Here are my three tips for answer this question.
- Remember that you are not your degrees or certifications.
- Remember that you are not your role (project manager, developer, tester, whatever).
- Remember that you need to articulate your value.
If you remember those three ideas, how do you answer this question? Here are some examples.
Example #1: Let's assume you are a project manager, with a slew of certificates and an MBA. You don't say, “I have an MBA and a PMP.” No, you say, “I ran a geographically distributed agile program. We succeeded because I helped people learn how to see their interdependencies. I helped the teams learn to collaborate. I never worked so hard in my life, not driving to a date. I didn't learn any of this in school or in my certifications. I learned it on the job, experimenting, using the data to see what did and didn't work. I know what works on an agile program with teams and people all over the world. Some of it isn't pretty. But, with experimentation, we can make it work.”
Example #2: Let's assume you are a tester. (Some people call this QA Engineer.) You don't say, “I'm a QA Engineer” or “I'm a tester.” Nobody cares if you have certifications. You say, “I provide information about the product under development, regardless of where in development that product is. I can read specs. I can argue architecture. I can create tests anywhere in the product development lifecycle. On my most recent project, we had an intermittent performance problem. I partnered with a business analyst and a developer to create tests that we would run over several builds to find that problem and analyze it. We discovered that the problem had been there from the beginning, and that new code uncovered it. Our partnership was key to uncovering and debugging the problem.”
Example #3: Let's assume you are a developer. You might say something like this: “I work with the team to develop creating solutions to problems. On the last project, we had to improve database performance by at least 20%. That was a hard problem. We needed to be able to rollback, too. We couldn't just make this a one-way solution. We had to experiment with several solutions. I facilitated those problem solving sessions. They were loud sessions, but we solved the problem in a really interesting way. If we hadn't used our tests as a safety net, I don't know what would have happened. I couldn't tell people they had to test as we went. I had to influence them. My development skills are great, but I'm not just a developer. If you hire me, you'll get a great developer who's also a great facilitator within the team.”
Do you see how those answers differ from the standard, “I went to this school, I have this job, I did that thing”? These answers have the start of interesting details about you. You want to continue with your value. See Four Tips for Defining Your Value.
If you like this post, you want to read Manage Your Job Search.