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So, what the interviewer is really asking you to do is to present the experiences you have gained which show your suitability for the role. However, the interviewer is also interested in the contrary – any failure that might disqualify you. This is the tricky part of the job search, especially if you have a long career history. It leaves you wondering where to start, what to emphasise and how to keep the interviewer interested. Having a strategy at hand is key here.
Therefore, you should make up your mind in advance and think about how to present the skills and experiences that demonstrate how well you suit the role. Provide the interviewer with the information required to make a decision and ensure a best possible start of your interview.
At Hays, we advise candidates to talk through their CVs in chronological order, from back to front. That way you will tell a coherent and positive story of development. In most cases, this would mean from your last place of higher education such as university, to the jobs listed on your CV since then up until present day.
Be sure to tell a brief story as you talk through all of your experience, in particular those jobs that were a long time ago, or for a short duration. Explain how each role led you to the next, and you will naturally arrive at your current situation.
Certain parts of your education and experience will be more relevant than others to the job you are applying for. Before the interview, therefore, I would advise highlighting the areas of education and professional experience which match the job description. Everything left un-highlighted, doesn’t warrant as much attention.
For instance, you may have spent three years studying Geography at university, and since then you had a position as a sales representative for a year, before working as a key account manager for two years. Now you are applying for an executive key account manager role, therefore you would devote more time to talking about your experience as a key account manager. That’s not to say you should avoid the other parts of your CV altogether.
The areas of your experience that aren’t as relevant to the role in question will still need a mention. Skipping over these parts could be misinterpreted as you trying to hide something, so briefly give a headline overview of your job title, and how you got to this position. For example:
“After graduating with a 2.1 in Geography, and unsure of which career path to take, I chose a role 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 role as a sales representative – that seemed like a useful starting point for me.”
As you talk through the professional experience that you do wish to highlight, so in this case, your experience as a PA, give a brief overview of your role and the responsibilities which relate to the role you are applying for. You won’t need to go into great detail about your skills and key achievements here as there will be plenty of time for this throughout the rest of the interview, especially when asked competency based questions. Simply highlight how you ended up in this role, your key responsibilities which relate to opportunity, and why you have chosen to move on. For instance:
"After one year of working as a sales representative, I thought about which part of the job I like the most. I came to the conclusion that I enjoy supporting regular customers and acquiring new ones. That's why I decided to look for job opportunities where these two aspects play an even bigger role. I wasn’t successful for a long time, so I submitted an unsolicited application to a recruitment agency which ultimately resulted in my position as key account manager at my current employer. In my role, I negotiate with decision-makers of important existing customers and look for new ones with large order volumes. After two years with the company, however, I have now realised that I am ready for the next challenge. I am looking for a position where I can take on more responsibility and a disciplinary leadership role. That's why I'm so excited about today's interview."
You will also need to prepare to talk through any gaps on your CV. Again, you don’t need to go into lots of detail here, but if there is an employment gap of three months or more, you should at least explain what you were doing during this time. Career breaks are fine, as long as you can talk to the interviewer about how you kept yourself busy, whether you were studying, had family commitments, or went 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.”
The fact that basically every interviewer asks you to present your CV does not guarantee a good answer. On the contrary, many candidates underestimate the importance of this supposedly easy task. So, your homework is to prepare for this task as it is an enormously decisive one. Plan what you want to focus on and how you want to illustrate it and adapt style and focus to the company and the position you are applying for.
Your answer may influence whether your interview start is bumpy or great. If you can’t manage to have a good start into the job interview, the positive impression of your application can quickly fade away. Think in advance about how to tell your story and which parts to highlight – by this, you will present a brief, coherent overview of your background and lay a good foundation for the rest of the interview.