Just as with your resume, the first thing to present to a listener about you is your summary. This identifies, in just two or three sentences, your areas of expertise, your career focus, a short statement of your career growth, and your goals for your next position.
“I am a marketing professional who has focused on retail products throughout my twenty year career. I have worked with medium-sized companies during aggressive growth to define their strategy and create strategic and tactical plans. During that time, I have moved from my original entry-level position to senior management, and am looking forward to an executive level position where I can have a dramatic impact on the future of the company.”
Your summary sets the tone, and establishes the context for everything that comes after. Your goal is to convey significant but concise information briefly, leaving opportunity for the listener to guide the interview, and creating interest in their mind.
Your Career History
Your story must include some information about where you have worked, and what you have done there. While it is not necessary to offer the reasons and circumstances surrounding your departure, you should be prepared for the question to be asked.
Terminations and Lay-offs
While no one enjoys being, or having been, terminated from a position, it does happen. The reasons for this can generally be boiled down to this: a difference between the expectations of the employer and the performance or personality of the employee. In “at-will employment” states like Texas, the reality is that an employer can terminate an employee because they want to. While most do not, without clear evidence of discrimination or other illegal hiring and termination practices, there is nothing to stop them from doing so.
In considering how to share the circumstances of your departure from each of your positions, your goals are:
- Identify the difference between what you brought to the table and their expectations – you need not go into painful detail, and you should emphasize the difference, not disagreement or failure.
- Identify your choices as being related to your career goals, or to professional or ethical conduct choices of yours. Do not point to your former manager or employer as being in error, flawed, unethical, or in any otherwise negative fashion, unless they are notorious like the executives at Enron.
- If you were laid off as the result of a reduction in force, make it clear that these were the circumstances. Unless asked, do not volunteer your analysis of the reasons or company decisions that led to the layoff.
Unless specifically asked, or unless you are a fresh graduate, your grade point average and the year of your graduation are irrelevant. Your major and minor subjects will always be of interest, as will post-graduate studies – whether formal and degree-oriented or not – and continuing education.
Your educational institution may be of interest to your listener, depending on the organization and their context. Some organizations are sensitive to the perceived level or quality of your education. You will need to be in tune to your listener to know whether this is relevant. Of course, it is always relevant in response to the question “Where did you go to college?” or “Where did you do your graduate studies?”
Professionally-related education is also always relevant, and should be included where appropriate. Certifications and professional association membership may be of interest, and are to your benefit and credit.
Do not be glib or sarcastic. What you are offering to your listener is information. If they ask you for your assessment of any of your educational experiences, offer the simplest and clearest opinion, keeping criticism to a minimum. After all, you chose each of these organizations or institutions.
“Well, I ended up at [some school], which was okay. I got through.”
“I went to [some school] because of their [your major or minor] program and the quality of the professors.”
Being Hired, Being Transferred, Being Promoted
For each of your positions, be clear on how you came to be in that position. This is different from how you left your previous position.
- Were you recruited? Or did you request a transfer?
- Were you recognized for your accomplishments and achievements by being promoted?
- Had you specifically set out to gain skills, knowledge, or experience to qualify you for the position?
- Did you acquire certifications that would contribute to your qualifications?
“Well, I was there for a while, and the new position came available, and I guess they figured I was as good as the next person. [chuckle]”
“After taking several seminars on [subject] and applying the skills to my current assignment, I was offered a promotion to [new position].”