How To Avoid Being Boring In Interviews

The last time I was in a job interview was over a decade ago. I’d applied to become a non-executive director and was being quizzed by two of the company’s executives, who kicked off with what’s pretty standard practice:

“Talk us through your CV.”

So I did, starting all the way back with my very first job as a junior graphic designer at the age of 16. I then walked them through my subsequent roles covering 20+ years until I reached the present day.

I’d kept it pretty brief, but by the time I finished their eyes had glazed over, their attention had lapsed and I could see they were finding my reply less than riveting. (Heck, even I was bored!)

Driving home afterwards, I was mentally berating myself. “For f***’s sake Jennifer! Just because they asked you to talk through your CV, they didn’t literally mean to mention each and every thing on there! You utter eejit!”

So how should it be done?

Think of the request being put to you not as a chronological walk-through but a slideshow of highlights, always with an eye on these three things:

  1. When you think about the jobs on your CV, what’s the common thread that runs throughout?

There may be a few of these, but focus on the one or two that are most relevant to the things you want the interviewer to learn about you.

Using my own CV as an example, if the role I’d applied for was heading up a new team, I might say, “The vast majority of my career has been spent in newly created roles – starting with a blank sheet and creating the strategy, structure and procedures to deliver what was needed.”

2. What are some specific and interesting nuggets from your CV that illustrate that common thread?

This is where you pull out the bits from your CV that might otherwise get overlooked, but that say a lot about who you are and how you work.

So I might continue my talk through with, “That was certainly true when I began the role of Head of Media Relations at the last company I worked for. Until then, this had been part of the corporate communications function, but I knew it wasn’t getting the attention it needed, which meant the company wasn’t getting the profile it needed. So I discussed restructuring the department with my boss and, within the first couple of years, had increased our media coverage to the point we were getting front page headlines.”

3. What’s on your CV that directly relates to the job you’ve applied for?

This one’s pretty obvious, but if you’ve taken the interviewer at their word and are doing a chronological review of your CV, any relevance will get lost in the mire. Instead, it should be signposted clearly so it can’t be missed.

So again, if I was being interviewed about heading up a new team, I’d say, “Of course, newly created roles often lead to newly created teams, so part of my remit as Head of Media Relations included [then I’d list the sorts of things I did that reflected what the job description had in it].”

Keep it true

Underpinning all these things is the fact you mustn’t lie about what’s on your CV (or put something false on there). But what you can do is flex it so that the interesting stuff comes to the front and keeps the interviewer engaged, while the less interesting stuff goes to the back where it can’t induce boredom.

How do you tackle your reply when asked to talk people through your CV? Or just when talking about your career. Or what do you like to hear when you’re the interviewer? With more and more people facing career changes (willingly or unwillingly) any tips you can share will help to arm them with the best chance of getting the job. Thank you!

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2 responses to “How To Avoid Being Boring In Interviews”

  1. Meg Burton says:

    Some great tips here Jennifer, I like your idea of finding a common thread and thinking about what it is in the roles that you have done that you have enjoyed, the times when you have really shone and been at your best. I agree about being honest too – this way you are more likely to get a good match.

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