for whom I built an e-commerce site that can handle thousands of transactions a minute using ASP.Net, C# and an MS-SQL Server back-end," then this gives a bit more of what you have used which can also be something to notice. Are you proud or not of what you have used in the past? Some people may well change their voice when saying various technologies or tools since they have various feelings about them.

"I fixed a bug that was very hard to debug" (it was your job anyway)

If you could give more of a perspective on that bug, it may be a good story here. I can think of various bugs where developers spent days on it and I came in and fixed it in a few hours with some help from on-line resources to help me learn about X that helped me patch Y system. While it is part of the job, it could be a worthwhile piece that was done.

or "I enhanced an internal tool of the company even when I wasn't asked to do so" (doesn't sound so impressive).

So, taking an internal tool that was barely functional and adding unit tests, making it meet coding standards and adding documentation so that it could be more easily maintained, isn't that impressive to your mind? There is something to be said for what details you add that can make even something as simple as "going to the store" sound like a Quentin Tarantino film.

Also, while I'd love to mention something like "I gave a talk on so and so", I never had the chance (basically because I don't think I'm an expert on any subject yet).

Do you really believe you couldn't present a talk on a subject of something you've done but haven't mastered? In some development places there can be demonstrations of a system that usually are done while it is still being built. Those builders are wanting feedback as sometimes it is more important to know whether or not something is going on the right track. Consider how you posted this question and may well now have seen much more that can be done.

  • (I'm the OP). One example: while I was a tester at my previous job, I also learned about a Windows service called WDS that helps users install Windows images into their computers. I learnt how to sysprep images, upload them to the server, etc. Also when I noticed that the images were old and out of date I created new ones and uploaded them before people requested them. Would that count? – Maria Ines Parnisari Jan 7 '16 at 3:02
  • Another example: I transitioned from tester to developer in an awkward situation. The whole testing team was let go because there wasn't enough work to do. But they kept me because they thought I did a good job (I was told so). Also the first project I worked in was a new client for the company and I think he was happy with our (my) work. Does that count? – Maria Ines Parnisari Jan 7 '16 at 3:04
3

One thing to remember is that when most managers ask about your accomplishments they want to hear what you actually did. Anyone who answers with "My responsibilities were..." is not going to be looked on as having answered that question favorably.

So in your case, talk about that difficult bug, what you did to research and solve it. Talk about the internal app you enhanced, what features did you add or what did you add to the code to make it more maintainable.

I want to hear enough technical detail in your answer to get a good feel for whether you actually did the things you claim on your resume as well.

When answering this type of question, consider the business needs of the company you are applying for. Give examples that reflect an understanding of how what you did in the past is a good match for their job now. For instance, If I have a job opening that has significant database responsibilities as well as web development, you might try to find examples in your experience that show both sides of that. If they are looking to change to a process with more formal QA or TDD and you have some accomplishments that include doing those things make sure you mention them in the description of what you did. You are selling yourself with this question and it is often a critical make or break question. Companies may vary in the exact qualities they are looking for depending on the position, but for most businesses showing your actions saved the company money or retained a large client or solved a long-term problem or showed initiative are all helpful things to let them see about you.

This is far more critical when you move up to a more senior position. Excellent senior devs are generally very aware of business needs because they often interact with people at those levels.

A junior dev who is not aware of these things yet is OK, so this time around you may not need to be thinking that way, but start to look at things from a business perspective in your next job so that when you start to look for more senior roles, you have accomplishments that reflect those things. You need to stay aware of what types of accomplishments you are doing before you decide to interview for the next job to ensure you are building the experience you need to move to a better position.

Since you are very junior, people are not going to expect you to have wildly impressive accomplishments. And while it is nice if you have given some technical talks or provided training to your peers, I am not going to rate those as very impressive unless I already am impressed with your technical abilities through the answer to this question or previous questions relating to technical matters and I won't care about a talk at all if you have not produced any actual development accomplishments that you have talked about first. So save those things for last when you interview unless you are a high-powered consultant who is expected to give talks for a large percentage of their normal duties.

2

With only two years in the business, so no one will expect too much of you. But that said, the minimum I would expect you to learn at your first job is the following:

  • mastered a language (e.g, C++, Java, JavaScript, etc.)
  • mastered a framework (e.g., Express, Spring, Flask, etc.)
  • mastered a unit test framework (e.g., Mocha, Karma, etc.)
  • mastered a tool (e.g., Git, Grunt, etc.)
  • mastered a process (e.g., Agile)
  • mastered a platform/OS (e.g., iOS, Android, node, .NET, etc.)

By "mastered" I don't mean you've become an expert. I just mean that you got to a level where you are comfortable with it. In other words: You've mastered it, it hasn't mastered you. I would hope you have something for each category.

These are some of your accomplishments that I would want to hear about. Don't feel like you have to come up with something really special. If you have special, great. Otherwise, go with interesting. Tell me about a problem you had to overcome learning something.

  • Thanks for your answer. Yes, I tink I have mastered at least one for each type (c#, asp.net, mstest, git, agile, .net). It's your last sentence that I will have to think about :) – Maria Ines Parnisari Jan 7 '16 at 3:08
0

This question aims to learn about how you work, and not what your technical skills are.

If you want to know whether a candidate is experienced with databases or java or any other technical skill, it is relatively easy to find out by asking them a technical test questions: "Given this schema, how would give me the list of all cities that have more than 500 people called 'Bob' living in them?"

But if you want to know how a candidate is interacting with their colleagues, it is hard to ask a straightforward question, because the candidate will just tell you what the ideal candidate would do, not what they would do. It is easier to ask how the candidate behaved in their previous job, by letting them talk about their favourite project. The interesting part is not really the project, but the follow-up questions you can ask:

Interviewer: "Tell me about your accomplishments in your previous role" Candidate: "I wrote an awesome automated static detection for certain Java exploits that always worked and had no false positives" Interviewer: "And how was that used?" Candidate: "It wasn't at all, because I couldn't convince my manager to invest more time in it." Interviewer: "Why not, if it was so good?" Candidate: "He said that Java isn't a priority" Interviewer: "Why not?" Candidate: "I don't know." Interviewer: "What did you do then?" Candidate: "I worked on something else"

Now this gives you little reliable information on how good the candidates achievement actually was, but it gives you a lot of insight of the candidate's ability to understand business priorities and being able to fight for their ideas.

Don't worry too much about the technical achievements (at that point, they probably should already know that you are technically good enough). Bring a story, where you were you showed dedication, initiative and team play to get something done. Was it easy for you to write the automation, or where you so frustrated with your repeating job that you learned to use an automation framework to save some time? Did you demonstrate networking skills in the company to let other profit from your work? Can you show that you have thought about the money you saved the company?

protected by mcknz Feb 9 at 5:29

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