Today, we advise you on a common interview question that seems deceptively simple: Can you describe your current or most recent position?
Most people feel pretty comfortable with describing their current responsibilities (or their most recent position if the candidate is currently between jobs).
In fact, when I conduct interviews on behalf of my corporate clients or for my own company, I often ask this question first precisely because it is so straightforward. The candidate is likely to be comfortable answering the question, so he will usually relax and open up a bit.
While it may be easy to answer this question adequately, I know that you have higher standards than that. You want to deliver a great answer — one that clearly demonstrates why you are a fantastic fit for the job.
Why Interviewers Ask You to Describe Your Current Job Role
Some candidates think this is a silly question to ask. After all, didn’t you work hard to craft those resume bullet points? Shouldn’t your interviewer be able to get this information from a quick read-through of your resume?
Well, someone obviously read your resume and determined that you were qualified enough to call in for an interview. However, the person who ends up interviewing you may not have had time for a full review — or she may have reviewed it and forgotten the details (easy to do when you have a busy schedule and especially if you are interviewing numerous candidates with similar backgrounds).
You may get this question even if your interviewer is intimately familiar with your resume. It’s a good question for a couple of reasons:
1) It can put the candidate at ease. This question is much easier to answer than the most common interview opener, “Tell me about yourself.” It is a specific question about current or very recent events so the details should be easy to recall and articulate.
As an interviewer, I want to make candidates feel comfortable because I know they will be more likely to open up and show me what they’re really like. Many other interviewers follow a similar approach.
2) It can help the hiring manager clarify and expand upon the resume. There’s only so much a resume can communicate (even a great resume that’s written by a pro). Your resume obviously got someone’s attention.
However, your future boss will want more details and context to determine if you’re the best person for the job.
3) It can help the hiring manager validate that the resume isn’t B.S. People have been known to lie on their resumes.
Shocking, I know. Your interviewer will want to make sure that all of those impressive bullet points are true.
In general, your most recent position is always going to be the most relevant for your interviewer. What have you been doing lately?
Your description of your current responsibilities will provide a good idea of the work that you’re capable of doing at this point in your career.
How to Answer: Describe Your Current Position
Here are some guidelines for wowing your interviewer with the answer to this question:
1. Focus on results. Many candidates make the mistake of just listing their job duties (they make this mistake in the job interview and also on their resumes). If you want to impress your interviewer, focus on how you performed and how you went above and beyond the job description.
Stress any impressive achievements (a promotion, an award), statistics (#1 sales person, 26 people managed), numbers (revenue generated, expenses reduced), or other details.
2. Customize for the position. You can develop a standard approach to this question. Again, don’t try to memorize a script (I repeat this advice constantly because I really mean it). You just want an outline of the bullet points that you want to cover.
Once you have a standard approach in mind, be prepared to customize it for each new job opportunity. For some positions, your standard description may work perfectly.
For other roles, it may make sense to add an extra line or detail if the firm is looking for specific expertise that you don’t always highlight. Analyze the job description and think about how you can show that your current position has prepared you to master the new role’s responsibilities.
3. Be concise. Don’t try to describe absolutely everything that you do. Nobody wants to hear about TPS reports. Focus on the highlights that this particular interviewer will care about. Don’t feel obligated to explain details that could be confusing or lead you off on a tangent.
Stick to the most relevant and impressive aspects of your job. If the interviewer wants to dive into the details later, he will ask for more information.
EXAMPLE ANSWER 1: Describe Your Current Position
Let’s look at an example of how you might focus your description for a particular position.
A. POSITION: Senior Program Manager, Technology Department at Major Financial Institution
Job Description: The job holder will manage the planning, organizing and implementation of a large complex internal governance system (highly visible initiative crossing multiple disciplines and businesses.
S/he works with constituent Project Managers to monitor cost, schedule, and technical performance of component projects and operations, while working to ensure the ultimate success of the program.
S/he is responsible for determining and coordinating the sharing of resources among their constituent projects to the overall benefit of the program. S/he is responsible for stakeholder management.
