Why do interviewers ask, “Walk me through your resume”? And what’s the best way to respond?
This is one of the most common starting points for an interview. (It’s similar to another common opener, “Tell me about yourself.”) A well-planned answer makes a great first impression, immediately focusing the interviewer’s mind on why they should hire you.
Why do they ask?
Good grief, are they trying to cover for not having read your resume?
That’s possible, but the main reason they ask for a resume “walk-through” is this: by hearing about your background in your own words, the interviewer can get additional insights, such as a sense of what you consider most important in your career .
They’ll also be listening for your communication and thinking skills. Can you summarize, can you make a long story short? (Your answer should not take more than a few minutes.) Can you pull out what’s most meaningful from a mass of data? Demonstrate that you can.
What should you focus on?
Focus on what’s relevant to the job you’re interviewing for. The first step is to study the job posting carefully and research the company to make sure you understand what they’re looking for in a candidate.
If it’s still unclear, you may want to start the interview by asking a question like, “Before we start, may I ask you a quick question? What’s the most important aspect of this role? ” Their answer may provide valuable clues to what’s relevant in your background.
In general, your recent experience will be of more interest to the interviewer, so do not spend much time — or any time — talking about jobs older than 10-15 years.
Show a logical and positive career progression.
You may have been promoted or recruited into a more responsible role, or maybe you moved into a new area in order to develop broader skills or to pursue another interest. Give the interviewer a good reason for each career move and what you gained — or learned — from the experience. Tell a coherent story of how your career choices point toward the role you’re interviewing for.
Chronological or reverse-chrono?
Should you start from your earliest experience and education, or from the present? Choose the order that works best for you, keeping in mind that the interviewer is likely to pay the most attention to what you say first and last.
You may want to start from the beginning, if:
- Your career had an ideal starting point. For example, early experience at a top consulting firm like McKinsey or KPMG is often viewed as an excellent background for an executive, while an early role as an engineer may be a plus for a product manager.
- You graduated from a top school with a highly relevant degree.
- Your past roles are more relevant to the opportunity. In this case, use the final mention of your less-relevant current role as a springboard to talking about why you’re changing careers.
Start from the present and work backwards, if:
- Your current or recent roles are highly relevant. This is what employers prefer to see, which is why most resumes are written in reverse chronological format. End with a sentence summarizing how your overall career has prepared you for this role. For example,
“So as you can see, my early work in sales and my recent history in CPG marketing have both prepared me well for a business development role here at Fair Trade Foods.”
Can you read from your resume while you answer?
This may be the only interview question for which it’s okay to glance at your resume while answering – okay, but not ideal. Limit yourself to a couple of brief peeks at most. You do not want the interviewer to think you can not remember your own career history.
It’s not exactly what you did, it’s how well – and the impact.
What you’ve done is only part of the story. Equally crucial is how well you did it and the difference it made. Mention accomplishments: problems you solved, time or money you saved, processes you improved, beneficial changes you implemented. For example:
“After that, I was recruited into the nurse manager role at Children’s Hospital, where I managed 76 FTE’s. I was able to substantially reduce turnover, while improving employee engagement from Tier 3 to Tier 2 on the Press Ganey Pulse Survey. ”
Why did you leave?
In some cases, the interviewer may ask you to say why you left each role. In doing so, it’s best to focus on the positive aspects of the new role, rather than the negatives of the job you left. In fact, you can probably say something positive about the role you left, even if you hated it! Maybe you learned something there. For example:
“I learned a lot at Children’s Hospital, and the experience helped me realize that coaching and training employees was what I really wanted to do. So I left to take a role as a nursing instructor at Springfield Nursing College. ”
Avoid negatively charged words like “fired” or “quit.” But if they ask whether your departure was voluntary, answer honestly while putting a reasonably positive spin on what happened.
With the interview question “Walk me through your resume,” interviewers hope to find out not only how your past experience has prepared you, but what’s important to you and how the role with their company is a logical next step, one that will keep you engaged and motivated.