Ace Your Job Interview

How not to describe your past work experience in a job interview

In a job interview, the open-ended prompt, "Tell me about your experience" isn't an invitation to give an open-ended response.

Unfortunately, many job candidates make that mistake, offering a lengthy, unfocused summary of their resume — effectively wasting the hiring manager's time.

On a recent episode of CNBC's "The Job Interview," in which candidates interview for real jobs while being filmed, one interviewee made this classic misstep.

Sergio Alvarez and his brother Christian Alvarez, of Florida-based cosmetic surgery company Mia Aesthetics, interviewed five of more than 60 applicants for a social media manager position.

In one interview, they asked a candidate to describe herself and her experience. Her unfocused response was not what they were looking for.

"I've had a few experiences when it comes to like communications in a little different fields I would say between film and politics. I'm from [Los Angeles] and I moved to D.C.," she said.

"I was looking for a 'normal job,' nothing to do with government, nothing to do with entertainment industry or anything," she added.

The candidate missed a key opportunity to highlight relevant skills and experiences she gained from her different prior positions. And from the hiring managers' body language — shifting in their chairs and looking around — it didn't help her chances.

According to Joan Kuhl, author and founder and CEO of career consulting firm Why Millennials Matter, the most important thing is to tailor your response to the specific hiring manager.

Instead of rambling or restating what's on your resume, highlight a few key experiences you've had and describe how they make you a great fit for the role you're applying for. It will help you make a great impression.

To give the best response, practice beforehand.

"List the job's required skills and match your skills to the list," Kuhl told CNBC Make It's Danni Zhou in an interview. "Whether they were professionally learned skills or those you developed through extracurricular activities, volunteer work, class, everything counts."

Then choose a few of your experiences that touch on these skills to discuss in your job interview. Examples of leading a project, learning more about a technical skill or even finding a solution to a difficult problem are great anecdotes. You could even do a practice interview with a friend or family member, Kuhl says.

And don't worry if these experiences came from working in a different sector or industry. As long as you present them in a succinct and clear way, you'll be making a strong case for yourself.

"Do not feel like your experiences are not 'good enough,'" says Kuhl. "Every experience can teach you valuable lessons and transferable skills. It is all about how you sell yourself."

In other words, figure out how you will show that your previous experience has prepared you for the opportunity in front of you. Use body language tricks, such as having a straight posture and smiling every so often to exude confidence.

You will keep the hiring manager's attention and impress them by clearly explaining who you are and what makes you valuable.