How to summarize your background in a job interview, tip #1

If you’re in the midst of job interviews, you already know that the most common interview question you’ll get is some variation on “walk me through your resume.”

Maybe it’s “please summarize your experience for me,” or “tell me a little bit about yourself,” or “explain your background for me.” But it’s all getting at the same thing.

walk me through your resume

“Why, of course!” you say.

“Easy!” you think.

I mean, you lived it, right?

Not so fast, career dreamer.

This seemingly innocent question is also one of the hardest to get right. Potholes, quick sand, and cliffs all await you as you verbally re-live your background or tell your interviewer “a little bit about yourself.” It’s a proper Tough Mudder obstacle course but without the mud slinging and trophies.

obstacle course


Assume your interviewer has never seen your resume, cover letter, or LinkedIn profile

Summarizing your background can’t be that important if the hiring manager already has your resume, right?

Nope. Wrong.

“But…but…” I hear you say. “C’mon, hiring manager! Stop being lazy. You have my resume and I worked on it for approximately a billion hours so just read it and you’ll know everything you need to know.”

I’m with you. As an interviewee, I hate being asked to summarize my background. But the “just read my darn resume” attitude also once got me turned down from a job I really wanted. More on that another time perhaps.

So, now that I’ve been on the other side, I’ll let you in on a secret. Your interviewer isn’t lazy. They’re just really really REALLY busy. And distracted.

Let’s be honest. The person interviewing you — hiring manager or not — has barely looked at your resume and cover letter. They aren’t going to remember yours over any of the other hundreds they’ve looked at. Or maybe they’ve only looked at your LinkedIn profile and not your beautifully designed resume and carefully crafted cover letter. I personally rely more on LinkedIn profiles than resumes because the consistent format from profile to profile allows me to more quickly digest someone’s background.

Whatever you do, don’t start describing your experience by saying “you have my resume, so I’ll be super brief.” Instead,

  1. Assume your interviewer doesn’t know a thing about you,
  2. Spoon feed them what they need to know; don’t make them work for it, and
  3. Yes, you still have to make your resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile perfect

But this is just the beginning. Stay tuned for more on other common pitfalls you might encounter when you next get that dreaded “tell me about your background” question.

The Distracted Goldfish



Introducing the distracted goldfish, a.k.a. your next hiring manager

Oh, haiiiii!

I’m Sydney, your hiring manager.


(Swims in circle)

Oh, haiiiii!

I’m Sydney, your hiring manager.

And in the past 10 weeks I’ve interviewed 407 people.

Yes, this is crazy. No, I’m not technicalla recruiter. But this many interviews in a short period of time means that I’ve seen it all: the good, the bad, and the ugly. It also means that I’ve got plenty of tips to share with you to help you stand out from the crowd during your next job interview. Let’s start at the beginning.

Rule #1: Remember, your hiring manager is a distracted goldfish

Did I mention this already? Sorry, can’t remember.

As it turns out, interviewing 407 people in 10 weeks is a recipe for remembering absolutely nothing about anyone.


If I ran into some of the people I interviewed on the street, I’d probably put my foot (fin?) my mouth by acting as though we’d never spoken in our lives. It’d go something like this:

The Distracted Goldfish: “Oh haiii! I’m Sydney. So nice to meet you!”
Candidate: (head tilt) “Uh…yeah…we’ve met before. Actually, we spoke last week.”
TDG: (nervous laughter) “Mmmm.”
Candidate: “We talked about how I created a marketing campaign via Subway that saved the NBC show Chuck.”
TDG: “Ah, yes. That sounds familiar. But remind me how exactly that worked?”

I’m certainly not going to remember what you told me about increasing your company’s sales by 10% quarter over quarter. Nor am I going to remember how you implemented your company’s marketing automation tool. Or that you did some re-branding design work for American Airlines. Or that you used to be a martial arts fighter but now you meditate and drink green tea every day.*

Actually, I might remember that one…

The point is: unfortunately for you, you’re going to have to work very hard to be remembered, which is the first step to standing out.

But, I’m here to help. Let’s get you that dream job.

The Distracted Goldfish


* True story from one of my all time favorite job candidates