As a career counselor at a major university, I've seen undergraduate and graduate students alike get tripped up by this common interview technique, which some company recruiters call the "Resume Walk." Most interviewees spend their time regurgitating every minor detail verbatim from their resumes, instead of focusing on the high points and explaining the reasons they made different decisions. Based on dozens of conversations I've had over the years, recruiters are much more interested in your thought process than they are specific details about each job.
If there's one part of an interview you should ace, it should be the Resume Walk. After all, it's about you and your resume. You know this stuff, right? When you respond, you want to tell the interviewer a story. Part of that story will be the reasons you made certain career-related decisions. Here are three you'll want to cover and tips for discussing them:
Why you chose your college or university. During mock interviews, students have told me they selected their college or university because it was close to home or because their boyfriend or girlfriend went there. That might be the truth, but it isn't going to persuade the interviewer that the student was thoughtful in his or her decision. Instead, you should focus on what was different about the school and how that fit with your career plans. If you wanted to be an engineer, for example, part of your answer could be that it's one of the top engineering schools in the country.
Why you took a job. Hopefully, the reason isn't because you fell into an opportunity without giving it much thought or because it was the shortest commute. A thoughtful answer would address job content, opportunities for advancement or a related issue. Students I know who have been the most effective at explaining their reasons for taking jobs focus on such topics as how the position aligns with their career goals or what they felt was different about the job, the company, or another aspect of the position. The interviewer wants to know that you had a plan, even if that plan has since changed.
Why you left one job to take another. Was it a promotion? Did the move fit with your career plan? Do you have a career plan? If so, talk about it. I've seen students make the false assumption that interviewers would know their long-term goals just by looking at their resume. Don't assume. Explain why you moved from job to job.
Before your interview, think about your responses to the questions above. Practice your Resume Walk until you have it down cold. You should sound polished but not rehearsed. Time yourself -- your Resume Walk should be three minutes max. Believe it or not, I've witnessed some that were more than 10 minutes. Use these four tips for mastering the Resume Walk:
Bring extra copies of your resume. Even though interviewers should have a copy, it may not be on hand for easy reference. You also may find yourself meeting with other company employees who may not have a copy.
Don't focus on every detail. I've seen even students with limited experience take more than five minutes on the Resume Walk. That's much too long for one question during a 30- or 45-minute interview. Hit a few highlights for each position and move on.
Add a few details not included on your resume. The interviewer probably has read most of your resume. By talking about a few things that aren't on it, you're more likely to develop a rapport. For example, you could start by briefly describing your hometown. I grew up near Sharon, Pa., which claims to be the home of the world's largest shoe store and candy store. When I've mentioned that tidbit to interviewers, it's helped break the ice.
Maintain eye contact. Doing so may make it easier to avoid the temptation of reading from your resume. It keeps the interviewer's attention focused on you and your answer, not the ivory resume paper you purchased at FedEx Kinko's.
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