You can pretty much guarantee that at some point in the interview process recruiting managers will ask you the traditional question that interviewers have asked job-seekers since the beginning of time.

“Talk me through your CV…….”

When you are asked this questions, the interviewer is essentially asking you to bring the CV in front of them to life, and explain which experiences in your own history prove that you are suitable for the role they are hiring for. They are also looking for reasons why you may be unsuitable so that they can place you in the discarded pile.

Given that the remit this question hands you is so far reaching, especially if you are a more experienced candidate with a more detailed CV, it can be hard to know where to start, which points to emphasise and how to keep the interviewers attention.

For this reason, I would advise that you plan ahead and follow my advice on how to expertly talk through your CV in an interview; if you get it right you will highlight the skills and experience that reflect your suitability for the role, provide the interviewer with the information that they need to make a decision, and ultimately, get the interview off to the best start possible.

Where to begin?

We will always advise candidates to talk through their CVs in chronological order, from the beginning of their career and / or education, moving forward to the most recent role. That way you will tell a coherent and positive story of your development. One thing to remember is to check that your CV aligns with your online professional profiles such as LinkedIn before the interview. The hiring manager will have researched both of them, and may pull you up on any inconsistencies between the two.

Be sure to tell a brief story as you talk through all of your experience, especially 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, and how it led you to this interview. My examples below should demonstrate how to do this.

Which areas of your CV should you focus on?

Certain parts of your education and experience will be more relevant than others to the job you are applying for. Before the interview, 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 example, you may have spent three years at university studying History, and since then you had a position as a retail assistant for a year, before working as an accounts assistant for a few years. Now you are applying for an assistant accountant role, therefore you would devote more time to talking about your accounts experience. That’s not to say you should avoid the other parts of your CV altogether.

Which parts of your CV should you skim over? 

The areas of your experience that aren’t as relevant to the role in question, so in the above case, your role as a retail assistant, 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 1st in Economics, 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 retail assistant – that seemed like a useful starting point for me.”

Which areas should you emphasise?

As you talk through the professional experience that you do wish to highlight, so in this case, your experience as an accounts assistant, 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 if/when asked competency based questions. Simply highlight how you ended up in this role, your key responsibilities which relate to opportunity, and why you chose/are choosing to move on. For instance:

“After one year of working as a retail assistant, I reflected upon the parts of my role that I enjoyed the most, which included cashing up the tills and balancing them each day. I knew I had a head for numbers and 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 an accounts assistant. My responsibilities here include processing invoices, VAT, supporting the management accountant with preparation of the monthly management accounts as well as collating all payroll information each month. After three years at this company, I have decided that I am now ready for the next challenge, and want to take on a role which offers a greater level of responsibility and accountability which is why I am so excited to be interviewing for this role today.

Should you explain gaps on your CV?

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.

The fact that talking through a CV is a permanent fixture in job searches doesn’t mean that people generally do it very well. On the contrary, a lot of people feel that it’s the easiest interview question to answer (“I know that bit, I remember it- I was there!”) it is often overlooked when preparing for an interview. That homework is critical – planning what to focus on, how to describe it and adapting your style and focus according to the company and role you are interviewing for.

Hopefully you are now feeling somewhat clearer on how to effectively talk through your CV during an interview. This part of the interview can either make for a rocky start, or a great one, depending on how well you prepare. If you plot in advance how to tell your story, and which parts of your story to emphasise, you provide the interviewer with a concise, cohesive rundown of your background, setting a strong tone for the rest of the interview.

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