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.
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?”
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-up questions if you don’t cover everything, suggests Janet Raiffa, a former vice president and head of campus recruiting at Goldman Sachs and a career adviser formerly with 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 says. “You can say ‘I'd like to start from this point,’ and it’s unlikely that the interviewer will demand you go back further.”
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 accomplishments, don’t aim to summarize each role you've had.
“You need to highlight your specific skills, expertise and accomplishments that fit this job, Ceniza Levine says. “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, client service and sales experience, quick math and decision-making, especially for trading, and attention to detail, especially for back- and middle-office roles.”
You want to focus on a few key highlights of each job and 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 there are illustrations of success and answers to the implicit question of ‘why should I hire you?’ based upon the job,” Raiffa says. “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.’”
You also want to show that you fit the culture of the workplace, which in finance means sharing examples of working in high-pressure, tight-deadline environments with demanding people who have exacting standards, Ceniza-Levine says. 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, meaning that you have tangible and compelling examples unique to your true skills and experience, and also 100% relevant to the employer,” she says.
“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.”
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 says.
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