"Talk Me Through Your CV"

Posted on 01 March 2022

For all the innovation and technology that has revolutionised the process of getting a job in recent years, there is one thing that has never changed. You can still pretty much guarantee that at some point in the interview you will be asked the traditional question that interviewers have asked job-seekers since the first fire-kindlers and wheel-designers powered the prehistoric world of work.

When an interviewer asks you to talk them through your CV, what they are really asking you to do is bring the black and white document 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 the contrary – the skeletons in your closet that will 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 interviewer's 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 your story

At Martin & Conley, we advise candidates to talk through their CV's 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. One thing I will point out here is that you must check your CV aligns with your online professional profiles such as LinkedIn before the interview. The hiring manager will have researched both, 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.

Decide which areas of your CV to 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, 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.

The parts of your CV to skim over

The areas of your experience that aren’t as relevant to the role in question. 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.

The parts of your CV you want to emphasise

As you talk through the professional experience that you do wish to highlight, so in this case, your experience as a software developer, 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. 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.

Explaining 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, 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 talking through a CV is a permanent fixture in job searches doesn’t mean that people generally do it very well. On the contrary, since people feel that it’s the easiest interview question to answer (“I know that bit, I remember it- I was there!”) it is often shockingly 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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