• A former Tesla recruiter shared the doozy of an interview question he said often tripped up engineering candidates.
• The question? “Tell me about your most significant technical accomplishment, the project that you’re most proud of.”
• He said people often flounder when they pick their most impressive-sounding achievement.
If you want to ace your job interview, you need to talk up your accomplishments.
But you’ve also got to know which achievements are worth highlighting. Choose wrong, and you could end up derailing the whole interview.
In a Fast Company article, ex-Tesla recruiter Max Brown said candidates often struggled with the question: “Tell me about your most significant technical accomplishment, the project that you’re most proud of.”
It doesn’t sound too bad, at first. Certainly not trickier than some of the other intense questions Tesla’s thrown at applicants in the past.
But Brown, who interviewed more than 1,000 candidates at the automaker, said applicants often selected the wrong accomplishment to discuss.
“In my experience, most people’s first instinct is to pick the project or achievement that sounds the most substantial on paper — but that’s not always the one that illustrates their actual technical ability,” he wrote for Fast Company.
He said it’s usually better to shine the spotlight on a smaller project where you can truly speak to all of the technical aspects. In many cases, the biggest, most impressive-sounding initiative you participated in was largely the result of a team effort.
Brown said you never want to find yourself saying “that was someone else’s job” during the subsequent discussion of your supposed greatest achievement. And there’s science to back that up. As Business Insider previously reported, bragging tends to be a good strategy when it comes to making a positive first impression, but only if you have evidence to back it up.
“The real reason interviewers ask this question is to provide a topic they can use for follow-up questions to unpack candidates’ technical know-how,” Brown told Fast Company.
Brown, who now runs recruiting firm Silicon Beach Talent, said most subpar responses tend to either make the applicant sound like they were stealing credit for the work of others or didn’t result in “a productive technical discussion.”
So how do you answer the question well?
Brown said candidates are in good shape when they can identify a problem, explain the solution, go into what their own individual contributions were, and explain the result. It’s essentially another version of the Star Method of interviewing, which is also a favourite at Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s old company PayPal.
And you get bonus points if you can lace your answer with instances where you demonstrated grit, rigour, and ownership — all core values at Tesla.
Most of all, you want to be able to riff on the “core concepts” of the work you did with your interviewer.
And that’s true for all job interviews, not just ones pertaining to Tesla and engineering.
“You might think you’re boring interviewers with your story about something relatively small that you worked on, but if that’s the thing that lets you really dig into your knowledge base, go with it,” Brown said. “Interviewers want to geek out with you — and hopefully learn something new themselves.”
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