There are a couple of topics that employers care most about in a job interview, and none are more important than your past experience and how that will benefit you in their role. When you answer a question like, “How is your previous work experience relevant to this position?” you need to show an understanding of their job and a clear idea of how you can help their company if hired. This is crucial even if you’re coming from another industry, another type of job, etc. And you need to be ready to give a direct, head-on answer. When an employer asks, “How does your past experience benefit you in this role?” they don’t want you to say hesitate or say, “I’m not sure.”
Coming up, I’ll show you exactly how to respond to impress the interviewer. I’ll also share multiple sample answers, mistakes to avoid, and more.
What Does “Relevant Experience” Mean?
Relevant experience is any experience that will help you step into a new job and be successful and effective in the role. Certain skills translate across a range of different tasks and professions, like communication skills, physical fitness, organizational skills and more. Prepare in advance for this question, as you’ll need to consider past experiences that may not seem relevant at first, but that actually required a similar skill set.
Relevant experience is one of the top traits that an interviewer will look for and can often be the deciding factor in an interview. The first thought a hiring manager has when they interview you is, “Does this person have the skills and experience needed to step into this job and succeed?” That’s why it’s crucial to be ready to highlight relevant experience for each job you pursue. While some hiring managers are just looking for raw talent, motivation, intelligence, etc., far more are looking at your prior experience and hoping to see relevant work that will help you directly in this next position. So the more you can show the interviewer that you’ve used similar skills or successfully performed similar tasks in the past, the better they’ll respond to your answers. If you have prior work experience, highlight that when asked about relevant past experiences. Even if it’s not a perfect match, find the similarities.
I’ll share more about how to do this in the steps coming up. And if you’re a recent graduate or someone without any work experience, you can highlight what you studied, class projects, presentations, research, courses, certifications, etc.
Relevant experience can include the following:
- Previous jobs: work experience, especially in similar roles, should always be first on the list—because it’s likely to be the most relevant. However, even if your previous roles weren’t in the same industry or profession, there’s a good chance that certain of the skills you learned and applied there will be useful in this role as well.
- Internships: this type of experience will always count in your favor as, besides boasting relevant skill sets, internships highlight your dedication, work ethic and ability to take instruction in a subordinate role. If your internship covered a similar role, it will show the employer that you have the skills, experience and determination to be a good candidate for this post.
- Volunteer work: this type of experience says a lot about your character and work ethic, and it tells the employer that you’re willing to make sacrifices for the greater good. Besides whatever hard skills you may have gained through the experience, volunteer work certainly shows your humility, humanity, passion and people skills.
- Academic projects: projects and academic achievements are a great way to show off your technical skills, particularly if the project requirements were somehow relevant to the role you’re applying for now. Other than technical skills, academic projects can also highlight your ability to focus, meet a brief, make a deadline, and work effectively with multiple ideas in a close team setting.
Watch: How to Answer”How is Your Past Experience Relevant to This Role?”
Steps to Answering “How is Your Past Experience Relevant to This Role?”
1. Study the job description
You can’t explain how your previous experience is relevant to an employer’s role if you don’t first understand the position and which skills an employer wants to see. This is done by studying the job description. Take note of what’s listed near the top of the requirements. Notice what’s listed multiple times or most often, too, in terms of skills and professional experience.
Finally, note whether the company indicates anything about what type of work environment they feature, what type of personality they’re looking for, etc. If so, you can take advantage of that and in the interview, try to present a description of yourself that matches what they are looking for.
2. Review your experience and look for similarities
Once you’ve reviewed the job description, it’s time to look back at your own experience (likely by reviewing your resume or LinkedIn profile) and think about what work experience you have that’s most similar to the employer’s needs. This is the experience that an interviewer will be most interested in.
3. Demonstrate that you’ve done research
When you answer the question, “How is your past experience relevant to this role?” it’s a good idea to directly indicate you’ve done your research on their role. You do this by beginning with a phrase like, “I reviewed your job description,” or “I read the job description earlier this week and….” Researching the company and the role they are looking to fill is a good idea when preparing to answer a variety of interview questions. Hiring managers always appreciate a candidate who focuses on talking about their exact position and needs, rather than talking in general terms.
So this is a tip I recommend following when you answer other common job interview questions, too, such as:
- Why can you do well in this job?
- Why should we hire you?
- What are your greatest strengths as they pertain to this job?
4. Choose one or two examples of how your prior experience will help you in the role you’ve applied for
You don’t need to name every single way in which your past work experience is relevant to this next company’s job. Ideally, pick one to three ways in which your past career experience is related/similar to what this employer needs. Companies would rather hear a couple of your strongest points rather than a list of 10 vague ideas that barely demonstrate how your background is relevant.
