Explaining Your Job to Non-Techie Interviewers


On Reddit, there’s a popular subreddit titled “Explain Like I’m Five,” in which readers ask experts to explain complicated concepts in the simplest way possible. If you ever wanted to really understand how sonar or a smartphone screen works, chances are good that someone on that forum will have an answer.

During job interviews, tech pros may find themselves faced with a similar need to describe some very complex ideas. Oftentimes the person conducting an initial interview is from Human Resources, not the actual department where you may end up working; they won’t understand the technology underlying the tech pro’s skill set in the same way as, say, the actual manager.

This lack of specialized knowledge on the interviewer’s part can lead to problems. How can candidates convey their potential usefulness to an organization when the person across the table doesn’t get the differences between iOS and Android development, or the potential drawbacks of overreliance on MongoDB as a NoSQL database?

Before heading into an initial interview, make sure you can describe what you do in the simplest terms possible, without coming off as condescending. Rehearse what you’ll say, with plenty of real-world analogies that will help make abstract concepts a little more real. (Call it the “Explain Like They’re 10” rule.) Assume a level of very basic technical knowledge on the part of the interviewer, but be prepared to break down higher-level concepts. While you might be pleasantly surprised by the interviewer’s knowledge base, don’t bet that they’ll understand everything you can do.