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3 embarrassing mistakes to avoid when answering this tricky interview question

Rachel Loomis | Twenty20

You can always count on Google to provide a list of the "most common job interview" questions.

But the one you should always be prepared to answer is: "Can you walk me through your work history?" 

It may sound like an easy question, but it's one that I've seen many candidates stumble over.

This question is tricky for many reasons. Candidates usually don't come prepared with an answer because they assume it's as simple as reciting their resumes. But hiring managers expect to hear much more than what they already know.

Also, they typically ask this question at the very beginning of an interview, so candidates who fail to give an impressive answer miss out on the opportunity to make a good first impression.

Here are three embarrassing mistakes to avoid when answering this question:

1. Giving no (or incredibly weak) examples

Your resume will guide the interview, but it's up to you to bring the background details by giving strong and compelling examples.

It's embarrassing to have no examples (which could also lead the interviewer to question whether you've been truthful in your resume), but it's just as bad to have weak examples.

Let's say one of your roles was a senior project manager. You should mention key highlights of projects you were most proud of. An mediocre answer would be: "I accomplished [X project] from start to finish, all while leading [X team members]. It was very successful."

To really impress your interviewer, provide details like what was unique about the project, how the idea came up, what the results were and how the skills you learned can add value to the company.

2. Saying "we" too much

It's good to be a team player and give credit where credit is due, but overusing the word "we" makes you appear less confident and capable.

Hiring managers want to hear about your achievements — not your team's. Saying things like "we worked on this" or "we were successful in accomplishing this goal" says very little about what values you can offer.

Instead, try saying, "When I was a [X role] at [X company], my work doing [X project] helped contribute [X successes] for the company."

Remember, it's your interview, so you're expected to talk about yourself. It's always going to be a competitive job market, so don't be afraid to brag about yourself.

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3. Talking too much

Always avoid over-elaborating and using "filler" sentences. Many candidates end up spewing mumbo-jumbo if they find themselves hitting a wall. Don't be afraid to give yourself some time to think about what to say.

A helpful trick is to assume you're answering the question: "Why should we hire you?" 

Keep in mind that your answers should be convincing, cohesive and meaningful. If you know you have a natural tendency to ramble, write down what you plan to say (using as few words and sentences as possible) before the interview, and then practice saying them out loud.

Vivian Garcia-Tunon is the founder of VGT Consulting Group. She has an extensive background in human resources within financial services, private equity and investment banking. Having worked the majority of her career in male-dominated industries, Vivian is passionate about helping other women break through the glass ceiling of their industries.

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