5. Highlight specific accomplishments when possible
Next, consider adding one or two specific accomplishments into your response. For example, you could say:
One way that my previous role would be relevant here is through my work selling directly to large businesses. I saw on your job description that this would be one of the core duties in your role, and in my last position, I was ranked second among 25 sales staff in a role dedicated to large business and enterprise sales.
6. Recent experience is better
If you’re unsure which past positions to mention, keep in mind that it’s always better to talk about recent jobs if possible. Fair or not, most employers view recent experience as being fresher in your mind and therefore more relevant.
So for example, if a job requires software troubleshooting skills, and you’ve done that task in two different prior companies, your answer should focus on the more recent position.
7. Keep your answer to between 45 and 90 seconds
As mentioned above, responses highlighting two to three key points will be more impressive than a response barely touching on 10 different points.
So as you prepare and practice your answer, aim for 45 to 90 seconds. If you believe more is needed, or if you have an exceptionally high level of knowledge related to this next role, then you can talk for slightly longer. However, 90 seconds is typically the limit I recommend aiming for when answering this interview question.
8. If you’re a recent graduate or entry-level job seeker, you can discuss your academic knowledge
Don’t worry if you have no prior professional experience to point to in your answer. If you’re looking for your first job without any work experience, then your academic experience is your experience. You’d want to give an example or two of how your school projects and coursework will help you join this company and be productive and learn the job-related skills quickly. Employers always want someone who can get up to speed quickly, learn the role, and be likely to succeed, so that’s what to target in your interview answer, whether that experience comes in via the classroom and internships, or work experience.
9. Stay confident; if the employer invited you to interview then they liked something about your background
When faced with a direct interview question like, “How is your past experience relevant to this role?” it’s easy to lose confidence or panic. So in your job interview, remember that they liked something on your resume. They would NOT have invited you to the interview otherwise. Also, realize that quite often, no candidate has every piece of experience an employer wants. Nobody’s going to be a “perfect fit” for the role.
So with any interview questions about relevant experience, try to maintain confidence and do the best you can with your answer, without worrying about what experience other candidates may or may not have.
Sample Answers to “How is Your Previous Experience Relevant to This Role?”
You can use the following sample answers as templates, replacing the details in these samples with information specific to your situation and the job you are applying for:
Sample Answer 1
I read the job description, and it seems like this position would be a mix of sales and customer support. In my last two jobs, I interacted directly with 20-40 customers daily to provide support in a similar industry to yours, and I also did some selling to existing customers in terms of offering additional services and upgrades after they had signed up for our basic package. So I think the fact that I’ve done similar tasks so recently, while in a similar industry, makes my background relevant for this position.
Sample Answer 2
In my last position, my responsibilities overlapped substantially with what you seem to be looking for in this role. For example, I noticed your job posting seems primarily focused on duties like managing and growing an HR team, creating documentation and Standard Operating Procedures for team members to follow, training new HR employees in the company, etc. In my most recent role as HR Supervisor, I trained 11 people in my first six months and helped grow our HR department from 30 to 49 people in my first year. This was while the company overall grew 212% in revenue. So I have direct experience in working as an HR Leader in a growing company, and I’m confident that this prior experience will help me to step into this new position and be successful.
Sample Answer 3 (For Recent Graduates/Entry-Level Job Seekers)
I read your job description and am confident that my academic work has prepared me for the tasks and skills that seem to be the focus of your role. For example, I saw some of the main duties mentioned were scheduling and organizing daily tasks for the content marketing team. And I saw a high level of multitasking is required. In my business courses, I was often the person to lead projects and set project milestones, as well as check the progress of each team member daily. So while I’m an entry-level candidate, I’m coming to you with direct experience in delegating responsibilities, plus managing milestones and deadlines. Those are a few examples of how I see my prior experience being a benefit in this role that you’re hiring for.
As you read the answers above, hopefully you can see the steps that we covered earlier being used. Note the tone of overall confidence throughout each of these sample interview answers. Also note the specific accomplishments mentioned, like interacting with 20-40 customers per day, or growing an HR team from 30 to 49 people. Being prepared with one or two specific examples can set you apart in the interview. You can also point to a part of your resume when interviewing to draw the interviewer’s focus to the role you’re talking about.
Finally, in the examples answers above, note the clear mention of reading the company’s job posting and understanding their responsibilities. You can’t give a great answer that will impress the interviewer if you aren’t talking about the employer’s needs.
If you give a clear, honest answer using the steps above, highlight your most recent experiences that show you’re qualified, and name specific career accomplishments when possible, you’ll ace this interview question and give yourself the best chance at getting hired.
If you take one thing away from this article, make it that interviewers and hiring managers want to see proof of experiences and abilities that directly apply to their role. They’re thinking about their needs when they sit across from you in the interview. So make sure you’re prepared to talk about their job just as much as about your past jobs and professional career up to this point. The more you can make yourself seem like a solution to their problems/needs, the more likely it is that they’ll offer you the position with their company.