How to Respond to “Walk Me Through Your Resume”—and Get Your Interview Started on the Right Note was originally published on The Muse, a great place to research companies and careers. Click here to search for great jobs and companies near you.
When you begin any job interview, your interviewer is likely to start the conversation with some sort of introductory question. Because of this, “Tell me about yourself” is one of the most common interview questions in any job search. But your interviewer may also begin by saying, “Walk me through your resume.” Here’s why interviewers will ask you to do this and how to respond the right way.
(And if you’re still looking to apply for jobs so you can land more interviews, you can find open roles right here on The Muse!)
When interviewers ask you to walk them through your resume, they’re looking to quickly learn about your work history as well as your ability to communicate your “story” as it relates to the job you’re interviewing for, says Muse career coach and former recruiter Jennifer Smith, founder of Flourish Careers. “In essence, this question brings your resume to life,” Smith says, by adding a human element to a list of experiences, skills, and qualifications. It gives you an opportunity to connect all the pieces in your resume together to form a coherent narrative—one that hopefully leads seamlessly into this position.
Interviewers want to know about the skills and experiences you have that qualify you for the job you’re trying to land. And particularly if you have a work history that doesn’t directly relate to the position you’re interviewing for, it can be difficult for the hiring manager or recruiter to connect the dots on their own, Smith says. But an opening like “Walk me through your resume” can get them an overview of your qualifications right off the bat and help them decide what parts of your past they should ask more about. “This question can also provide background info for resume gaps,” Smith says. And it can give your interviewer a sense of your communication skills. “Is the candidate able to highlight their value in a succinct way or do they ramble for 30 minutes?”
When Smith asked this question as a recruiter, she says she “always liked to hear why candidates made the decision to enter a particular field or role.” When candidates showed they were passionate about the industry and/or the job, it signaled to Smith that they might stay in the position longer and be more fulfilled by it.
But how is “Walk me through your resume” different from the classic interview opener “Tell me about yourself”? The truth is, it’s not too far off. “Both are such tried-and-true ways to start an interview,” says Muse career coach Tara Goodfellow, owner of Athena Consultants. You can answer both questions in similar ways and include a lot of the same information.
The slight difference lies in the framing: “Tell me about yourself” is more of a career summary that focuses on what qualities make you the best fit for the role, Goodfellow says, so you might choose to lead with how many years you’ve been a manager, what industries you’ve worked in, or a big career accomplishment. In other words, it’s a slightly more open-ended question that allows you to talk through your roles one by one but also leaves room for you to highlight themes first and foremost—whichever you think will make a better case for you as a candidate. Meanwhile, with “Walk me through your resume,” the interviewer typically expects a more structured answer that lays out your qualifications grouped by what job gave you those qualifications.
“Id definitely suggest being prepared to answer both,” Goodfellow says. But you’ll almost certainly end up getting only one or the other in any given interview.
When you’re answering this question, your ultimate goal is to be seen as a future colleague and to be memorable, Smith says. Here are a few pointers for achieving those goals as you prepare to answer this question in your next interview.
1. Keep It Quick
“Walk me through your resume” is often the first or one of the first questions in an interview, so you want to make sure your answer is concise, giving your interviewer the foundation they need to continue the conversation without taking up too much of your allotted time. “Avoid spending longer than five minutes responding to this question,” Smith says. She once had a candidate spend 25 minutes of a 30 minute phone screen on it. They didn’t make it to the next round.
2. Tailor Your Answer
If you’re wondering how you’re going to cram everything on your resume into a few minutes, don’t stress. “There’s no reason to share your entire life story,” Smith says, so “avoid a word-for-word explanation of your entire work history.” If you’re decades into your career, Goodfellow says, “Please don’t start with your first job out of college. Just stick to the past 10-15 years.” However, as a new grad, you might consider touching on all your experiences to date.
“Hit the highlights as [they’re] related to the job or company you’re applying for,” Smith says. This question is an opportunity for you to share your career story and showcase the value you bring to a company, so your answer should focus on these aspects of your past experiences.
Before any interview, take some time to carefully read the job description. Ask yourself which of the experiences and skills that you bring to the table are most important for this position and this company. But also think about how you can emphasize your enthusiasm and excitement for the company or role, Smith says. For example, if you’re interviewing for a front-end software engineering role for a fintech company that makes budgeting software, you should definitely highlight any programming work you’ve done using the same coding methods or project management frameworks this team uses, but you could also (briefly) talk about how you’re passionate about finance and budgeting to the point that you were the treasurer of a club during college.
3. Go Beyond the Bullets
When you’re walking your interviewer through your resume, you shouldn’t just name your job titles or recite your resume entries. “Do not just read through the bullet points,” Goodfellow says. Instead you can connect each job to a skill or experience directly needed for the job. “You can share, ‘There I really honed my problem resolutions skills…’ and share an example, or, ‘After only 6 months, I was promoted to assistant manager…’”
If you’re making a career pivot or you’re an entry-level candidate, you’ll want to focus on highlighting the transferable skills you gained in one context or past experience that apply to another.
