In a break from my usual type of post, this post will be largely non-technical - I know, this is a tech blog, but bear with me!
This was was inspired by a message from Nick Colyer, co-founder over at Skylines Academy in a post on the Azure Study Group (Skylines Academy) on Facebook where I’d mentioned doing interview prep alongside studying for the AZ-900 (Azure Fundamentals) exam - “if you’re interested, it would be great to have a blog on skylines around interview process and prep to share with fellow students.”.
Consider this me paying back in some small way the community support I’ve had from Nick, all at Skylines and the wider dev/cloud/azure and infosec communities since beginning my learning journey into Azure and a change in career focus to a different IT discipline.
However, a little background is useful here I feel. Having worked for essentially one company since leaving school in 1997 (the name may have changed many times, but it was still the same company), myself and a number of IT infrastructure professionals were outsourced in 2018.
Alongside that, the mainframe platform that the team I led was responsible for, was going to be migrated entirely to a new platform.
This led to me knowing I would be made redundant by the end of 2019 and amongst all the stress that comes with that, and of re-skilling, one of my biggest concerns was relative lack of interview experience, and none of it being recent.
I’d only had 4 job interviews in my 22 year working life, being successful on the 2nd and 3rd job interviews (7 years apart), with my last (unsuccessful) interview taking place at the start of 2010.
As you might imagine, that was quite a massive amount of change - something I might blog about more in a different post in the future.
The crux of this post though is about job interviews and interview preparation - a lot has changed in the world of job interviews, not just in IT but in general.
So, in this post I’m going to go into some tips and insights I’ve gotten from others or picked up myself along the way which I hope will help you prepare for your next job search, for updating your CV and in interviews themselves.
Note also that some of this is useful at work generally - and that applying it consistently may not come naturally to everyone. So if you find yourself struggling to find positives about yourself, some of these tips are worth coming back to again until they become habit. (This is something I still have to remind myself of from time to time!)
When it comes to job search, updating your CV or interview preparation, it’s crucial to spend some time to understand yourself, your strengths, weaknesses, what you like/dislike, and what you want to get out of any job that you may be successful in securing.
That might sound pretty obvious - but many of us are not wired to be good at this, or to be in the habit of doing so - especially if, like me, you’d been in the one role and/or company for a number of years and gotten comfortable with that environment.
“…never put yourself down, in this world there are plenty who will gladly do that for you!”
One thing that is the building block of what follows here is honesty - you have to go into the process with a willingness and determination to be honest with and about yourself - brutally so if needs be. That doesn’t mean that you are looking for ways to diminish yourself - as my father has said to me all my life, “never put yourself down, in this world there are plenty who will gladly do that for you!”
In order to be honest with others about yourself, you first need to be honest with yourself, makes sense when you think about it!
So what does that look like?
Identify and address your self-limiting beliefs
“Sometimes, your biggest obstacle is staring at you in the mirror - get out of your own way!”
What are self-limiting beliefs?
You know the things you tell yourself about how you can’t do X or Y? The problem with them is that they can be self-fulfilling prophecies - the more you repeat them (internally or out loud), the more you believe them and in turn, the more they become true.
Put another way - “Sometimes, your biggest obstacle is staring at you in the mirror - get out of your own way!”
So how do you turn that around? Do something different.
Think you can’t do something? Evaluate honestly if that’s actually true or if you just need a different approach/perspective? What have you tried? There’s always more than one approach to a problem or to learning something new. You may find another approach works better for you than the first one you try.
Talk to peers/colleagues or other members of the same community of interest - most people are surprisingly helpful and have valuable insight.
Think you don’t have the skills employers are looking for? I’d bet you do - we all have transferable skills that may or may not be listed in job adverts but are important in many jobs (hence transferable), but that you now do without thinking, just like breathing.
Transferable skills can include analysis/research, communication, organisation, leadership and a whole host of others that we pick up in jobs, in school and in daily life. You may take them for granted but they are not always skills that everyone has to the degree employers are seeking so don’t overlook them.
When it comes to technical skills, don’t claim to have a skill that you know you don’t have - you will be found out at some stage and it’s always better to be honest.
That doesn’t mean that if you don’t have all the skills/experience listed as required that you shouldn’t apply.
Certainly I’d advise against applying when you are missing most of them, but if you think your experiences and skills that you do have are sufficient to be able to do the job despite not ticking off every box - it’s often worth applying.
However, you need to make sure that your CV and cover letter really sell you as a strong candidate and demonstrate why those missing skills are worth overlooking - remember what I said about honesty!
Increase your self-awareness
“If you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else?”
Another one that sounds obvious, but in truth isn’t always easy for everyone to practice. What I’m talking about here is being able to recognise and talk about what you’re good at - sort of the opposite to the previous idea. If you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else?
I know it can be embarrassing to talk about yourself in a positive light - it’s easy to fall back on the negatives. However, the whole idea here is that you are trying to convince a company (and particularly, hiring managers and HR professionals) that you are the right person for the job - so you are going to have to sell yourself.
One key thing that I noticed had changed since the last time I’d updated my CV, or applied for a job, far less interviewed, is that the focus has shifted from “here’s what I know, here’s the technical skills I bring to the table” to “here are my key skills, strengths and achievements”.
So instead of listing out that you have experience of technology X, employers want to know what benefit you brought to your current employer - the “so what?” question.
So you know Citrix? So what? What does that tell me about how you work, whether you’ll fit in to the team you’d be working in, whether or not I can rely on you and a myriad of other questions.
You might not always guess that from the sometimes endless lists of “required” skills on a job advert - but what you know isn’t the only thing that matters, it’s how you use what you know, how you learn new skills, how you work with others, are you organised etc.
I’ll expand a bit more further down in this post on ways to help you with this, but for now just remember - it’s not just what you know…
Identify and analyse your key strengths
When it comes to key skills/strengths - it helps to think in terms of attributes that would be attractive to an employer, such as that you are:
- Customer focused
You get the idea - these are traits of your character that show an employer how you operate and whether or not you’ll be a good fit for the role.
Now, I’m not saying that you would list all of these on your CV, or in an interview - but you should make a list of them and keep them in mind during the next stage of preparation.
To summarise what I’ve talked about so far, before you can really prepare to talk about your achievements, you first have to take the time to know yourself better.
In my next post, I’ll discuss how you answer the “So what?!” question, interview preparation, calming techniques and building a network.
As ever, thanks for reading and feel free to leave comments below.