For years, I’ve been using a very simple but very effective technique to introduce myself in job interviews, and I’ve always got some excellent feedback about it. I’m not talking about the content here, but the format. It can always be a bit tricky to introduce yourself without diving too much into irrelevant details, or losing yourself along the way, or boring the interviewer to death. To avoid all that, I’ve learnt this technique at Axen, but since Axen doesn’t exist anymore per se, I might as well share it with you guys, because it’s always a shame to miss a good recruitment because the candidate wasn’t clear enough during his/her interview. So here you go…
Step 1: Prepare The Slides
First up, fire up your favourite presentation software. For me it’s Keynote, for most people it’s Powerpoint, but really, Powerpoint sucks. Even if you don’t have a Mac, please try something like Sliderocket or 280slides. Believe me it’s worth it. Even Keypoint on your iPhone is better than Powerpoint. And of course you can also prepare your presentation on your iPad.
On the title slide, just put up your full name as the title, what you do as a subtitle (e.g. Software Architect), and then some contact information like your email address, your phone number and your website URL if you have one. Displaying your Facebook or even your LinkedIn profile address here might not be the best idea. If you have a professional blog, that’s the kind of reference that will save some time to your future employer and maybe prevent him to google you up and find your naked ass on Facebook. If you have a professional Twitter account, it might also be a good idea, but if you don’t, don’t bother. Keep it simple.
On the next slide, let’s call it “Introduction”, 2 simple ideas:
- why you do the things you do? what drives you? One short sentence, you’ll explain the rest live.
- what you would like to do in your future job? what are the tasks you enjoy the most?
Those are very important ideas, and you might want your future employer to remember them, so use visuals. Text speaks through the auditory channel, graphics speaks through the visual channel, and your live presentation will have to fill up the kinestetic channel. Those are the 3 communication channels you have to flood with your message: “I’m the one you’ve been looking for”. Have a look at my delicious icons if you’re looking for some.
Next slide, let’s jump right into it. One slide for each of your experiences, from the oldest to the most recent in chronological order. That’s because you want the last ones, the most vivid, to be remembered at the end of your presentation. And for each experience, try to respect a very simple funnel scheme, from the most general to the most peculiar. Usually it takes 3 to 4 steps:
- Describe the organization you worked for, what they do, how big they are, maybe why you joined them.
- Then describe the specific project/department/mission you worked on, what was its goal, how many people you worked with, maybe how successful the project was.
- Last but not least, explain what your specific role was, what you did, how you helped, what you brought to the team, what you enjoyed. Important: give examples and maybe figures. Be concrete.
- For technical people, you might also add a fourth bullet point to sum up the main technologies used in this experience.
As a general rule, put as little text as possible on each slide, maybe 3 bullet points with keywords for each step. And try to illustrate with something visual too, like a high level architecture view, or a product picture. Remember, everything must be readable, no teeny tiny letters.
Include all your experiences, even those you think might be irrelevant for this particular interview. I’m not talking about your one-week DJ training in Berlin here, but if you’ve spent 3 months in the Sahara desert helping to build a school, it might show something of you. Important too: don’t invent any experience, because you might have to talk about all of them in detail. And try to stick with one slide max for each experience.
Once you’re done with your experience slides, it’s time for a conclusion already. Same as in the introduction here, 2 simple ideas:
- sum up your strengths as illustrated in your experiences.
- state the kind of job you’re looking for, what you would like to do with the company you’re interviewing for.
The conclusion slide will have to be custom-built for each interview. And don’t hesitate to emphasize important words in bold.
If you’re not a technical person, the conclusion slide will be your last one. If you are technical, add a slide where you will list all the technologies you know, sorted by category. Once again, don’t invent, because this slide will remain visible on the table while you answer questions, and you might have to answer for any of those techs, illustrate when and how much you’ve used them.
One very important note too: use your spell checker, make sure you leave no typo at all, or it might catch their eye like crazy and they might lose focus.
Step 2: Prepare The Interview
Once your slides are polished with a simple and clear styling, print several copies of them, in full page, on high quality paper (eg 100g/m2), but not laminated because your interviewers might want to annotate them. Prepare a copy of your slides for each of the interviewers, even if you will just use one during the interview. Then put each deck of slides in a plastic folder or something with your logo on it, and attach a business card to the folder. You will hand out a “presentation package” like this to all your interviewers.