S/he facilitates Steering Committee and regular program team status meetings and all other communications. All team members within the program take direction from the Program Manager for the duration of the project. The Program Manager is accountable for the overall management and delivery of the program on behalf of business, operations and IT.
B. JOB QUALIFICATIONS: Prior experience managing strategic and/or cross-organizational projects and planning and tracking multiple complex projects or programs required.
Must have experience coordinating work across multiple disciplines or organizations and be adept at building consensus across organizational and functional lines.
Experience managing vendors and contracts as components of a program. Advanced degree preferred.
C. THE CANDIDATE: Josh is an experienced project manager in a senior role at another financial services organization.
Josh’s Example Answer 1: Project Manager
“For the last two years, I’ve worked as a lead project manager on the redesigning of a trading platform used by 4,000 investment managers at MegaInvestments.
In that position, I was responsible for a cross-functional team of 14 from information technology, operations, and project management.
And I was able to complete the project under budget and a few months ahead of schedule.”
Why We Like It: In his response, Josh emphasizes his successful completion of a comparable project. This shows that he can get results. He also draws attention to the fact that he managed a cross-organizational team from the business, technology, and operations departments.
The job description clearly states that they are looking for “prior experience managing strategic and/or cross-organizational projects” and someone able to take responsibility for “management and delivery of the program on behalf of business, operations and IT.”
Notice that Josh didn’t get into too much tactical detail in his answer. The interviewer will certainly ask for more information about Josh’s approach and any obstacles encountered. However, Josh’s initial answer is fairly big picture and focuses on the complexity of the project and his success managing it.
EXAMPLE ANSWER 2: Describe Your Current Position
A. POSITION: Administrative Assistant for a cable television network.
Job Description: This position provides complete administrative support to the organization.
Works fairly independently, receiving a minimum level of detailed supervision and guidance. Maintains close and highly responsive relationship to day-to-day activities of the Executive.
Demonstrates strong interpersonal skills as well as an ability to manage multiple tasks in a fast-paced changing environment.
B. KEY RESPONSIBILITIES:
1. Schedule and maintain Executive’s calendar of appointments, meetings, phone calls, appointments, expenses and travel itineraries
2. Prepare meeting materials, charts, and reports needed by Executive
3. Review and handle coverage on all scripts, books, and pitches as well as all unsolicited submissions to the network – maintain submissions log
4. Handle a wide variety of situations and tasks involving the clerical and administrative functions of the office
C. THE CANDIDATE: Lauren is currently an administrative assistant for a book publishing company
Lauren’s Example Answer 2: Administrative assistant
“I’m currently the administrative assistant for a senior editor at Big Book Publishing House and I basically run his calendar and his office. I always say my job is to take care of all of the administrative details so he can focus on his projects.
He travels a lot and I do everything from booking his flights to preparing and printing his presentation decks to filing expense reports. I also keep the office running smoothly — one of my favorite tasks is managing the manuscript submissions log and bringing interesting submissions to my boss’ attention.
I actually revamped the whole submissions log system last year and my new approach has now been adopted by the rest of the company.”
Why We Like It: Lauren wants to make the move from book publishing to TV. Her answer focuses on highlighting why her experience is very relevant.
Lauren describes her experience as it aligns with the top responsibilities in the job description (calendar management, preparing meeting materials, managing submissions).
She also demonstrates that she can handle multiple tasks and can work independently — in fact, she came up with a new system that has been adopted company-wide.
Reading between the lines of the job description, you get the sense that they’re looking for someone to support a high-maintenance executive. Lauren makes it clear that she could do that very well.
Describing Your Other Positions
Once you feel comfortable with how to describe your current or most recent position, take some time to think about how to describe all of the other positions on your resume.
Apply the same approach described in this post. You should have a compelling, big-picture description of every past role.
Focus on the most recent jobs, but be ready to talk about any position listed on your resume. In fact, going through this process may help you to spruce up your resume and make it more compelling. That will mean more interviews for you and more opportunities to describe your current position.
Bonus: If you ever wanted to see Jeff Goldblum as an interviewer – here’s a funny clip from SNL.
Main Photo Credit: Striatic