How To Stand Out in Your Job Search by Leveraging Team-Based Experiences

A Design Buddies + Co.Lab collaboration, this Panel is made up of experienced Designers, Product Managers and Software Engineers, sharing expert tips and tricks to help applicants like yourself, stand out in your job search.

Tiwatayo Kunle
June 29, 2022

The workplace has now become very collaborative, and that’s especially the case in tech. What that means is that the faster and better you are at working with others, the better for you. What is the appeal of team experience to recruiters? It’s the assurance it gives them—that they can assess what you're like to work with and deduce how you handle conflict. It also helps them establish good rapport and confirm that you have a history of delivering on things as and when due and communicating with a team along the way.

In this panel, we had Kayla -a Senior Product Manager at Mednow, Shaun - an Engineering Manager at Google and Minjun - a UX Designer at Microsoft share exactly how you can leverage your team-based experience so that it tells your recruiters the story you want it to tell.

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So what do you do if you don’t have team experience at all yet? 

  1. Attend free hackathons

Minjun encourages aspiring techies to sign up for hackathons where they can really work on a project with the Engineer, Product Manager or Designer in a team. She recommends hackathons because they provide real experience collaborating with different partners. She also recommends working on something even as a side project and always looking for feedback from people who are already working in tech for your project. 

Shaun concurs with her and appreciates hackathons personally as they helped him meet people who were working for the kinds of places he wanted to work when he first started in tech. He considers them a wonderful social and professional opportunity. 

  1. Involve yourself with communities 

Sefunmi from Co.Lab encourages taking advantage of the communities we find ourselves in, even pitching to random strangers if necessary. In university, he literally just hung out at the Student Life Centre and told people his ideas and let them know that he was looking to build a product. 

Some folks were like “hey, you know, I'm a designer, I want to work with you.” “Eventually,” says Sefunmi “I found a bunch of folks with whom I worked on a simple project for a couple of months and was later able to use that to transition into my first major tech role.” 

They also recommend training programs and online communities such as Co.Lab and Design Buddies. Even if you and a few friends want to get together to build something, there is value in that as well!

Is certain experience more important than others?

A very important question is how to stand out if the majority of your projects and your portfolio are from a Bootcamp, or you're trying to secure an entry-level position as a UX designer/PM/Software Engineer, but you only have Bootcamp experience. Is it necessary to do other things to support this? Specifically, is attending a Bootcamp enough to give you the experience you need to qualify for a tech role?

First and foremost, Kayla says don't discredit the experience because you obtained it from Bootcamp. That is a relevant experience that contributes greatly to the quality of your work. You need to speak confidently about the work that you did there and remember that above all, the skills that you learn there are very transferable.

Then think about the story. Storytelling is the key to presentation. Think about what challenges you encountered during the project and specific aspects that you want to highlight, maybe it's around accessibility, localization, or anything else. You can think beyond the current design and just craft a convincing narrative about your experience. Recruiters would hardly look down on you because your experience is from a Bootcamp.

So how can you leverage that team experience?

  1. Document your experience(s)

Minjun says, “Document everything”- your transferable soft skills, storytelling skills, presentation skills, and especially how you handle conflict. “How did you handle a conflict situation” is a very common question asked during job interviews. A very helpful method of remembering the conflict situation and how you handled it, essentially preparing for this question is by documenting it.

You need these stories of how you work in a team and how you handle conflict. It’s often not a good look when you’re asked the question and your response is something along the lines of “I don’t usually have conflicts” because you think that makes you seem non-combative and better to work with. That response simply highlights how little experience you have. Conflicts are bound to occur when you work with people and when you don’t have any to share, it can be a red flag to recruiters. 

Shaun lets us in on a helpful secret: the conflict situation that you reference doesn’t have to be conflict in a work environment. The recruiters just want a scenario that shows whether or not the applicant can put their ego away for the greater good. It’s not really about whether a designer can resolve conflict with an engineer. It’s about whether you’re a good person and whether the rest of the team can have a pleasant experience if you're added to the team. And a lot of that comes from how you deal with stressful situations.

In fact, the best answer Shaun ever heard to this question was from an intern he interviewed who talked about conflict with their roommate. They had a substantial problem which they addressed in straightforwardly and put lasting measures in place to ensure the problem did not recur. “It was genuinely the best answer to any sort of conflict question I've ever heard. And it had absolutely nothing to do with the role they were interviewing for.” Just make sure to establish a connection as to how that can apply to your job in tech.  

  1. Use your knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses to craft the best possible story

Gaining experience helps you set expectations that allow you to assess whether or not a company is worth your time or if it’s a fit for you. It also acquaints you with your strengths and weaknesses in the workplace therefore during the job interview you can sell these strengths and superpowers as you tell your story. 

A useful hack when speaking about your weaknesses is to rephrase them as something you’re looking to learn more about in your next role. For the recruiting companies, it is all about what kind of value you can bring to the team, what your superpower is and suchlike behavioural questions. Yet because we're all acutely aware of what we're bad at and what our flaws are, we tend to think that other people are focused on it in the same way that we are. They really aren’t. 

Always highlight your superpowers during the interview process and don't be shy to tell other people about them. 

  1. Prepare for the interview

Leveraging the experience also means answering the questions in a way that the interviewer knows that you know what you’re saying. Whether this means answering with anecdotes over general tactics or scripting responses depends on the question you were asked and on you.

Shaun thinks that the more specific and real world you can be with your responses, the better. It's one thing if they specifically ask a hypothetical question, but if you're being asked a question that starts with “can you tell me about a time when…” then you should tell them about “a time when” and not say “oh, yeah, the way that I would go about this is…”

Kayla agrees too. “Definitely be more specific, because sometimes you’ll be asked follow-up questions based on the example you shared.” Therefore be more specific so they ask more detailed questions. It also gives the impression that you consider the opportunity important and that you actually did the project yourself.

Bottom line, teamwork is worth the hype. Seek out collaborative opportunities and then leverage them. Just keep working, building things, write about it, and put it out there. Share yourself with the world and you will surely stand out.

Design Buddies is a community that provides resources to help users love their design career. They also provide some design scholarships to Co.Lab so check out their social media pages for all the details. Also watch the full video of this panel on Youtube!

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