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Connecting the Dots

By Nicholas Ammaturo

“Will you walk me through your resume?”

This is a standard interview question — and one that I’ve been asked too often. I love this question, though. Why? On the surface, it appears to be so generic (and easy to answer) when it actually requires a lot of thought. You could simply read verbatim from your resume — which, if I’m a recruiter or hiring manager, already has me snoring. Or you could step back and analyze: How is everything on my resume connected?

This will begin to show how your skills are transferable.

Telling Your Story

Your answer to this one question should be your competitive advantage during an interview. This is your chance to demonstrate your thought process and how you have progressed, leveraging experience to continue to develop.

There is a story to tell. You just need to connect the dots.

You may never have tried to determine the connection this way. Perhaps you left a role or company because of a bad manager or compensation. You may think you left a role because of a higher salary, but that’s not the connection. Instead of looking only at the surface, step back and view your job history at a higher level to ascertain how past changes have impacted your skills. Let me use one of my role changes to reflect how I did this.

Example: I left a large food and beverage company because of compensation. That was the truth at the time.

I had been underpaid, but as I reflect on it, the pay was only the catalyst. My motive may have been a desire for a higher salary, but I took much more away from the job change. Years later, I can see the connection: I left to gain indirect services procurement experience. I had several years of direct material experience and wanted to challenge myself in areas in which I had no prior exposure.

This sheds a different light on the move, plus it highlights my transferable skills: 

  • I felt I had sufficient direct material procurement experience.
  • I increased my skills by expanding them to indirect services procurement.
  • I am not afraid of a challenge or going into an uncharted area.

This is quite different than telling a recruiter you left to get paid more.

Changing Industries, Changing Functions

What I didn’t tell you in the previous example is that I also transferred industries. I left consumer food and beverage packaging for a job in facilities maintenance in the retail, grocery and restaurant industry. It was a big leap of faith for me. I had no prior technical knowledge of elevators, automatic doors, lobster tanks, deli slicers and the like.

How did I even get the interview? I had no experience in the area. But the new company invited me to interview in person, so clearly, they saw something in my work history that I needed to understand myself.

You need to leverage your experience to gain new experience.

When you change industries or functions, you’ll discover that some roles are more of a stretch to connect than others, so you may need to dig deep to tell your story. In my example, however, the connection wasn’t too much of a stretch. Here’s the interview question and my answer:

Question: “How does your experience in direct material procurement transfer to managing procurement for facilities?

Answer: “My prior experience in material procurement challenged me to understand total cost of ownership of extremely complex industries: plastic, glass and paper manufacturing. Leveraging a strategic procurement process from a mature procurement organization, I feel capable of being able to understand the mechanics of how similar strategies could be leveraged in facilities.”

To answer the question, I had to challenge myself to reflect on my transferable skills and how I could use them in any situation. This is the key. The more you analyze your experience, the more you’ll be able to connect the dots — and see how your skills transfer — between roles.

Your experiences are key to unlocking skills you may not know you have.

In my case, the core skills I gained were process mapping and analytical thinking. I had been trained to break down processes from start to finish and understand every component, down to tracking (1) crude oil movements in plastic resin manufacturing and (2) natural gas and sand costing in glass manufacturing. I hadn’t fully realized I had gained these skills until I stepped back to answer the question.

An industry change can be important to your career. While it’s not for everyone, it can be a positive move, enabling you to correlate between industries and leverage them with each other.

Question: “How does your experience in food and beverage help you in retail?”

Answer: “Coming from a multinational billion-dollar conglomerate has taught me about robust processes and how to operate extremely efficiently and strategically. The low-margin, high-volume industry increases everyone’s awareness of cost and importance of procurement. I am able to transfer this to a higher-margin industry in which pressures are increasing and process is not as mature in consumer-packaged goods.”

Every Story is Different

I could continue reflecting on my own experience, as I have dissected every job and company change and know how to weave them together. But your approach should be different than mine; this is an individual and personalized experience.

If you haven’t already, review your resume. Look deep — and pretend you are narrating a story, not a fable. Why did one role lead to the other? What did you learn along the way, and how did you leverage those skills? Once you do this, you will be more confident and rehearsed when prompted to answer my favorite interview question.

Nicholas Ammaturo is director, global procurement at Tapestry Inc. in New York.

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