When you’re applying for a new job, your prior experience will be a deciding factor in whether you get hired. For many hiring managers, it’s the most important aspect they look at when assessing candidates. So, being able to answer, ‘Tell me about an important project you worked on’ in a relevant and impressive way is crucial if you want to land the job.
Variations of this interview question
Here are some ways hiring managers might pose a question about your experience:
- Tell me about an important project you worked on.
- What experience makes you qualified for this job?
- Describe a time when you had to solve a problem.
- What accomplishment are you most proud of?
While they’re phrased a bit differently, they’re all drilling down to the same thing: your past experience and how it has prepared you to succeed in the role. Here’s how to discuss it in a way that wows hiring managers.
Why do interviewers ask you to describe your work on a project?
Interviewers are looking to learn about different aspects of your work style–how you collaborate with others, what role you like to take when working on a team, how you manage your time and how you define success, to name a few. Hearing you describe a project you’ve worked on allows the interviewer to “see” these work preferences in action, which helps them determine how well you’ll succeed in the job and whether you’ll fit in on their team.
They also want to hear about your track record. Past performance is a strong indicator of future success, so it’s a good sign if you’ve already succeeded in projects that are similar to the type of work you’d be doing in the new role.
What interviewers are looking for when they ask about specific project experience
Every employee brings something different to the table. Some are natural-born leaders, while others do well following clearly defined instructions. It takes all types of workers to get a job done. In hearing about your prior work, an interviewer wants to understand your role on the team and how you specifically contribute to a project’s success.
They’re also looking for concrete examples of core skills–the most important requirements to be able to do the job. For example, suppose you’re applying for a cybersecurity position. In that case, you can prove your capabilities by talking about a time you used the AES algorithm to add an extra layer of safety when sending clients sensitive information. The key is choosing an example that highlights your most relevant skills.
How to answer the interview question ‘Tell me about an important project you worked on’
Zero in on the right skills
You want your response to demonstrate that you possess the skills the interviewer is looking for. Begin by making a list of what those skills are. They’re usually listed directly in the job description. You can also identify them with an online search for [position title] + key skills.
Pick a project where you exercised one or more of those skills. If you’re looking to demonstrate teamwork, you might talk about a project where you collaborated with colleagues across various departments to achieve a common goal. If you want to showcase your problem-solving abilities, describe a time when someone threw a wrench into your plan at the last minute, and you had to devise a solution on the fly.
Describe what you did
Next, walk your interviewer through the list of steps you took to get from point A to point Z. Think of it like telling a story with a beginning, middle, and end. You want them to be able to clearly see how you tackle a task, delegating work and solving problems along the way before arriving at your intended destination.
The project you describe should have a positive, measurable outcome. Think about results you can quantify, like sales figures, customer service ratings, speed of completion, or a glowing performance review. Give a specific example of how your actions benefited your department or the company.
How not to answer
Describe an irrelevant skill
You don’t merely want to pick a successful project; it needs to be directly relevant to the job you’re applying for. This might mean that your most impressive professional accomplishment actually isn’t the most suitable answer. Think about demonstrating relevant skills; your goal should be to leave no question in the interviewer’s mind that you can successfully perform (and excel at) the job duties.
Sample answers to ‘Tell me about an important project you worked on’
“I was tasked with doing market research for a new target audience segment. We operate a fitness app, and my company wanted to find ways to reach an older demographic that doesn’t typically use apps for fitness purposes.
I assembled a focus group of 25 adults over the age of 65 from various regions and socioeconomic groups. I developed a set of discussion topics designed to help us gather a range of information, from technology used to fitness level and more. The results were eye-opening.
Through my research, we learned that our assumptions about older adults had been wrong and that in fact, many of them were comfortable using apps like YouTube to access fitness content. The majority said they’d be interested in trying out an app with our features if the marketing clearly explained how it would benefit them. Their input greatly shaped our first marketing campaign targeting senior users, which resulted in a conversion rate of 5%.”
“I may not have a big title, but as a front desk associate, I’m sometimes the first and only interaction a guest has with our hotel. I noticed that our check-in process was unnecessarily lengthy, and guests were getting irritated when they just wanted to get to their rooms. Despite not being assigned to do this, I pitched my boss on some things we could do to streamline check-ins.
I suggested sending out the option for a “pre-arrival” check-in where we would gather details like the guest’s identification and credit card in advance to save time. I also showed my boss a new keyless access system I’d seen some hotels use when I traveled abroad last summer. With this system, guests don’t even have to go to the front desk at all before entering their room.
My boss implemented the advance check-in offer right away. After three months, our customer ratings on their check-in experience have increased by 23%. He brought the keyless access idea to our hotel GM, who is considering it as part of next year’s budget.”
By telling a specific story that illustrates the key skills for the job you want, you’ll show your interviewer the contribution you make while also demonstrating your technical aptitude for the role.