Bringing Your “A” game to the Job Interview

by Aaron Morris

Jam3 is a design and experience studio that strives to pioneer what’s next. In everything we do, we’re relentless about the pursuit of better. To do our best work, we need the right people on the team. Resourcing the right people for the job is another post. Today, I want to talk about bringing your A game to the job interview.

As a Technical Director at Jam3, I’m amazed by the sheer number of people I meet on a monthly basis. Formal interviews, informal meet & greets, even a little hallway introduction — I’m constantly processing talent — who’s available, who might be a good fit, who has the most interesting skillsets. But most important is spotting talented people who share our values. We’re looking for individuals who show up and exhibit the energy, passion and curiosity that we take pride in at Jam3. I thought I’d take a moment to share how the best people show up at an interview.

LET YOUR ATTITUDE DRIVE SUCCESS

The right attitude enables success. Some people think that individual skills matter the most in the interview and they are wrong. Talent is key, no doubt. But it’s the lethal combination of talent and attitude that produces the best results.

To illustrate the team environment let’s take an example of a larger 10 person project. You’ll likely find 1 lead dev and a team to support them, along with a producer, coordinators, lead designer, and the small army of production designers, motion, and sound or video people. There are a variety of skills but one goal. Create an awesome experience that meets the objective. The team sizes can vary from a small 4 person project to a larger one with 15 people.

You want to be coming to the table with proof of your ability to innovate, collaborate and co-create amazing things. What kind of accomplishments can you blow us away with? Great, now defend your decisions and share what you don’t know. It’s the fastest way to create trust.

People perform the services, the quality of the services performed are a function of the people who perform them. I do my best work when I trust my team. What are you doing to engender trust along with those marvelous talents of yours? This is the right attitude.

We want to hear about your failures! We want to know what you did to rebound and what you’d do differently next time. Self-aware candidates make great teammates.

EMBRACING PROCESS

Success can be defined in many ways, and throughout my time at Jam3 there’s been one defining thread: process. Process allows us to mitigate danger while creating a space for everyone to contribute and be creative. Teamwork facilitated by process combined with the right attitude is key.

Our hiring process directly influences the quality of work we produce.

As we’ve grown, our interviewing process has evolved. We aspire to create a mutual conversation between two parties that is focused on the opportunity and less focused on everything else. We’ve removed the classic “tell me about a time when you had to demonstrate your ability to plan ahead” questions and now focus on providing real-life scenarios candidates can react to. This way we can understand the candidate’s thought processes to see how they align with our team values.

We spend a lot of time working on this process. So you can start to appreciate how central the hiring process is for us. So what can you expect? It begins with a screening call by our talent manager. This is a 30 minute introduction to the company, details about the opportunity and hear all about you. If we both want the conversation to continue, we would follow up with an in person interview. This is a deeper dive into your work history, most significant accomplishments and a visualization exercise.

The visualization is the part where we pretend you already have the job. We’ll pull a key task from the job description and run you through it like it was a real scenario. For example we could imagine taking a project from start to finish and get to a question like “How would you break down your estimate to complete a feature?” This is an interactive portion we work through together that reveals how you think. I’m there to guide you, just like I would actually be doing on the job.

UNDERSTAND WHAT WE NEED

In a super distilled form, there are three essential questions I look to answer when meeting a developer candidate: 1) Can that person code 2) Are they genuinely passionate about what they do 3) Can they share their failures confidently?

So from a hiring manager’s standpoint, let’s really dive into the specific things that we’re hoping to see across the table. And while this is directed at developers, there are a few points that apply to any position, anywhere.

THE SPECIFICS

Show, don’t tell

Show us your work! Be prepared to walk us through the project from start to finish and detail your role on the team. What did you learn? What went right and what went wrong? Your passion is learning and you are humble enough to reveal your mistakes. What did you start doing differently as a result? This is an effective way to show your skills and your ability to grow.

Back it up

I often ask people to rate themselves in a particular skill, e.g. their CSS skills. I’ve found that the more junior a person is the higher they will rate themselves. I know if I ask the Sr. devs in our office to rate themselves they’ll usually say “7 or 8?” but often an aspiring developer straight out of school will say “8 or 9”. Confidence is good, but always be prepared to back it up. If you say you’re an 8 or 9 I’d expect, at the very least, that you’d be able to explain the box model or how you would use flexbox.

Tell us a Javascript story, or three

Javascript is where the real focus is at Jam3, so our dev interviews are largely focused around that. We usually ease into it by talking about past work and the work that you’re most proud of. I’ll often ask how one piece or another is built and why you chose to do it that way. I like to hear about performance of this vs. that. This is great way to get people to open up about tech. I want to hear about libraries used. Is it built with ReactJS? Was it Vue? Does it use WebGL or is it clever CSS? What performed? What didn’t?

Sell your accomplishments

When you present work be clear about what you did and where others were responsible. Perhaps this is a big project for you that you are proud of, or maybe it’s a small project, but it was a big role for you personally. Tell us what makes you proud about it. What did you do? What challenges were faced? What approach did you take and how did that plan change as the project went on? Your accomplishments will contain great stories of teamwork and self development. Think ahead and have these stories ready to tell.

Give us some personality

While being able to do your job is the most important thing it’s crucial that you’re able to connect with people. People are much more trusting and willing to work with someone they like. A lot of questions are really just to get someone to open up a bit. For example, I may ask “How fast do you like to make decisions?” or “Are you more focused on results or meeting the needs of the people involved?”. There is no wrong answer to these questions, they merely reveal aspects of your personality and help us see if you would make a good teammate and fit in with the rest of the staff.

Explain your learning style

In our industry, technology and trends move very quickly. The way we build sites and experiences is very different now than it was just a few years ago. What blogs or sites do you read? What are you playing with on the side? What are your interests and how do you express them? Technical people are creative people as well. How do you teach yourself new things? What have you got to show for it? I want to see how you keep up. Not just with technology but trends in design, accessibility, or pop culture.

Say hello!

Jam3 doesn’t manufacture goods. We sell our expertise, our experience, and our time. We’re always looking for talented people. Reach out or check our job postings here.

Being interviewed is a skill you can prepare for. It takes practice and good self awareness to convey your best self. Relax! No one is expected to know everything and I will ask questions you don’t know the answer to. The point of the interview i to find the right person and if everyone answers everything perfectly then we might as well have picked out of a hat. I hope that I’ve given you a lil’ glimpse into our process. If you’re ever sitting in front of me, or one of my colleagues across the world, you’ll have a better understanding of what we’re looking for and what to expect. I look forward to meeting you!