You shook hands, smiled, made eye contact. You chatted while you walked down the hall and settled into the interviewer’s office. You are starting to relax and then BAM! He or she says the words you dreaded to hear, “Walk me through your resume.”
If that sounds awful to you, you are not alone. I have been asked how to field this countless times. I want to explain not just how to answer it but why this can be your favorite question.
Favorite, you balk? Seriously. You are in control with this question. You get to decide exactly what you want them to know and think about you. Take the opportunity, embrace the opportunity and tell them your story.
This is not your whole life, just the sizzle real of your best bits. Tips about the timing, content, flow and dealing with red flags are below.
Timing: Take 1 – 2 minutes of time, not much more and certainly not less. You want to show you have something to say.
Content & Flow: Spotlight standout elements and connecting the dots between your experiences. Think of it like you are telling the interviewer a story about your previous work history. Add some details as you go through it, but be selective—you don’t want to bog down the interview with irrelevant information, but you do want to provide a clear overview of your experience. Explain what you learned from each role and how these things have contributed to your professional growth. You can either relate this chronologically, showing how the experiences built upon one another, or you can structure your answer around specific skills, detailing how the positions have helped you develop in different areas.
New Grads: It might be easier for new grads to talk about their work experience chronologically, but if you choose to highlight specific skills, you can tie your key points to areas such as course selection at college, internships, and extracurricular activities. New grads might choose to share why they chose their field of study and any internship they pursued—whether or not these relate directly to the job being pursued, they highlight the skills and knowledge gained during those experiences.
Red Flags: If there are gaps in your résumé, don’t panic. This often comes into play with parents returning to work, and also for those who have been fired or laid off. It’s best to address the gap honestly and then steer the conversation toward highlighting your skills. You can also share anything you may have done to maintain your skills during your time off. Include any course work you’ve completed since your last employment, any professional certifications you’ve earned, or any freelance opportunities you’ve been involved with. If you were fired, honestly and briefly explain the reason you were let go and explain what you have done to address the issue. You may even be able to leverage that negative experience to show how you have grown from it and how it has made you a better employee and more suited for this particular job. No matter what, never talk bad about a former employer. It’s unprofessional and not well received by potential new employers.
Spotlight any of your community involvement. For example, in an interview, a parent returning to work might explain how she or he stopped working to focus on the kids when they were little, then say something like, “But now my youngest is in school full-time, and I’m excited to get back to work,” and explain any responsibilities undertaken with the PTA or other volunteer projects, or any classes taken. Don’t apologize for your work hiatus; it could make you seem less confident. And don’t worry about the length of time between employment—remember, you want to find the right job, not just any job, and that takes time.
In conclusion, the “walk me through your resume” question shouldn’t be where you freeze – it should be where you shine. Nailing the interview is about being authentic and telling your story. Think of this question like a two minutes introduction to your working self and you’ll do just fine.