How to Talk Through Your Work History

There are two interview questions job seekers hate to prepare for: “tell me about yourself” and “talk through your work history.” The essence of your answer to each question is basically the same. It’s the way you tell your story that differs. “Tell me about yourself” is a broader version of the story, while a full resume walkthrough goes into more detail.

Here’s how to talk through your work history properly.

Start at the Beginning.

It sounds simple. But if you’re not careful, you can get lost in the details. With each job, you want to give a very clear picture of what you were responsible for. Don’t assume that your title speaks for itself. Job titles are not always the same from one company to another. It’s also possible that you were handling tasks that were more advanced than one would assume from your title. Be sure to add in particularly impressive achievements as well as what your greatest takeaways are. Did one role really teach you what it means to be a good manager? Or help you further develop your project management skills? It’s important to be clear about the specifics of what you gained with each role you held.

Explain Why You Decided to Leave the Position.

Once you’ve offered a clear yet concise summation of each role, talk about what led you to leave. This is your transition statement that will effortlessly take you from one job to the next. Your reason for leaving can be something that happened internally at the company, such as a change in management or leadership. Or, it can be because an opportunity fell in your lap even though you had no intention of switching jobs. Here are common reasons people leave: lack of growth, an interest in learning a different part of the business, a transition into a new role and the opportunity to learn something new. Of course, if you were laid off, you should mention that.

Regardless of the reason, even if it was under tough circumstances, remember to remain positive. Aim to show that you gained something from each experience. Note that while more money is often a benefit of moving to a new role, it shouldn’t be offered as your main reason for leaving any job unless you’re very early in your career. If your interviewer notices a pattern that you left each job for more money, they will be concerned that you’ll be ready to move on from their organization next time a higher bidder comes along.

Describe How the New Job Came to You.

If your boss left the company and then hired you in your new role, make sure you mention it as part of your transition. If a boss wanted to bring you from one company to another, you’re instantly conveying that you are an employee that is depended upon and would be rehired by previous employers if given the chance. It’s subtle, but has a big impact and is always a point that the interviewer will remember! Likewise, if you weren’t looking for a new role but instead were actively recruited by a company, you are letting your interviewer know that you are a sought after candidate.

Be Mindful that You’re Showing a Progression.

One of the most important things you need to remember when talking through your work history is that your ultimate goal is to show a logical progression of your career. You may have made moves that don’t automatically make sense when looked at on paper but do when explained properly. Do this by talking about what you wanted to gain or learn by taking on the new role. What may look like a lateral move from one company to another, may have afforded you opportunities to grow and learn things about your industry that you wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. Sharing your thought process behind each move helps the interviewer understand your career path in a more concrete way and also offers insight into what motivates you.

End with Where You are Now.

Once you’re finished talking about your most recent role, you’ll want to offer the interviewer information about why you’re looking for a new opportunity a the moment. This will be similar to the reasons you left your previous jobs. Is there a current change in management? Maybe you’re convinced that you would be more effective if you transitioned into a different type of role. Or maybe, a recruiter called you with the opportunity you’re interviewing for and it was so compelling you couldn’t pass it up.

Neatly wrap up your answer in a way that gives the interviewer a clear understanding of why you’re sitting in front of them.

Whether you’re answering the “tell me about yourself” question or walking someone through your resume, it’s critical that you give your answer some thought beforehand. Preparation is key when it comes to both of these. They are usually the first questions asked and how you answer sets the tone for the interview. Start off strong. Take time to walk yourself through your own work history during your interview prep. Really think about what you liked and didn’t like about each role. Where did you have your biggest successes and what were your biggest challenges? You’ll not only be in a better position to walk someone through your resume. You’ll be in a better position to answer just about any interview question asked!