How to 'Talk Through' Your CV in an Interview

You may well be dreading the interview which opens with the recruiter asking you to ’talk through your CV’. Such a simple question - and yet, pitching a response to this can be difficult. Knowing where to start, what aspects of your career should have the greatest focus, and how to make sure your career story comes to life in the telling, can be daunting.

And yet, it is your story - and one of the most predictable interview questions imaginable. Spend some time preparing and practising your CV story, to make sure that your interview starts well.

Choose the right place to begin

The expectation is likely to be that you talk through your CV chronologically - but choose your starting point carefully. If you have years of experience, then starting out describing your teenage paper round will not add any value. If you have less depth of experience, then be prepared to squeeze every last drop of value from the roles you have had, including the transferrable skills and life lessons learned. Even that paper round taught you self-discipline and the value of great customer service.

In some interviews, deliberately or otherwise, you might find yourself telling your CV story working backwards chronologically - if you are initially asked to talk through your current role, for example, which can then lead the conversation to flow naturally backwards though your experiences, and can be more difficult. Try to keep your focus on talking through roles one by one in order, rather than dotting about through different jobs in a random order.

Talk in solid terms

In preparation for the interview, think about the key skills and responsibilities you need to illustrate from your experience to be successful. You might do this simply by reviewing the job advert - but if there is no specific list of required experience there, then look for the key words used and repeated in the ad which show the most important aspects for the employer. Reference these words, and demonstrate your relevant experience in talking through your CV.

When describing each role, make sure you use business relevant descriptions, such as the scope of the role, your reporting lines and an outline of the responsibilities of the position. Talk through your main contacts and details such as the budgetary responsibilities of your position. A great interviewer will prompt you to give such detail, but even if the questions are completely open-ended you should be thinking about which details are relevant to the role and business you’re applying to.

Make it human

Key to making this section of the interview work well is lifting the words off the page and making the CV come to life. You need to give more detail than the interviewer could already reasonably be expected to know from a cursory glance at your CV. Talk about the greatest challenges, learning experiences and successes of each role, for example, as this will start to elaborate on your story so far, and help you lead towards why you are interested in this new role.

Make sure you recall the detail that was in your CV well - if you state details such as your budget for a particular role, or the number of direct reports you had, make sure you stick with that number. Despite the reality that such things generally change and develop over the course of a role, employers will be suspicious if you seem to be overstating the details written on your resume.

Tell your story

The final consideration when talking through your CV is that you are essentially telling your career story. That means that you should aim to show a beginning, middle and an end - or at least, a natural progression in which you have learned, broadened your experience, and developed personally and professionally from each role.

By building your CV story in this way you will be able to flow naturally into the reasons that you feel the new position will fit your career path perfectly, as well as detailing the ways you can add value to the business through the variety of skills and experience that you have already accumulated.

Interview success depends on practise and preparation, and being asked to talk through your CV is a predictable question which you can thoroughly prep in advance. Don’t be put off by that fact that the question is so open-ended, but rather see it as an opportunity to show how your unique mix of experience will benefit the business, and help you progress your own career path at the same time.

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