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How to nail the ‘walk me through your resume’ interview question

interview question

Don’t feel like you have to mention every job you’ve ever had.

You know it’s probably coming. In 90% of job interviews, the hiring manager or HR executive will say “Why don’t you walk me through your resume” as an ice-breaker. It gives the interviewer an opportunity to collect his or her thoughts, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a throwaway question. In fact, it’s likely your only chance to make a strong first impression face-to-face.

There are various ways to tackle such an open-ended interview question. Here are a few tips to inform the approach you should take.

Clarify what the interviewer is looking for

It’s OK to ask a question to clarify exactly what the interviewer wants to hear. For example: “What part of my background is most interesting to you, and how much time would you like me to spend answering the question?”

Don’t feel like you have to mention every job you’ve ever had

This can be a difficult interview prompt because it’s hard to answer succinctly, and the interviewee risks giving a very long or rambling answer that might take up too much time covering the rationale behind each move. Keep in mind that while it may be awkward for an interviewer to stop you mid-answer, it’s easier for them to ask follow questions if you don’t cover everything, suggests Janet Raiffa, a former vice president and head of campus recruiting at Goldman Sachs and a former MBA career adviser at Columbia Business School.

“I recommend starting with something that may not be the very earliest chronological item if a career has been very long or early experience isn’t relevant to the current job,” Raiffa said. “You can say ‘I’d like to start from this point,’ and it’s unlikely that the interviewer will demand you go back further.”

Emphasize career highlights that illustrate what you’ll add to the firm

The question is really “why should I hire you?” – it is not requesting a literal retelling of your resume, says Caroline Ceniza-Levine, a career coach and co-founder of SixFigureStart. While you want to walk the interviewer through your resume because your resume should highlight your accomplishments, you don’t only aim to summarize.

“You need to highlight your specific skills, expertise and accomplishments that fit this job, Ceniza Levine said. “In the case of finance, this means to focus on financial analysis, knowledge of the markets, modeling, especially for M&A and corporate finance, exhaustive research, especially for equity research, client service, especially for sales, quick math and decision-making, especially for trading, and attention to detail, especially for back and middle office.”

You want to focus on a few key highlights of each job and what you’ve accomplished and learned. Have representative projects prepared or talk about what you were proudest of at each job.

“It’s important that there are illustrations of success and answers to the implicit question of ‘why should I hire you?’ based upon the job,” Raiffa said. “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 be useful to establish a through-line such as ‘As you can see from my resume, I’ve had several jobs to date in finance, and they’ve all been connected in allowing me to further my passion for helping companies to X, and building my skills in Y.’”

Demonstrate that you understand the firm’s culture and explain why you’ll be a good fit

You also want to show that you fit the culture of the workplace, which in finance means that you share examples of working in high-pressure, tight-deadline environments with demanding people with exacting standards, Ceniza-Levine said. You need to craft 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, meaning that you have tangible and compelling examples unique to your true skills and experience, and also 100% relevant to the employer,” she said.

“So if you’re going for jobs in finance and other industries or even jobs within different areas of banking, you should have different ‘walk me through your resume’ answers, because while it’s the same you, you tailor the answer to each type of employer.”

Don’t fear bragging about yourself

Talking about yourself is expected in an interview, and if you’re not displaying a good amount of confidence, then you run a risk of not getting a job, Raiffa said.

Photo credit: patrickheagney/GettyImages

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