What is the most frequently asked question in coding interviews? It’s not string reverse problem, but can you introduce yourself? However, many people don’t know how to deliver a good software engineer self introduction.
In fact, it’s almost for sure that you will be asked this question in every coding interview and many time you have to answer this same question to multiple interviewers on the same day.
In this post, I will discuss tips and hacks about software engineer self introduction. And I’m going to make all the tips practical and actionable so that you’ll know exactly how to improve.
Why is self introduction important?
We should understand the importance of software engineer self introduction, otherwise there’s no point to put any effort on it.
First of all, your self introduction is a critical part of making a good first impression. You can hardly underestimate how important it is because it affects interviewer’s judgment unconsciously. It’s same as we are inevitably judging people based on their appearances even before talking with them.
Secondly, it’s the single question that is predictable. Sometimes we wish we could know what questions would be asked in an interview. And here it is. Surprisingly, many people know they will be asked to introduce themselves but never prepare for it.
What is a good software engineer self introduction?
Although it’s impossible to evaluate a person’s introduction with a score, we are often impressed by good introductions. Before giving advice on how to improve your introduction, it’s better to understand what good answers look like.
First and foremost, it must be concise. I’m surprised by how many people ignored this point. Take Google/Facebook interview as an example, interviewers usually expect to spend 5-10min discussing candidate’s background. Having verbose introduction not only will bore interviewers, it makes valuable points in your introduction less likely to be remembered. Keep in mind that self introduction is not presentation, please cut to the point with zero junk information.
In addition, good introduction highlights valuable points in your experience. You don’t need to illustrate all your projects, but things that show your technical/leadership skills should be pointed out. Be clear about which points you’d like to mention and put them into a 5-10min time frame.
Lastly, introduction is not only about the content, but communication. Bad communication skills can make great content boring. We’ll get to this point soon.
Show your relevance to the job
Apparently, you can’t talk about everything about yourself. So what is the criteria when selecting topics to cover in software engineer self introduction?
In essence, self introduction serves two purposes. First, it gives interviewers a general idea of your background – whether you are an experienced engineer, a new grad or a series entrepreneur and so on. More importantly, it provides information about why you are relevant to the job.
Most people ignored the second point and that’s why their introductions have zero useful information. Let me give you an example. Suppose you are applying for a company that is doing a lot of AI and machine learning. A good introduction can be “I’ve been working on data analysis related work for the past 2 years including both infrastructure and algorithms. For example, I’ve improved our ranking system with XYZ metrics. BTW, I’m also taking a bunch of online course about deep learning.”
Obviously, the candidate is not a machine learning expert, however, he’s trying hard to show why he’s relevant. He may also mention that he has done some awesome front-end work, which however is even less impressive than his last point (taking courses).
With that in mind, you are expected to have different introduction to different jobs.
Concise & time
We mentioned briefly about this point, but it’s worth a whole section to provide more detailed tips. Firstly, you should have a clear idea how long your introduction should be. It depends on the type of interview and the company. If you are having a phone screen with HR, you are expected to spend longer time on this topics. Startups tend to spend more time on this session as well, especially the interview doesn’t have a strict time limit. So, do your homework about how long the introduction is expected to be and adjust your content accordingly.
Track your time in preparation. Human beings have a terrible sense of time and our estimation is always quite different from reality. Don’t forget that the whole process is a discussion rather than presentation. So it’s likely that you will be interrupted with questions.
I’m an experienced engineer
If you’ve been working for a couple of years, you might have quite a lot projects to talk about. Then you should really care about conciseness and relevance.
Select projects/experiences carefully and ask yourself why I choose this project to discuss. It might be because the project is technically challenging and shows your leadership skills at the same time. Or it might be because the project is highly relevant to what the new company is doing. All in all, you should be aware of the reason for everything you want to discuss. Otherwise, you are not sure what you are talking about.
Also, it’s important to keep a balance between high level ideas and details, which is a common mistake for experience engineers. Things like “I’ve built the whole infrastructure of our crawling system” is too vague except you came from a well known company like Google, which justifies the complexity. Otherwise, you’d better explain why this point is important (relevant). You may mention that the system has crawled 1B URLs with 20 machines.
However, the opposite extreme is equally bad. Too many technical details can only confuse interviewers. Again, a good criterion is to ask yourself – does this detail provide extra information that significantly shows my relevance and strength? If not, don’t bother to mention it. Another way is to find someone who knows very few about your technical experience, introduce your project and let him tell you what he has remembered. Check whether all important points are covered or any of them is trumped by irrelevant details.
I’m a new grad
For new grads, more often than not they don’t have too many things to talk about. As an interviewer, internship is the NO.1 thing I care about. I won’t expect new grad to have years experience, but if someone has done several internships, he’s more likely to know how things work than other students.
As a result, focus more on your internships and explain why your projects are challenging. Many students don’t know how to illustrate the importance/complexity of projects and usually just say things like “I’ve built the server of a website”, which has zero information to me. Why? If the website is something like a personal front page, it may take no more than an hour to build. If the website serves millions of traffic, the server is much more complicated. In other words, from the description, the complexity can vary from zero to infinity, thus has no information at all.
A better introduction can be “I’ve build the server of our product website from scratch, which serves more than 10k users. Features include user authentication, resource management with restful API and daily cron jobs that update users info.”. Everything detail information adds extra points to this candidate – he knows about user authentication and sessions, he followed industry standard with Restful API, and more importantly his server has scaled to certain level.
As we mentioned above, communication skill is also part of the introduction. In an extreme case, you are reading your introduction from a paper, which is terrible even if the content is great.
Be confident about yourself. If you are not confident about your projects, don’t expect anyone else to like it. It’s not something you should pretend to be, but deep inside you should just believe what you have done is important. If projects you prepared are not challenging in your mind, switch to something you are more confident about.
Don’t rush. The point is not to cover as much information as possible. Instead, your job is to make sure that interviewers get the 2-3 points you want to convey. If your content is concise enough, speak slowly and confidently. At the end of the day, what matters is how much information the interview has absorbed rather than you have outputted.
Always prepare. No matter how confident you are, always prepare your introduction before every interview. Prepare specific content for each company/position you are targeting at, prepare every question interviewers may ask, and prepare all the details of everything you’ll mention even they may never be used.
The funny thing is that you may not need months to improve your self introduction, but the benefit can be obvious. If you only use 5min to prepare right before the interview, you’ve already missed this low hanging fruit.
Practice in front of your friends and collect feedback. To some extent, it’s quite similar to public speaking. You need to spend time preparing content and your communication skills, and more importantly you need practice.
By the way, if you want to have more guidance from experienced interviewers, you can check Gainlo that allows you to have mock interview with engineers from Google, Facebook ,etc..