“Walk me through your resume” — how to respond (and not tell your life story)

When you sit down for an interview, the inevitable, “Can you walk me through your resume?” query is likely to pop up. While this is a fairly common interview question, it can be challenging if you’re not prepared

You (hopefully) put a lot of work into your resume, so it makes sense that an interviewer would want to learn more about what the document reveals with regard to your job history, work ethic, and successes so far. The goal of a perfectly executed response is to explain why you’re the perfect person for the job without simply regurgitating your life story. 

How to prepare for the question prior to your interview

First, make sure that your resume is as tailored to the job that you’re applying to as possible. Starting here will simplify the rest of the preparation process before you even land the interview.

“Your resume doesn’t have to be a complete list of everything you have done in your career,” Paulette Piñero, Founder and Management Consultant at LEAD Media LLC tells Ladders. “Tailor your resume to the job search and document your impact rather than copying and pasting job descriptions.”

Once your resume is in tip-top shape and you’re ready to dive into interview prep, Piñero recommends that applicants refer back to the job description to prepare for this particular interview query. Then, narrow down what areas of your resume you’ll focus on when the question is asked. 

“Once you are clear on what the priorities for the role are and what are the key competencies they are looking for, identify specific moments in your career where you have done similar work,” Piñero explains. 

How to walk someone through your resume in an interview

There’s a bit of a balancing act to consider when you need to highlight the impact of your work without going on and on about every little detail on your resume. To do this, be clear about which details you’ll need to share that will best showcase your specific impact ahead of your interview

“As you respond to the interview questions, refer back to your previous job experiences, courses, or volunteer time and the impact of that work,” Piñero says. “Don’t shy away from stepping into your power, and use ‘I’ responses when you led the work or you were in charge of managing a project. If you are highlighting an accomplishment that was part of a team initiative, speak directly about your work and how you supported your peers and the folks who benefited from your work.”

To make sure that you’re well-prepared to walk an interviewer through your resume, use the tips below to help you craft prepared responses to practice ahead of the interview.

  • Use concrete examples. “Focus on your impact and attach numbers to the work when possible,” Piñero says. “If you organized an event, you could mention how many people attended or the types of partnerships you secured. If you work in sales or customer service, you can mention anecdotes of great customer relationships you built and how these helped the company’s bottom line.”
  • Show, don’t tell.Hiring managers are interested in how you approached the work, what innovative solutions you bring to the team, and how you self-advocate when you need additional supports,” says Piñero. “Focus on these three areas when talking about your past work experience.”
  • Showcase transferable skills. “If you are early in your career or transitioning into a new field, talk about your transferable skills and how what you learned in that role, course, or volunteer experience applies to the work you will be doing in this new role,” Piñero suggests.
  • Follow up if needed. Piñero advises keeping answers short in the interview itself. “If you miss an opportunity to talk about your achievements when going over your resume or during the interview, you can add one to two sentences about this topic in your follow-up email, but only if they align with the role you are interviewing for.”

What about the parts of your resume that you’d rather not talk about?

If you’ve prepared well beforehand and tailored your resume to the job that you’re interviewing for, there probably won’t be much on your resume that isn’t worth sharing. However, if there are things you’d like to shy away from revealing, it’s a good idea to have a plan for how you’ll respond when asked to walk someone through your resume. 

“If you are asked about an experience that doesn’t align with the work you want to do, respond with a yes or no and redirect the conversation to the skills you bring into the role,” Piñero recommends. “This can happen when you are asked about a job experience or education that isn’t aligned with your field of work, gaps in your employment, or if any of your past employers have been part of any media coverage. Simply acknowledge the interviewer’s comment, and then talk about your commitment to the work and how you are positioned to help the company achieve its goals.”

Another tip to keep in mind is that an interview isn’t just about evaluating how much of a fit you are for the particular role, but it’s also about making sure that you feel comfortable with the company as well. 

As Piñero puts it, an interviewer who asks about a line on your resume that isn’t really relevant to the position “can also be a red flag for you” about the job. “Don’t forget that the interview process is an opportunity for you to decide if the company is the right fit for you,” she explains.