Once your presentation packages are ready, use one to rehearse. Rehearsing is very important to make sure you keep your presentation under 15 minutes, which is critical to avoid having to wake up the people in front of you at the end of your speech. Rehearse, and rehearse again in order to associate key phrases with each of the keywords and schematics on your slides. But don’t learn your speech by heart, or you will miss the kinesthetic channel. The goal of rehearsing is just to be confident enough that you will keep things clear and concise. Rehearsal can also be an excellent opportunity to spot any phrase or noise you repeat all the time and that might annoy the person you’re talking to. Try to eliminate “humm” and “…like…”.
Step 3: Impress Them
At the beginning of the interview, propose the agenda, explain that you will introduce yourself for 10 to 15 minutes and then answer their questions (“if that’s OK with you”). If that’s not OK with them and they have their own process, don’t panic. See if you can fit a shorter version of your presentation into their own agenda somewhere, and even if you don’t, you can still give them your presentation deck.
If you can use your presentation, then put one presentation deck on the table in front of you, title slide first, facing your interviewers. If you feel like they are all going to take notes, hand out your presentation packages now, so that they can annotate your slides as you do your thing. But always keep a main one in front of you. And you can also tell them that they will be able to leave with a copy of your slides: this will reassure them about annotating them, and some will even take it as a “gift”. You can smile, but it happens.
Then go over each of the slides and always turn the old slide back up on your right, like you’re flipping the pages of a book (the story of your professional life, aka “Me, Myself and I”). This is very important as it keeps the person in front of you focused on what you’re currently talking about, and (s)he’s not tempted to read backwards.
When you flip a page, always ask if it’s OK to move on, try to detect if they have some doubts or questions. If they have questions, answer them right now, but shortly. If you think the answer will take some time, don’t be afraid to write down the question or just push it back till the end of your speech, in order not to break the rhythm.
In terms of speaking, try not to read your slides, which are written upside down for you anyway. Try to look at the guys in front of you as much as possible, smile from time to time, and watch your body language for signs of nervousness (which shouldn’t appear if you rehearsed properly). Don’t speak too fast, don’t use long sentences and go straight to the point. Remember, keep it short and simple, everything has to fit within 10 to 15 minutes, small questions included.
When you talk about your experience, always keep the same structure as on the slide: from general to peculiar, funnel style, company, project, you. If you feel like some experiences are not really relevant for this specific interview, feel free to skip them entirely. Your interviewers will leave with a copy of these anyway, and they can always ask you to come back to it afterwards.
The last slide, either conclusion or technologies, should remain visible on the table at the end of your presentation. Leave it there during questions, it’s the slide they will look at if they’re looking for inspiration for the next question.
Step 4: Feedback Loop
At the end of the interview, don’t hesitate to ask them what they thought about your presentation. It’s a very unusual way to do it, some will think it’s fantastic, others won’t be convinced, but they all might give you one or two constructive criticisms. Use those to improve your slides from one interview to the next.
Also keep in mind (or write down) any recurrent question that may indicate something is not clear in your slides, that a picture doesn’t tell that much, that a sentence is too generic. Same thing about your speech: remember the experiences you spent too much time talking about, and rehearse more about those next time to keep it efficient.
I have slideshared the last version of my slides, very similar to the ones I used to convince Vivansa to hire me, except of course for the Vivansa slide I added quickly for the sake of completeness. The purpose of this example is just to show you a generic example. Once again, you should customize at least the conclusion and technical skills slides for each interview. But it should give you a good idea of this technique. And those slides worked, on several occasions.
Last but not least, I know that this technique might sound very mechanic, and that some people always prefer to do it “freestyle”. And that’s fine with me: if you get your dream job, that’s all that matters. I also know that this kind of presentation might not fit all contexts, especially the ones in very big structures with even more mechanical recruitment processes. But if you feel insecure going completely “free style” and you want to get your point through more clearly, I think it’s a pretty good canvas to try.
One more thing…
As I wrote it before, Vivansa is currently looking for talented Java developers to reinforce our teams. The managing team is so awesome they managed to win a very big contract with European Commission’s DG TAXUD (tax and customs union). And we need more people to join our team to go even further in European Customs. So if you want to participate in European construction, feel free to use the technique mentioned in this post to prepare your presentation and try it on us.
In any case, if you try this technique in your next interview, I’d be very happy to know how it worked out, the issues you faced, the feedback you received. So feel free to comment or pass around.