4. Choose the Right Structure for You
The format of this question lends itself to the linear retelling of your work history (or recent work history if you’ve been in the field for more than a few years). And starting with your furthest back experience is one way you could go—particularly if you have a strong, memorable experience in your past that led you on your career path. But that’s not the only way you can order your answer. “Personally, I love the ‘present, past, future’ framework to respond to this question,” Smith says. This is a format where you start by describing your current position before recounting past jobs and tying them both to the future.
When deciding which order works best for you, keep in mind that an interviewer, like any listener, is “typically most engaged at the very beginning and toward the end,” Goodfellow says. So choose whichever structure will make your answer both begin and end in a way that shows you bring value to the company.
5. Share the Right Information
Regardless of how you choose to order your answer, you’ll have to talk about your past, present, and future, and connect them to the job you’re interviewing for. Here’s how to talk about each phase, according to Smith:
- Past: Mention roles from your past and explain how they contributed to your qualifications for this role. Here is where you can talk about your education and/or training if it’s within the past 10-15 years, but unless you’re a recent graduate, you shouldn’t spend too much time on it.
- Present: This is where you talk about your current role and highlight key accomplishments from this job in a way that makes it clear how they’re relevant to the job you’re interviewing for.
- Future: Tie your past experiences and current role to what you’re looking to do next and why you’re a great fit for this job. This is especially important if you’re making a career switch.
6. Acknowledge Gaps in Your Resume
If you have a significant gap in your resume that might raise questions or red flags for your interviewer, you should acknowledge it in your answer. “If you skip it, the interviewer might assume you’re hiding something,” Smith says, “and they’re probably going to ask anyway.”
You don’t need to hide your gaps. “Everyone has a story,” Smith says, and the story around your gap could be what makes you unique and memorable. For example, Smith says, “I once had a gentleman tell me a story about how he took a year off work to travel the U.S. He had photos at the most northern and southern points in the U.S. How cool is that?” Or maybe you can connect your story to your career. For example, if you’re a graphic designer who spent time touring Europe and seeing every art museum you could, you might talk about how you plan to apply what you learned to your work.
Even if you don’t have an exciting story, you should still fill in the gap for your interviewer. You can read more about how to explain some common reasons for resume gaps here. And don’t feel the need to overshare, Goodfellow says. Transparency is good but you want to focus on why you’re the right person for the job.
7. Practice Your Answer
Since “Walk me through your resume” is a common interview opener, it’s especially important to practice saying your answer out loud—whether to a friend or family member or just to yourself. “This needs to come across strong and polished,” Goodfellow says. “If you don’t practice, most tend to ramble and it’s not a great first impression.” Remember, it’s best to keep your answer short and sweet.
So what does all this advice look like in action? Here’s an example:
“I’m currently a digital marketing analyst for ZZZ Sporting Co. We sell a wide range of products, and I excel at making connections between past campaigns and current campaigns that might not be related at first glance and applying the data to new scenarios. For example, when our marketing department was conceiving of the strategy for marketing a new line of fitness trackers aimed at older consumers, I brought together data from not only past fitness tracker campaigns but also all our campaigns aimed at this age group and figured out that the best platform for a heavy ad push would be Facebook. The resulting campaign exceeded sales goals by almost 30%. I’ve also been taking online courses in different data visualization tools to help me communicate my analyses in a more digestible way.”
“Before this job, I was a social media coordinator at Ball Co., where I learned a lot about social media strategy, but also really fell in love with the numbers side of things. During my first year, I took on the project of analyzing all our social media marketing campaigns from the last decade and presented my findings to senior management.
“Even as an undergrad I was drawn to digital marketing strategy. I was a communications major, but took a number of marketing classes and was also responsible for advertising events to students and people in the local area for a fundraising group I was part of. With a very small budget, I figured out how to draw more than 200 people to a fundraising event we held.
“As I continue to hone my data analysis skills, I’m really looking to find a role that puts this at the forefront of my day-to-day work while still keeping me immersed in the marketing world. The marketing data analyst role at your company feels like a perfect next step for me.”
Here’s an example for someone with a less straightforward career path:
“Well, as you can see from my resume, I took a bit of a winding road to get to where I am today. In college, I double majored in chemistry and communications. I found early on that working in a lab all day wasn’t for me and at some point I realized I looked forward to the lab class I TA’ed more than any of my own classes or my work in a professor’s lab.
“So when I graduated, I found a job in sales for a consumer healthcare products company, where I drew on my teaching experience and learned even more about tailoring your message to an individual as well as explaining sometimes complex health concepts to someone without a science background. Then, I moved into a sales training role at a massive company where I was responsible for teaching recent graduates the basics of selling. My trainees on average had more deals closed in their first quarter than any of the other trainers’ cohorts. Plus, I got so much satisfaction from finding the right way to train each new hire and watching them progress and succeed. It reminded me of my time as a TA in college. That’s when I started taking night classes to earn my chemistry teaching certificate.
I left my full-time job last year to complete my student teaching at P.S. 118 in Manhattan, and over the summer, I worked for a science camp, teaching kids from the ages of 10 to 12 about basic chemistry concepts and best practices for safe experiments. Now, I’m excited to find my first full-time teaching job, and your district is my top choice. The low student-to-teacher ratio will let me take the time to teach each student in the best way for them—which is my favorite part of the job.”