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Not even innovation in technology could revolutionise this traditional interview question

By Michael Jones, Head of Internal Recruitment, Training, L&D, Hays UK&I

This question has been used since the first wheel-designers of recruitment, powering the prehistoric world of work. This is where the interviewer wants the candidate to bring their black and white document back to life, starting with the most important question of all, “can you talk me through your CV?”.

Whether you are a junior or experienced candidate with a more detailed CV, it is hard to know where to start and which points to emphasise to keep the interviewers attention. You have already gotten yourself in the ‘yes pile’ with your CV, but it is now time to highlight the skills and experience that will help you get shortlisted to the final stages.

Follow these steps to start your interview strong with your CV overview:

Talk through your professional journey in chronological order

Our recruiters at Hays advise candidates to talk through their CV from back to front. This way you will be able to tell your story of development, usually starting from the highest point of education (i.e. university), to the jobs listed on your CV until the present day. It is important to check that your CV aligns with your online professional profiles such as LinkedIn before the interview. The hiring manager would have researched both before you arrived, and will be able to notice any gaps and inconsistencies if there are any.

Chose which areas of your CV to focus on

When applying for a job, you should be able to identify which parts of your education and experience will be more relevant to the role than others. In preparation for the interview, highlight the areas that would match the job description. This will keep your answer focused and enable the interviewer to see how compatible you are for this job and company you are applying for. 
For example, you may have spent three years studying English at university, since then you have had a position in retail assistant for a year, before working as a marketing assistant for two years. You are now applying for a marketing executive role, so you would naturally talk more about your marketing experience.

Skim past what is not relevant

Failing to mention the irrelevant experience however could also be misinterpreted as you trying to avoid something, so try to include this is in where possible. In the above case you may want to say something like: 

“After graduating with a 2.1 in English, and unsure of which career path to take, I chose a profession which would help me to develop a broad range of experience and transferable skills. I knew I enjoyed contact with people, and an agency offered me a position as a retail assistant – that seemed like a useful starting point for me.”

Emphasise what is relevant

In terms of what you do need to highlight, you would need to give a brief overview of your role and responsibilities which relate to the job description.

Remember, there is plenty of time to talk through your skills and key achievements in more detail when you are being asked the competency based questions. Concentrate on how you ended up in this position, your key responsibilities which relate to the opportunity, and why you have decided to move on. Below is an example of what you might say:

“After one year of working as a retail assistant, I reflected upon the parts of my job that I enjoyed the most, which included customer engagement and brand development. Therefore I decided to pursue a role which allowed me to do more of what I enjoyed on a daily basis, and joined my current employer as a marketing assistant. My responsibilities here include support on online content management, researching new and current trends and help co-ordinating campaigns for multiple channels. After two years at this company, however, I have decided that I am now ready for the next stage of my career, and want to take on a challenge which offers a greater level of responsibility and accountability for one person’s affairs; for instance managing a campaign from start to finish and be more involved in the strategic and innovation element to help improve the customer journey. That’s why I am so excited to be interviewing for this role today.”

Explain the gaps

It is also important to know your CV inside and out so you are able to explain your gaps of employment. Again, you do not need to go into too much detail, but if there is gap of three months or more, you will need to let the recruiter know what you were doing during this time.

Career breaks are fine to have, as long as you can tell the interviewer of how you used this time proactively, whether it was an additional course you were studying for, family commitments or even travelling. For instance:

“In between my role at X and Y, I decided I wanted to go travelling in order to build up my cultural experience and increase my independence. Therefore, I went backpacking around South East Asia for three months.”

Connect the dots and explain how each role and experience led to the other, and finally what led you to this interview.

Prepare and do not underestimate this question

Some may think this is one of the easiest questions to answer, but you will be surprised how unprepared one can come across if you were to overlook this during your interview preparation. Avoid the common interview errors and ensure you have read your CV, in case the employer asks you about something in particular. This will show them that you are self-aware and adapted your experiences to match the suitability for the role and the organisation.

This part of the interview will determine whether you will make for a great start or a rocky one, depending on how much you plan and prepare. By choosing key areas of your professional journey to emphasise, you will be able to set a strong tone for the rest of the recruitment process.

If you are looking for support with your employment needs, please contact your local office.

About this author

Michael Jones is the Head of Internal Recruitment and Training for Hays UK&I. He’s worked for the company for 10 years and started his recruitment career at Hays in Australia, joining as a trainee with no previous experience.

After four years as a successful Accountancy and Finance recruiter, and winning ‘Best Performing Associate of the Year’, he joined the Training team and transferred to Hays UK&I in 2013. Michael manages a team of sales and systems trainers, supports the National Internal Recruitment team and, over the last six years, he has personally trained thousands of trainee recruiters.

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