If You Could Share Only One Experience From Your Resume, What It Would Be?
This interview question is a HIGHLY common one asked at the start of the interview. I’ve personally gotten it many times in lieu of the standard question “Tell Me About Yourself,” so think of the two questions as a cousin of sorts.
So, when you’re asked this question, here’s what your interviewer is REALLY looking for (regardless of industry, company, job, or function)…
The interviewer wants to know what you think is your most meaningful experience. Whatever the answer, they will also likely ask you follow-up questions, so be sure you’re able to respond to these kinds of questions and really hammer the details in your story. Ultimately, this question is a way for the interviewer to really nail down one story you have as a candidate, so prepare this answer in advance.
On that note, here are some best practices:
Make sure it’s something you’re comfortable discussing in-depth, and not just something that works well as a 15-second sound bite. Prepare answers for anticipated follow-up questions that probe your experience on a much deeper level. Hypothetical follow-ups include:
What exactly happened as a result of your work in ABC as an XYZ (basically asking you to quantify your result/contributions to the organization)?
How did the team get into the situation that led to the conflict?
What were the stakes?
What did you personally do to overcome the problem?
What did you learn from the situation?
How might you avoid this kind of situation/problem in the future?
If you struggle with nervousness or performance anxiety, practice your answer until you can look natural reciting it from memory.
Your answer should preferably focus on a work or extracurricular-related experience where you had a quantifiable impact.
Here’s an example of a STRONG RESPONSE:
Thanks for the question! I love this question because I can really dive deeper into an experience that is near and dear to my heart. As the Marketing Manager of The Daily Californian, I lead 20 associates across 3 different teams - Marketing Analytics, Product Marketing, and Experiential Marketing - each with its own team lead, or assistant manager. It was my first time leading such a massive department, but the experience taught me so, so many things and made me so, so many life-long friends. In particular, what I loved most was the team-building aspect. Marketing was a very new team to The Daily Californian ecosystem, and the publication was unsure how marketing ultimately fit with its broader strategy. Working with each assistant manager, I outlined a concrete vision for each team. Marketing Analytics would collect, analyze, and interpret audience data and provide actionable, data-driven insights to Editorial and Sales using Google Analytics, Tableau, and SQL. Marketing Analytics was able to identify meaningful clusters of customer preferences centered around certain content, and was able to communicate these findings to Editorial. As a result, we have seen a 15% increase in overall impressions and engagement, translating to an additional 10% increase in AdSense revenues semester-over-semester. Product Marketing would be in charge of promoting the paper itself, partnering with university initiatives, student clubs, community-based organizations, and even external partners like other media publications, student newspapers, and alumni. They would also be in charge of leading go-to-market strategy for our new mobile app, as well as INK Creative, an internal design agency. Consequently, Product Marketing was able to help INK Creative acquire 5 new customers at launch, generating an additional $5,000 in revenues for the organization. Finally, Experiential Marketing would organize, manage, and launch on-campus events. There would be a combination of paid, as well as free, events, so the team’s goal was to promote the DC brand, invite guest speakers to further our brand’s reach and appeal to new audiences, and also diversify revenue streams. Experiential Marketing has organized multiple events featuring reporters from CNBC and NBC Bay Area, as well as hosting a Journalism Conference that attracted more than 150 high school students (and generated $2,000 in revenue on a budget of only $100). This experience has taught me the importance of working in teams, commanding transparency at every level of the decision-making chain, and how important it is to break down organizational silos and make sure marketing was in-tune with every other department in the publication. We left no stone unturned, no team unaware of what we were doing, and this made cross-functional partnerships and collaborations much, much easier.
This is a longer answer than usual, but I wanted to show you the level of detail your interviewer is ultimately attempting to acquire and gauge. You will probably not be as comprehensive in your actual response, but you should be prepared to recall crucial details and facts in your story when it comes time to answer follow-up questions!
Meanwhile, here are some things you should avoid:
Giving an answer only because that company is the best-known name on your resume. Impact > Prestige. Passion > Prestige. Brand name is important in an interview, but if you aren’t passionate about the job - or didn’t do that much in it - it won’t sound good in the interview. In fact, your interviewer is likely to pick up that you’re just trying to inflate your experiences!
Discussing more than one job (or more than one role within the same company, that counts too!) – interviewers will pick up on that. At best it will slightly irritate them, at worst it will make them feel like you were trying to give them ye ol’ run-around. Always answer your interviewer’s exact question.
On that note, here are some examples of WEAK RESPONSES:
I was the Social Chair for my fraternity, Apple Beta Pie. As Social Chair, my responsibility was to administer parties and socials, all of which served to strengthen our bonds as brothers and increase our camaraderie. At the end of every party, I made sure to enforce strict cleaning procedures, especially in our bathrooms. Cleaning bathrooms really builds character, you know? It taught us what it’s like doing hard, manual labor, and that really served to only reinforce our bonds as brothers. Overall, I learned a lot leading a brotherhood of 50 fine men, and it taught me excellent leadership and management skills to boot.
I interned with ABC this summer, a startup that is [insert “Uber, but for Cat-Sitting,” or some other classic start-up description example]. I was specifically in the marketing team, and I worked on building our social media presence on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and others. I created collateral for posts and stories, and designed and copied content. It was a really rewarding experience, and I learned what it was like working in a real business environment that was fast-paced, energetic, and highly-demanding. I got really positive reviews at the end of the internship, and I learned so many new skills like SEO and content management. On top of these skills, I’m also very detail-oriented and worked long hours managing our content, making sure no mistakes were made.
Okay the first one was atrocious. I probably don’t need to tell you how or why.
But the second one is a lot more common. And it’s still bad (just not as bad).
First, there’s no story! Tell me about a specific problem you were tasked with solving, and how you solved it. Hit your interviewer with the STAR framework, or another structured approach of outlining the initial problem/beginning and ultimate solution/end.
Second, quantify your impact! Upon solving the problem, how would you describe the outcome? An increase in sales or customers acquired? A reduction of costs or time spent on one inefficiency? If you don’t measure your impact with numbers, your interviewer won’t be nearly as impressed. These steps will help you STAND OUT from the crowd, and help you land a final round interview (and hopefully offer!).
Find your story, use the STAR format to structure your thoughts, and practice practice practice! Find an interviewing buddy - a friend, room-mate, family member, person you just coffee chatted, anybody - and start cracking. You got this.