We all have a resume. Some people consider the resume to be the most important part of their job application—they think that if their resume is impressive enough it will carry them through the interview process. However, while having an outstanding resume will certainly help your chances at landing a job, it will not land it for you.
It is very common to see qualified candidates with 4.0’s, 200+ hours of volunteer experience, as well as internships etc. who, when asked to say a bit about themselves in a live interview, resort to reading their resume line by line, bullet by bullet.
Today we’ll learn how to speak to specific items on our resume to enhance our interview performance and increase our chances of landing a job.
If you’re still in the process of writing and formatting your resume, we have sample resume templates for both college students and professionals here.
Many people are very proud of their resumes—as they should be. After all, a resume represents a summation of all the hard work an individual has put into building a successful career up until now.
However, when it comes to live interviews, candidates will sometimes use their resume as a crutch rather than a tool, and miss out on an opportunity to tell the hiring manager more about who they are as a person.
In an interview, your resume is only one part of your larger goal—to tell a compelling story about who you are, and why you’re the best person for the job.
We like to think of a resume as a cheat-sheet for an interview. You’re allowed to edit it ahead of time, and if you do it right, you can stack the deck in your favor by writing down all the answers to the qualitative questions they’re going to ask you.
Let’s illustrate this concept by taking a look at the most common qualitative question you’ll hear in an interview: Tell us a little bit about yourself?
This is generally the first question in an interview, and also the question that tells the hiring manager right away whether the interview is going to go well or not—and that’s exactly why it’s so important.
When asked to say a little bit about themselves in an interview, many people will list their work experience. The only problem is that the hiring manager presumably already knows about your work experience because they have already read your resume.
When a hiring manager asks you to tell him or her a little about yourself, they are giving you an opportunity to elaborate on what is already on your resume. They can read for themselves what you did, it’s your job to let them know why what you did was important, either to you or to the company you worked for.
Let’s take a look at an example of elaborating on your work experience based on your resume—we’ll imagine that this is a line on your resume:
Community Non-Profit Organization
- Worked with the local schools.
- Organized parent-teacher meetings—raised attendance rate by 50% YoY.
- Talked to students about their future opportunities and served as a mentor.
Now, tell us a little bit about yourself?
Last year I worked for a non-profit organization as a community liaison in the Bronx. I worked with the local schools there, I organized parent-teacher meetings where we raised attendance by 50% over the previous year, and had the opportunity to talk to the kids about their futures and mentor them.
The issue with a response like this, is that it doesn’t actually tell the hiring manager anything about you. They can see on your resume that you did all of those things, but the key to answering this type of question properly is to provide context—what impact did your actions have? How did you feel about it? Let’s see if we can turn this into something a little more personal:
Last year I worked for a non-profit organization as a community liaison in the Bronx. I was assigned to one of the lowest performing public high schools in the area. The school suffered from a severe lack of funding, high rates of parental absenteeism and a high dropout rate. I was tasked with organizing parent-teacher meetings for the semester:
To increase parental turnout for these meetings, I provided free dinner for all attendees, and pushed the conferences back by one hour to better accommodate the schedules of working parents. In the end we were able to raise parent-teacher meeting attendance by almost 50% over the previous year!
I also had the opportunity to talk to a few of the students about their futures. I came to understand that the struggle they face to achieve things many of us take for granted often makes them feel trapped or lost—when really they just need some help finding the right path. Since I left this job, I’ve continued to mentor two of the students I worked with and just last month, the older of the two started his first semester at CUNY! I’m very proud and it’s been one of the most rewarding professional experiences I’ve had.
The response above is clearly the better of the two because it provides detail, context, and says something about you, the candidate.
The most important thing to remember when speaking to your resume is that you must provide context beyond what is already there. Resume bullets should be simple and contain measurable proofs of success (i.e. raised sales 50% YoY). However, each bullet also represents a talking point—an opportunity for you to show the hiring manager how your experience has shaped you as well as the firm you worked for and the people you worked with. If you remember nothing else from this article please remember this:
Every bullet is a story.
Qualitative questions are meant to give the hiring manager insight into who you are as a person—what are you like to work with? What are your priorities, hopes, dreams, fears, etc? The reason this insight is important is because you’re going to have to work with each other every day. They don’t want to hire someone they’re going to hate working with, and you don’t want to hate the people you work with either. Speaking properly (and honestly) to the bullet points on your resume is the key to ensuring the hiring manager sees you as a person rather than as just another candidate for the job.
Again, you can find our standard resume templates for both college students and professionals here.
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