Walk me through your resume: how to nail your response to one of the most important interview questions
They say life’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. So when a potential employer asks you to walk them through your resume, it’s your chance to really show them who you are and what you have achieved.
But while it may sound like a nice easy opener, in many ways this is one of the most challenging questions any candidate can face. Broad and open-ended, with all the pressure to make that great first impression; this is a tough one to bring home. But with some thought and preparation it’s also your chance to really wow them. Here are a few tips to help you take the right approach:
1. Clarify what the interviewer is looking for
They might want a general overview or they could be particularly interested in that weekend job you once had at Krispy Kreme. It’s OK to clarify exactly what the interviewer wants to hear. So you could say: “Sure, how far back do you want me to go and is there anything that’s particularly interesting to you?”
2. You don’t need to mention every job you’ve ever had
Depending on your age and background, it can be tricky to answer the question succinctly. No-one wants to sit through a rambling lecture about why you moved on from your paper round in 1996. Bear in mind that less-is-more, and be reassured by the knowledge that your interviewer can always probe you afterwards, if there is a detail you missed.
In fact it’s easier for them to ask follow-up questions if you don’t cover everything, says Janet Raiffa, a former vice president and head of campus recruiting at Goldman Sachs. Raiffa, an independent careers adviser and the woman behind Resumemama: “I recommend starting with something that may not be the very earliest chronological item, especially if a career has been very long or early experience isn't relevant to the current job,”
Raiffa adds. “You can say ‘I'd like to start from this point,’ and it’s unlikely that the interviewer will demand you go back further.”
3. Emphasize career highlights that illustrate what you’ll add to the firm
“The question is really why should I hire you, it’s not requesting a literal retelling of your resume”, says Caroline Ceniza-Levine, a career coach and co-founder of SixFigureStart.
“You need to highlight specific skills, expertise and accomplishments that fit the job, Ceniza-Levine says. “In finance, this means focussing on financial analysis, knowledge of the markets, modeling, especially for M&A and corporate finance, exhaustive research, client service and sales experience, quick math and decision-making, especially for trading, and attention to detail, especially for back- and middle-office roles.”
And you want to focus on a few key highlights of each job, adds Raiffa, what you’ve accomplished and learned. Be ready to talk about representative projects or what you were proudest of at each job.
“It’s important that you answer the implicit question of why you’re the right person for this job, based upon the actual job,” says Raiffa. “If you were tapped by a previous employer for a move or part of a group that moved from one firm to another, that’s important to mention, as it reinforces your performance or esteem within a group.
“To make a potentially long answer more cohesive, it can sometimes be useful to establish a through-line. Identify a skill and show how it has developed from company X through to company Y” she suggests.
4. Show you understand the firm’s culture and why you’ll be a good fit
You want to show you fit the culture of the workplace, Ceniza-Levine says. “In finance this will likely mean sharing examples of high-pressure environments, tight-deadlines and working effectively with demanding people with exacting standards. You need to craft a custom response for each individual firm and each particular role that you apply for.”
The best ‘walk me through your resume’ answer is authentic to you, she says, meaning that you have tangible and compelling examples unique to your true skills and experience, and also 100% relevant to the employer.
“So if you’re going for jobs within different areas of banking, you should have different ‘walk me through your resume’ answers – you tailor the answer to each type of employer.”
5. Don’t be afraid of a little bragging
Raiffa says: “Talking about yourself is expected in an interview, and if you’re not displaying a good amount of confidence, then the bottom line is you run a risk of not getting the job.”
In other words, be proud of your achievements and don’t be afraid to show it.
Dan Butcher also contributed to this article
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