Meg Adams

Engineering Leader @ Etsy

How To Tell Your Own Story: Hype Reels

There are two documents I require my employees to provide each year: an updated resume and what I call a “hype reel.”

An updated resume is self-explanatory: you should always be ready to take advantage of any opportunity that arises (internal at your current company or external). Being asked for your resume and then having to tell someone you need a few days to update it feels clunky. Having one always on hand is an immediate indicator that you’re on top of things and a great start to presenting yourself as a candidate.

📆 Please (now! go!) set yourself a yearly reminder to update your resume. 📆

The real definition of a hype reel is a flashy video cut traditionally used in marketing to get people excited about something; to make them say, “woah, I want more of whatever it is you’re selling.” They are also referred to as “sizzle reels.”

But in our case, a hype reel is a super specific document created to supplement a resume which has the job of highlighting successes from the year.

A hype reel is a single source of truth for what you did with your time and, more specifically, the impact you made doing those things. It’s a way to turn what can sometimes seem like simple tasks into a narrative of progress that you can share with others and have for yourself.

A resume is the equivalent of introducing yourself at a party:
“Hi, I’m Meg! Oh, yeah, I work in engineering, it’s pretty cool.”

vs a hype reel, which is your best friend introducing you at a party:
“This is Meg, she’s a totally badass Engineering Manager at Condé Nast. She builds insane tech for Glamour and The New Yorker. She TAUGHT HERSELF TO CODE and now she’s giving talks alongside people from Google and is changing the world. SHE’S SO AMAZING.”

That is basically verbatim the last time my best friend introduced me to someone. 😳

Her intro is infinitely more verbose, specific, and expressive than I would ever be about myself. But when I hear her say those things, it makes me stand a little taller. It never fails to catch me off-guard in its descriptiveness and makes me feel pretty darn special. I stop for a moment and think, “wow, she sees me that way?!”

A hype reel exists to be the best friend for your professional life. It’s to remind you of all the specific and awesome things that you did and to reflect back how GREAT you are. We can’t trust our brains to view the work we did as being as exceptional as it was, so we need to put a process in place to capture our story and have it told back to us.

So, how does this actually work?

You’ll have a hype reel for each year and each year will have a finalized hype reel associated with it.

The current year’s reel should be treated like a field journal — document and timeline everything. Mine is usually full of hastily-written dates and bullet points. At the end of the year, you’ll pare it down to what matters and craft a finalized narrative of your accomplishments.

🚀 The MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT of this practice is to write. down. everything. 🚀

Hype reels are comprised of a few different types of things.

1.) Timeline of Work and Projects Completed Over The Course of the Year ⏲
For every project you work on, add it to the doc (ideally with an objective if the work has one). At the conclusion of each set of work, you’ll add a success indicator.

Here is an example:

Project: Client Newsletter Updates (October 1–12, 2018)
Objective: Ensure users can easily sign up for all newsletters
The Work: I created stand-alone sign-up pages for each of the client’s four email newsletters in addition to updating newsletter signup interstitials. I did this by learning about and leveraging parts of the internal component library as well as the third-party newsletter client API.
Result: These updates increased the brand’s ability to garner newsletter signups; newsletters across all verticals had 40% traffic growth YoY in Q4 and were a major factor in driving the client’s record-breaking traffic in 2017.

If you were to look back at your year without writing this down, I doubt you might even think of newsletter updates as a meaningful project. Creating a few forms and updating a few interstitials one week in October would be a tiny blip on your technical (and life) radar.

But because we took the time to add it as it was happening and to then seek out the business results, it has a lot of meaning and tells a strong narrative of your contribution.

Not all projects will have quite as large of an impact as 40% traffic growth, but some will! Take the time to find the results. Typically a product manager or data person can help you figure out the success metrics of a project if you’re not sure.

2.) Leadership 🕴
Any time you take ownership of something, this needs to be documented.

Did you identify an error in logic in some system that you then had to get a group of people together to discuss and reach a solution? Or did you just fix it yourself?

Did you train an individual or a small group on a topic that you are an expert in?

All of these things MATTER.

You will never ever remember a year from now that you scheduled a couple of meetings to teach some designers how layouts are implemented in code.

You will never remember that time you taught some other developers about the ADA implications of not using semantic HTML elements.

Write it down as it happens.

Here is an example:

In April, I initiated and led a series of training sessions on CSS Grid for a cross-disciplinary team of designers and developers working on a design system project. This led to better shared vocabulary on the team, which allowed us to more easily discuss some of the problems we were having and to ultimately reach a consensus on how to build out our component architecture in a scalable way.

WOW.

That makes a couple of hours spent in meetings sound pretty darn important.

We can see in the above example that this sort of thing is far too specific for a resume. It, alone, doesn’t define your job description and therefore doesn’t make sense in the context of that document.

But there are so many other reasons it could be extraordinarily useful and why, ultimately, an updated hype reel could be even more beneficial than a resume:

  • In a promotion negotiation, you could use this as a specific and recent example of taking initiative and of giving mentorship.
  • In analyzing a greater project, you could look at things like this and see where some of your time went.
  • In analyzing the entire year, you can look back at these types of events and decide if this was something you really enjoyed (and thus something you want to integrate more of into your role) or something that really stressed you out and you want to try to avoid in the future. Knowing what you do and don’t like to do will be invaluable in guiding your career.
  • You can begin to see what you are spending your time on and whether that does or does not align with your job description (and, in turn, if it is time for a promotion OR if you might actually not be focusing on the right things at all).
  • If you were to interview for a different job, you could prepare by quickly scanning your year-in-progress and have a repository of initiatives you worked on to discuss in those meetings.

3.) Extracurriculars 🎤
Every talk given. Every conference attended. Every mentorship opportunity you provided.

April 21, 2018
Gave a talk at a Women Techmakers and Google Developer Groups conference hosted at General Assembly
April 22-May 3, 2018
I took meetings with 7 General Assembly grads (connections made through the Women Techmakers and GDG conference where I spoke) to discuss their career goals and advise on interview process. Ultimately, I was able to help 2 procure interviews at companies where I had connections.

4.) Quotes 💁🏻
This is my favorite thing to include! Mostly because when I’m having a low day or feeling like some initiative I’m working on isn’t quite landing, I can read back through them and get a quick pick-me-up.

Any time someone says how great you are, RECORD IT.

April 12, 2018 (After seeing my work building out a new orientation program)
“This is what everyone should have seen when they first started here and then maybe we wouldn’t be in this mess.” - An Important Person

Will I ever show that to someone? Probably not. Does it have much meaning outside of my personal context? Not really. But MAN does it make me feel like the work I’m doing is valuable when I hit points of frustration.

And, additionally, I end up with a list of people who I know believe in me and believe in my work. Those are the people I can ask for references when I need them and who I already know have great things to say about me.

At the end of each year, you will have a verbose document of every single thing that you did with your time. At that point, it’s time to read back through it and see what story your year has told.

Were you fulfilled?

Were you happy?

Did you spend your time doing things you loved?

Are you feeling success based on the things that you did? If not, what needs to change this year?

Does what you spent your time doing match the job description for your role? If not, are you focusing on the wrong things or is it time to push for a promotion or seek out a new role that better aligns with your expertise?

Cull the document of anything that didn’t end up mattering. Leave yourself with a “best friend’s introduction” of who you are.

We all need our contributions and successes solidified and shouted from the rooftops. But because we can’t rely on someone else being around when those praises need to be sung, we have to be able to sing them ourselves.

And if you can sing your own praises while pointing to very specific examples of all the times you were awesome?

Sounds like you’re doing something right to me.

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