Interviewers are interested in your past, it is undeniable.
It gives you credibility, it backs up your claims of greatness and it is something concrete to put on your CV. We can all say that we want to be Richard Branson one day, but we can’t all categorically state that we did a $2.3m deal last year. It happened, you did it, this is what you learned from it.
Wait, back up. Why is what you learned from it so important?
Ah, yes, because what your interviewers are actually interested in is how your past will impact on your future. They don’t really care that you did a fantastic deal last year. What they really want is for you to do an even better deal for them. So, by all means talk about your past, but unless it has an immediate relevance on your future, it probably isn’t all that useful after all.
When you talk about your past when it has no impact on your future employer, the conversation gets boring very quickly. Then, when you finally have something relevant to say, the interviewer will need a few minutes to tune in to what you are saying.
You have to keep them hooked, and you have to keep it relevant.
Your future can be more concrete than you think. If you have a vision of how you want to build on your past experiences, it isn’t at all hard to describe it to someone else. You have ambitions, you want to grow and you want to be someone more than you are today. That needn’t sound like a pipe dream if you back it up. That is what interviewers want to hear, they want to be a painted a picture of your successful career with them, not some rose-tinted spectacles about the exploits of your (sometimes distant) past.
However, the paint a convincing picture of the future, you have to work it out yourself and it has to be specific to the employer in question. People wonder about the worth of tailoring a CV – I am also on the fence with this one, but there is a definite value in tailoring your future picture to every employer. Every role will be different and if you talk about something that is utterly irrelevant to what they need, the seed will be planted that maybe you aren’t such a good fit after all.
The success of an interview lies in the preparation and, deeper yet, it lies in the specifics of your picture. The more research that you do, and the better you understand how you might be able to help the employer, the more compelling your picture will be.
Of course, this is worth practicing before you even enter the room. Many people find that they are better able the find the right words (you won’t be doing it with paint, after all) if they do a dry run with a partner or a friend.
You definitely need feedback to get that picture perfect.