The best way to feel confident for a job interview is to feel prepared. If you’re armed with great stories, strong questions to ask, and a killer outfit for interview day you’re going to knock it out of the park!
It’s particularly important to start the interview strong. Momentum is a powerful force, and the more positive momentum you can build early on, the better.
Luckily, it’s pretty easy to prepare for the start of an interview because interviews usually start off with one of two questions:
“Tell me about yourself.”
“Walk me through your resume.”
This post will focus on the latter question but many of the key principles apply to the question “Tell me about yourself.”
"Walk me through your resume" can come up in interviews for entry-level jobs all the way through executive-level jobs. If you're job-hunting this is a question you need to prepare for.
This is a common question to start an interview because it allows the recruiter to gather several insights. They’ll glean:
How you respond to an open-ended question
Your ability to tell a story
Your ability to summarize by only highlighting key points
A high-level understanding of your career path
Ideas on follow-up questions to ask, or topics to hone in on throughout the interview
This question is really to your advantage because it allows you to tell a story to the recruiter that positions you for the job. You get to build a narrative around your prior experiences and translate them to directly apply to the job you’re interviewing for.
So, feel excited when you hear this question!
Since this question is usually the first question asked in an interview, your response sets the tone for the rest of your conversation. You’re making a first impression here, and you want to get it right.
If you have a top-notch response, you’ll excite the interviewer about talking with you. If you aren’t well prepared and your response is a flop, the hiring manager might decide you’re not the right candidate before you’ve even dug into the meat of the interview.
It all comes down to taking the time for interview prep. We know you can do it!
A tricky part about responding to this question is knowing where to start.
Do you start with your education?
Do you start with your most recent job?
Do you start with your first job?
Do you start with whatever is at the top of your resume and work your way down?
Do you start with whatever is at the bottom of your resume and work your way up?
Whew! That’s a lot of options.
While there’s no one right way to answer this (responding to interview questions is an art, not a science), we’ve found candidates are most successful when they tell a story from beginning to end that’s easy for the interviewer to follow along with.
More often than not, the interviewer will have your resume in front of them when they ask this question. If you can’t tell if the interviewer has your resume in front of them, you can simply ask them. You can say, “I’m happy to walk you through my resume. Do you by chance have it in front of you?”
If they do not have your resume in front of them, that’s OK. Use your same prepared answer but leave out references to where you’re speaking to on the page.
A great answer to this question is one that highlights the most important parts and adds in some color commentary. It’s important to make it easy for them to follow along, so be clear about where in your resume you’re referencing as you speak.
Here’s an example of how to structure your response:
“I’m happy to walk you through my resume.
You’ll see in the top right of my resume that I graduated from Indiana University with degrees in Marketing and Operations. I grew up in Cincinnati, so knowing how highly ranked the business school is at Indiana made choosing the university an easy choice.
If we jump to the middle of my resume, you can see I’ve had a variety of roles all within the consumer products industry. At the bottom of my resume, you’ll see my first job, at Acme Corp…”
Notice how in the above example there’s clear direction about where the interviewer should be directing their attention on your resume. Doing this shows you are organized in your thought process and storytelling.
Now that we’ve aligned on starting at the beginning of your professional journey, which typically involves where you were educated, it’s time to dive into the meat of your response.
The specifics of what your answer should include depends on the number of jobs you’ve had, the relevancy of those jobs for the position you’re interviewing for, and the other qualifications you have for the job. Generally, you’ll want to include the following elements in your response:
Where you went to school (and why you chose that school or program)
The common thread throughout your work experience and how it ties into your passion
A high-level overview of the roles you held
Acknowledgment of one or two key accomplishments
Conclusion statement that acknowledges why these experiences led you to this interview (and why you’re so excited to be interviewing!)
Note that where you went to high school is not on this list. Unless you just graduated high school and are applying for a job in your hometown, this information won't help you land a job.
It can be helpful to craft your response when seeing an example of a really good one. Let’s take a look at a great response to the interview question “Walk me through your resume.”
“I see you have my resume in front of you so I’ll guide you through it. On the left panel of my resume you’ll notice I graduated from Berkeley with a degree in software engineering. Growing up on the east coast, it was a big adjustment moving to California but I absolutely fell in love with it out here and never want to leave!
If we jump over to work experience, you can see my first job out of college was at Company ABC as a software engineer. I was lucky enough to be a part of the team that launched the Gongo app, which now has over 100 million users.
After spending two years at Company ABC, I joined Acme, which is that middle work experience on my resume. It was an exciting opportunity at a venture-backed startup where I was able to work directly with the co-founders on the vision of their platform.
My most recent position, which is at the very top of my resume, is my current role at IBO. I lead our 30-person software team and have been responsible for six new product launches.
I’ve loved my time at IBO but am ready to go back to a start-up environment which is why I’m so excited to be talking with you today about the opportunity on your team.”
The example answer above does several things well:
Tells a story that’s easy to follow along with
Highlights key accomplishments in various jobs
Great length - not too long and not too short!
Ends with enthusiasm about the job they’re interviewing for