The most commonly asked question to begin an interview is “Can you walk me through your resume?” As a hiring manager, this is also how I begin all of my interviews.
It is intended to be an easy way to open a conversation to discuss the candidate’s experience but it can also be daunting since it is so open ended.
Let’s discuss how you should approach this question and what is important to convey.
Is “Walk me through your resume” the same as “Tell me about yourself”?
Yes, ultimately these two questions are the same.
Both of these are used as common ways to start an interview.
You can use this guide for either of these questions.
What is the intent behind the question?
The first thing you need to understand is the intent of question.
What does the interviewer really want to know?
When I ask this question of candidates, it is because I am trying to achieve the following:
None of your interviewers have read your resume word for word prior to the interview.
Most interviewers scan your resume over the course of 5-10 minutes maximum prior to the interview. So, they have a general understanding of your experience.
Asking you to explain your resume allows the interviewer to narrow in on what experience they want to dig into and understand further.
As you provide these explanations, the interviewer also gets a sense of how you communicate (verbal and body language). It's an early indication of your soft skills.
Asking you to walk through your resume also provides insight on whether you have done basic preparation for the interview.
Do you have an understanding of the position you are interviewing for? Have you done research about the company?
Finally, it’s an easy question for the candidate to get some of those initial nerves out.
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How do I start "Walk me through my resume"?
Now that you know the intent behind the question, let’s discuss how you should approach the answer.
Obviously, your explanation will be very dependent on your industry, background, and employment history.
Regardless of your background, a good place to start is your education.
If you are an experienced professional, you can cover your education very briefly.
This is because the interviewer will be primarily interested to learn about your professional experience.
My educational background is in biomedical engineering, having received degrees from [undergraduate college] and [graduate college]
If you have less experience, and thus less to discuss from your previous employment, you can spend more time on your educational background.
I went to [college] for my undergraduate degree, where I majored in [major]. I decided to choose [major] because [short explanation demonstrating your passion for the field].
Then I decided to obtain a graduate degree afterwards because [short reason, again demonstrating passion for the field]. I studied at [college] where I obtained my [graduate degree- masters/PhD/MBA] in [major].
If you are a student interviewing for an intern or co-op position, your answer should be similar but in present tense.
Never take time to explain anything prior to your undergraduate studies.
The one exception would be if you are an undergraduate student and did something really phenomenal in high school that is relevant to the interview. Such as winning a national engineering competition.
After explaining your education, you can delve further into your background by covering your relevant experience.
What should you emphasize when answering “Walk me through your resume”?
The dialogue you use after you provide your educational background will be dependent on how long your employment history is.
Recent Graduate or Current Student
Transition to discussing your work during your studies. This includes internships, co-ops, lab work, research, and even personal projects if they are relevant to the job you are interviewing for.
Less than 5 years of Employment or 3 or Less Previous Employers
Discuss your previous employers sequentially, from the time you graduated to present day. Only emphasize relevant, specific experience.
5+ years of experience and/or with 3+ Previous Employers
Discuss your current role first and work backward. You do not need to spend time on each employer. If there is no relevant experience to highlight from a certain position, you can skip over it.
Regardless of your employment history, you will want to only emphasize relevant, specific experience to the job posting.
This is where you can demonstrate both your qualifications as well as that you have done your research.
You can do this by being specific about WHAT you have done in the past and HOW it will bring value to the position you are interviewing for.
“Since 2017, I have been employed by Company X as a social media manager. One of my primary responsibilities was to grow the company’s presence on Instagram. By employing [outline specific tactics], I have exceeded the company’s strategic objective of growing its Instagram following by 200% in one year. If I have the opportunity I can leverage this experience to really accelerate [company you are interviewing for]’s Instagram presence as well”
Another strategy you can use is, after describing specific experience, to ask a question of the interviewer that will allow you to follow up with additional details.
“Since graduating, I have been working for Pharma Company X as a clinical research associate. In this position, I was principally responsible for managing the initiation of 10 investigator sites for the Phase 2 study of drug Z. All 10 investigator sites were initiated two weeks ahead of schedule, supporting the ability of the company to successfully initiate the study.
My understanding is that [company you are interviewing for] is focused on obtaining approval for a clinical study soon?”
I like this strategy because it allows you to demonstrate you did research on your potential employer as well as lead the interview into a more conversational style, rather than a stuffy Q&A.
Based on your interviewer’s answer, you can quickly touch base on how you can add value to that objective and continue “walking through your resume”.
You are not trying to divert the conversation entirely with this approach, but simply allow the interviewer to chime in so that the conversation flows more naturally.
In order to know how to compile your talk tract like one of the ones above, you will need to review the job posting carefully. Also, do thorough research on the company.
I recommend you check out how to prepare for an interview, as it will provide you a guideline of what you need to do prior to the interview.
You'll need to do research to have a good understanding of:
Based on this, review your resume and experience.
Where does it overlap with the two items above?
Where you find overlap between your experience and research are the items you need to emphasize in your answer.
Put a Bow on It
To complete your answer, you will want to give an outline of what you are looking for in your next role.
This is your chance to position yourself as a great candidate for the role that will add value to the organization.
Don't make this pitch about yourself, rather make it about the potential employer.
Focus the pitch on your understanding of the role and the company's strategic objectives. What do they need to help them be successful?
That is what you are looking to provide in your next role.
You always want to focus your answers on how having you in this role will benefit the company, and not yourself.
It is also important to mention that when highlighting this, never bad mouth your current or previous employers. Stay professional.
I am looking for a role where I can leverage my previous experience with [skill sets]. I have had a lot of success with [specific example of implementing skill set].
I would love to be in a role where I can contribute in a similar fashion, such as [example that is aligned with supporting strategic objective of potential employer], and continue to grow professionally.
How long should your answer be?
In general, your answer should be around 3-4 minutes long for an hour-long interview.
This is not including any back and forth that occurs naturally, or is prompted by you, with the interviewer.
Make sure to practice your dialogue ahead of the interview. Recite it in front of the mirror and time yourself.
You want to sound natural, not robotic or overly rehearsed.
In order to sound natural, I do NOT recommend memorizing a specific script.
Instead, have a memorize a list of points you want to hit in your answer.
Make sure you speak at a moderate pace.
A tell-tale sign of a nervous candidate is one that speaks too fast.
Speaking too quickly also increases the likelihood that you will have a lot of “um”s and “uh”s in your answer. You want to make sure you are very intentional with your language.
Instead of incorporating “ums”, incorporate pauses.
Many individuals are worried that a couple seconds of silence signals that you are unprepared or do not know what to say. It is quite the opposite.
Pauses allow the listener to digest what you have said and allow the speaker to speak with intent.
If you watch any great communicator, you will notice that they speak at a slow to moderate pace and incorporate many pauses.
Finally, as I cover in how to prepare for an an interview, pay attention to your body language.
So sit up straight, lean in slightly, smile and use an appropriate amount of hand gestures to emphasize important points.
This will help to ensure the interview is more conversational, as you will be more approachable.
So those are my tips on how to answer "Can you walk me through your resume?"
Do you have any great tips for this question? Let me know below!