Two Things You Should Share With A Recruiter About Your Past Positions

You’re 5 minutes into a phone interview.

In spite of the obscene amount of coffee you drank this morning, your jitters are starting to subside. You’ve totally got this!

So far you’ve caught the recruiter’s attention, you’ve given them an executive summary of your professional experience, and you’re just starting to delve into your background — backwards, of course.


But now what? What do you actually say about each position on your resume? There are so many things you could say and so little time…ahh, decisions, decisions.

Only you can decide what to say about each position you’ve held. What you say will probably (read: should) vary based on the job you’re interviewing for, but there are two critical topics that you won’t want to leave out as you talk about each of your past positions.

chess pieces king and queen

Content is king but context is queen

What you say about your professional background matters in a phone interview, to state the obvious. But the context you give me about each position and the companies you’ve worked at matters a whole heck of a lot, too. Without it, I have no idea how to interpret what you tell me. And my interpretation will probably be wrong because, let’s be honest, there’s a 0.00001% chance that I’m deeply familiar with each of the companies you’ve worked at.

Let’s take a simple example.

One fundamental thing I want to figure out is whether or not you’re a good match for the seniority of the position I’m hiring for. And I don’t mean how many years you’ve been working. Seniority is a lot more nuanced than that. I want to know things like:

Who do you report to?

How much experience do you have working with C-suite executives?

Who reports to you, if anyone?

How big is your team, if you have one?

What is the scope of your / your team’s responsibilities?

So, once again, spoon feed me. Prevent me from thinking too much. Don’t let me draw my own conclusions. Give me the context I need to interpret the information you give me about the places you’ve worked and the positions you’ve held.

(As an aside — context is the same principle at work behind my resume advice to include a company description on your resume. )

What would you say…you do here?

Have you ever wondered what a friend or even a colleague actually does all day? Sure, you know they stare at a computer screen and send a lot of emails and probably go to some meetings. But what do they actually do.

You’re not the only one. I wonder this all day, every day about every person I interview.

And Tom’s answer from Office Space probably won’t get you very far —

“I deal with the goddamn customers so the engineers don’t have to. I have people skills! I am good at dealing with people. Can’t you understand that?!”

I’m constantly amazed how many people I speak to and, even after a 5-10 minute conversation, I still have no idea what they’re good at or how they pass the hours between 9 and 5. That’s bad news. At some point, if I can’t figure out what you do, I’ll assume that you’re not a doer at all. You’re a delegator. And a delegator is the last thing I want in a start up where everyone needs to get their hands dirty.

So, after you give me a summary of your professional experience and a little context about your role, be sure to tell me what you actually do on a daily or weekly basis.

And there you have it! The next time you’re describing your background to a recruiter, be sure to include plenty of context about past positions and don’t forget to make it clear what you actually do all day long.

The Distracted Goldfish



Say What?! Sh*t Job Candidates Say That YOU Probably Shouldn’t

Kids say the darnedest things. Turns out job candidates do, too.

No need for waxing poetic to introduce this post. Without further ado, I give you: sh*t job candidates say. You probably don’t want to repeat any of these in your next interview.

The “Skills-You-Don’t-Need-To-Mention” Edition

You are totally a pro at adulting. You’ve got it down pat. You go to the grocery store every week LIKE A BOSS. Sometimes twice! You pay your bills – on time, obvi. And you even manage to keep a plant alive. How many people can say that?! Dude, you.are.awesome.

But that doesn’t mean I want to hear about it in an interview.

“I’m really good at washing dishes” is the most bizarre thing I’ve ever heard in an interview. Hands down. Pretty sure my response was to stare at the phone and blink like a cartoon character, mouth gaping .

Honestly, I can’t remember the context. But it wasn’t relevant. I can’t imagine any reason why it would ever be relevant. There are some things you simply don’t need to mention in an interview. This is one of them.

dirty coffee mugs for great dish washers

The “Better-Be-Specific” Edition

If someone said the following to you, how would you interpret it?

“I’m really good with all these different systems.”

No idea? Me either.

What systems are “all these?”

Why are they different?

What does “good” mean?

My number one goal as a hiring manager is to assess your skills. Needless to say, telling me that you’re “really good” at “systems” doesn’t help me do that. I’m going to need a lot more specific information than that to advance you to the next interview.

The “Get-The-Lingo-Right” Edition

I’ll admit that this one can be a bit unfair, especially if you’re just starting your career or you’re going into business after working in another field.

But the fact the matter is that you’ll sound much more like you know what you’re doing if you use industry language.

A candidate once asked me how long my company had been around and how many employees it had. After my response he said, “Ah, so you’re in that middle comfy stage right now.”

I’ve heard of seed stage. And Series A, B, and C. I’ve even heard of private equity buy outs. But I haven’t ever heard of anything called the “middle comfy stage.” Guess they didn’t teach me that one in grad school.

crossword graffiti - lots of words

The “Mentioning-Skills-You-Don’t-Have” Edition

Remember how your 9th grade English teacher always told you to “show, don’t tell” if you’re trying to persuade someone or make a point?

Her advice applies to interviews, too.

I know. I already told you that you should tell me what you’re good at by putting a summary and highlighted skills on your resume. But I sort of lied. When you’re having an actual conversation, don’t tell me what you’re good at. Show me what you’re good at. Name the strengths and then tell me a story that illustrates them; it’s much more powerful.

I once interviewed a candidate who said within the first 30 seconds of the phone interview, in a haughty tone, “Frankly, I’m a great communicator.”

And then, a few minutes later…

“And, uh…uh….we were trying to, I mean…you know…(throat clearing). I would also like to add………..Uh, let me collect my thoughts.”

The rest of the interview continued similarly.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m inarticulate all the time. I’m not going to judge anyone for needing to collect their thoughts! But the juxtaposition just killed me. The candidate would have been much better off to not say anything about his communication skills and instead let those skills speak for themselves. Literally.

little boy screaming into microphone

The “I’m-The-Mature-One-In-The-Room” Edition

I’m not going to lie. Silicon Valley can be pretty ageist. That’s what happens when you revere the 22 year old founder, undoubtedly white and male, in jeans and a hoodie. (Barf. Sorry, Mark Zuckerberg.)

It’s shockingly common for older candidates to attempt to counter this bias. Typically they’ll call out the fact that experience is worth something, too, by mentioning something about an “adult in the room.”

“I’m always the adult in the room (laughs). Adults need to be around. As that adult, I see things from a larger perspective.”

Unfortunately, this usually back fires.

First off, you don’t know how old I am. Maybe I’m super young and I’ll be offended by the “adult in the room” statement. Plus, it makes you come across as smug and petty to frame it in this way.

It’s not that I disagree. I don’t. Experience matters — a lot for some positions and company stages. At a certain point any company needs some grey hairs — people who have been around the block a few times —  to take it to the next level. A gaggle of earnest 22 year olds can only get a company so far.

But here, too, the “show, don’t tell” mantra is a much better approach.

Demonstrate to me that you have loads of deep and relevant experience, or illustrate how that experience has helped you see the strategic “bigger picture” in the past. Maybe even tell me about a time when you helped to course correct a group of less senior employees because of of your deep expertise.

Just don’t imply that your colleagues are children. Please, and thank you.


The Distracted Goldfish