When an interviewee wants to know about your past, chances are that they are looking for something to compare to their own experience. Since you already know a fair amount of their story, that gives you an opportunity to provide answers that are specific and relevant to their current situation. That means getting frank in some ways, but it also means knowing when to leave details out to avoid confusion. Relying on your natural skills for narrative and effective professional communications will help, but there are other tips to keep in mind as well.
Points to Emphasize
Consider covering each of these organizational features in your answer, as applicable.
- Generalize anything irrelevant. It’s OK to mention if you started in another career, but you really want to focus on the details that helped you move into your current position.
- If you did pick up important skills for your current job from another field, that is very worthwhile to talk about.
- Keep your narrative focused on explaining how everything brought you to where you are.
- Include any specific training or professional development, especially if you got the opportunity through the company you currently work for.
Mistakes You Should Avoid
These missteps can lead to misunderstanding and confusion. Do your best to groom them out of your answers.
- Avoid long anecdotes and side stories, as they can create confusion.
- Remember not to chalk things up to chance or otherwise dismiss your narrative, because the listener is looking for ways to understand where they are at in their own career process by comparison.
- Your answer reflects on your company, so you don’t want to say anything that undermines their image. This might include joking around in your response.
- Keep track of any specific names or organizations you talk about, and make sure the listener understands the role they play.
Here is one way to put together a concise but helpful answer for a potential interviewee.
I knew I wanted to work in this field when I went into college, but I did have a few years where I worked in a manufacturing job while I saved up money, and I kept working while I was in school. Being on the factory line gave me a better appreciation for how teamwork and management practices play out in real life, so that I developed the right priorities about how to encourage my team members and other workers to be productive and conscientious once I did move into management. In the end, I think it was that appreciation for how people work that got me into this job.