Don’t Go Into an Interview Empty Handed!

Are all interviewers from Missouri?

No, of course not.  However, Missouri is famously known as the “show me” state, and most interviewers, regardless of their actual geographical origins, tend to have a “show me” state of mind.  Let me explain.

Suppose you and your fiancé are planning the big day and the discussion turns to wedding pictures.  You visit a photography studio to inquire about engagement portraits, wedding coverage, album options, etc., and when you ask to see samples, the photographer says, “I don’t have any samples to show.  Trust me, I’m good.”

Based on that response, you’re ready to sign the photography contract and plop down the $1,000 deposit right then and there, right?  Yeah, I didn’t think so…

Yet, this is exactly what happens on many job interviews!  The candidate has the opportunity to show physical evidence of his or her abilities and experience, but does not.  Sure, for certain professions like photography, graphic arts, music, writing, and others, the expectation – and the norm – is that applicants in these fields will bring a portfolio or other samples showcasing their work.  But what about fields where portfolios and samples are not the norm?

I was once looking to hire an individual to join a team of in-house consultants to perform business process improvement activities.  A basic but essential part of such activities involves documenting the existing business process through a technique known as “process mapping” (flowcharting).  Microsoft Visio is an excellent and common software application tool used to graphically illustrate and document a business process, and it is also used to document the changes and improvements which are subsequently made.  As you might expect, the resulting process maps can be quite involved and complex.

The recruitment resulted in the interview of several applicants.  During the interviews, each candidate described their experience in developing process maps.  Each purported to have experience in process mapping, and some touted proficiency in using Microsoft Visio to flowchart and document the processes identified.  Yet, except for one, none provided any physical or tangible evidence of such skills or abilities.

Doesn’t this sort of sound like the “trust me” comment by the wedding photographer in the example above?

One candidate did bring paper copies of several detailed process maps which had been created, and was able to clearly articulate the various aspects of the process which was documented.  It was clear this candidate knew how to do the work and how to use the software.

Ok, you say, how do we as interviewers know the candidate actually did the work and personally created all the materials as claimed?  After all, who knows?  Maybe a colleague, friend, or cousin is really the one did the work and the applicant is simply plagiarizing the results.  Yes, I suppose that is always possible…

However, my experience has been that a skilled interviewer can easily expose such fraud in seconds; all the interviewer needs to do is merely “scratch below the surface” regarding the content of the materials.  When asked anything other than benign and superficial questions, the dishonest candidate will usually and immediately begin to stammer and stutter in a hopeless effort to explain the answer, and it will become readily apparent this individual could not have possibly performed the work.  Unfortunately for the candidate, at that point, their credibility – and integrity – just went out the window.

What might be something to present, especially if show-and-tell is not the norm for job interviews in your field?  The following items might be applicable for you:

  • A report which you routinely prepare.
  • A spreadsheet, chart, or graph.
  • Screenshots of a website page, or call up the actual site on a tablet.
  • A presentation you have prepared and delivered.
  • Specifications which you have written.
  • Photographs or blueprints.
  • A brochure you created.

Should you decide to take samples of your work with you to an interview, here are a few suggestions:

  • Don’t overload the interviewers with quantity; just a few quality pieces are best.
  • Don’t leave anything valuable that you expect the interviewers to return; make copies to leave, if appropriate.
  • Don’t show anything during the interview which might be considered sensitive, proprietary, or confidential; your work quality may be great, but inappropriately revealing such information clearly shows you suffer from a lack of good judgement. Worse yet, your actions might even be illegal!  I highly doubt you are just so doggone good that the interviewer will hire you for the position anyway and let you telecommute from a jail cell!

Having something to show can also help differentiate you from the other interview candidates.  If you haven’t already done so, be sure to read the article regarding differentiation.


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