3 Steps to acing the most common interview question
This week’s missive is part two. I’m decoding questions people ask that aren’t the real question. Last time we covered, “What do you do?” and “What do you want to do?”.
We’ve upped the ante this time. You’re now in front of someone with influence or decision making power over whether or not you’re going to get the job. And the person says:
“Can you walk me through your resume?”
Or ask its sister question, “So, why don’t you tell me about yourself?”
At this point, you may be tempted to regurgitate your resume and highlight your qualifications. It sure sounds like that’s what you’re being prompted to do.
But that would be a costly mistake.
If you’ve managed to get your awesome self in front of a hiring manager, chances are, they’ve already decided that you have the core qualifications and skills. In today’s talent world, if the algorithm didn’t already sort you into the “yes” pile, the recruiter certainly did.
Well then, why the question? What’s the hiring manager trying to find out?
They want to understand how you’ll think in the future — based on your actions in the past.
The hiring manager is wondering, “Will you solve my future problems?”
And the way they decide whether you will or not is by learning about problems you’ve already solved. If they see that your past thinking is trustworthy, they can count on you to figure things out.
I know there’s a big gap between what they’re asking and what I just said. It’s a significant concept shift. So go back and re-read that last paragraph. Get that message through to your amazing brain. We’ll wait.
Okay. So now let’s talk about how you can ace the, “Can you walk me through your resume?” question every time you’re in front of a decision-maker. There are three steps.
STEP 1: FIND 3 STORIES TO SHARE
You’re smart. I know you already do homework before an interview. You probably read the job description thoroughly and research the company. (Pro tip: if it’s public, read their quarterly reports. They’re a trove of information.) Try to grasp the problems the role needs to address, and what problems the company solves, too.
Then use that info to identify three core problem-themes. You’ve faced and solved these problems in the past. Go and find a story related to each of these three themes that you can share with your interviewer. (A word to those of you that haven’t had a “proper job” or have been out of the workforce for a while. School, volunteer work, and team sports experiences count, too. I’ve seen leadership on the sports field and creativity in the art studio more times than I can count.)
STEP 2: CRAFT YOUR INITIAL RESPONSE.
You’ve identified three themes and three stories from your past that relate to them.
Imagine you’re in the interview room. What do you say first after you hear, “So, tell me about yourself?” Because this is hard for most people to figure out, I wrote a script for you. You can say:
“I’m more than happy to talk you through all the positions I’ve had. But I’m guessing you’d like to hear how my core competencies might be useful in this role. Based on what I’ve learned from the job description, I’m guessing that you need someone who understands the challenges of Theme #1, Theme #2, and Theme #3. I’d love to share with you some stories about how I’ve worked through them in previous roles. Which of the three would you like to start with first?”
Then your interviewer will tell you where to start. And off you go.
Yes, of course, there are probably more than three critical competencies for any job. But these get the ball rolling. I’d even ask if there are other competencies that you haven’t mentioned that might be important to the hiring manager.
STEP 3: PRACTICE YOUR ANSWERS!
We spend HOURS working and refining words on our resume. We obsess over grammar and spelling. So why don’t we take more time to say OUT LOUD the words we want to speak to an interviewer? I’m baffled. It makes no sense for the first thing that comes out of your mouth to be a shot in the dark.
Just find a friend. Get them to say, “So, tell me about yourself.”
Then, when you’re done giving your answer, go ask my favorite question, “What did you hear?” You’ll learn a lot about the difference between what you think you emphasized, and what they remembered.
Now, of course, this doesn’t mean you won’t encounter surprises. Confession time, when I interviewed with the CEO of Pandora, he asked me a particular question I wasn’t expecting. I promptly told him it was the wrong question. (As you know, I got the job, and I still count the CEO as a friend.)
But I’ll repeat
Remember folks; it’s your ever so brilliant mind we want to hire. Your mind thinks in its creative human way, and that’s what employers want. We don’t want to hire a robot.
So when an interviewer asks, “Can you walk me through your resume?” Tell them your stories, your unique human stories.
Your stories will clarify how well-suited your mind is to solve their unique problems.
Your human stories are what make them think, “I must have her!”
PS. If you’re still a bit doubtful about what you just read, go ahead, check things out with your boss. Here’s a script you can use:
- “Hey, boss! Quick question. When you hired me over all those other qualified people, I know part of it was my fabulous personality. But was another part because you believed that I could figure out how to solve our department’s problems in the future based on what I’d done in the past?”
PPS. See what they say. Better yet, make this question part of your routine follow-up every time you’re 6-months into a new job.
PPPS. If you do this, please tell us what happened!