Don’t Go Into a Job Interview Empty-Handed!

Hand holding a tablet computer with people in background.Going for a job interview?  Assume the interviewers are all from Missouri!

Why?  Missouri, of course, is nicknamed the “show me” state.  All kidding aside, most interviewers, regardless of their actual home state, tend to have a “show me” state of mind.  Let me explain.

Suppose you and your fiancé are making plans for the big day and looking into wedding pictures.  You visit a studio to inquire about cost, album options, etc.  However, 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, right?  Oh yes, and plop down the $1,000 deposit right then and there?  Yeah, I didn’t think so…

Yet, this is exactly what happens in many job interviews!  The candidate has the chance to show evidence of his or her abilities, but does not.  Sure, in certain fields like photography, graphic arts, music, writing, and others, the norm is for applicants to bring a portfolio or samples of their work.  But what about fields where this is not the norm?

A Real Example

I was once looking to hire someone for a team which performed business process improvement activities.  A basic but essential part of such a job involves identifying and documenting the existing process through a technique known as “process mapping” or flow charting.  Microsoft Visio™ is a commonly used software tool for this purpose, and it also tracks changes and improvements to a process.  As you might expect, the resulting process maps can be quite involved and complex.

The recruitment yielded several excellent candidates who came in for interviews.  During the interviews, each candidate described their experience in developing process maps.  Each claimed to have experience in process mapping, and some touted skills with Visio.  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?

The one candidate showed copies of several process maps and explained in detail how the tasks were performed.  It was clear this candidate knew how to both do the work and use the software – and got hired!

But Was the Candidate Honest?

Ok, you might ask, how do we as interviewers know the candidate personally did the work and created all the materials as claimed?  After all, who knows?  Maybe a friend or colleague is really the one who 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 beyond only the most basic questions, it quickly becomes obvious when the person does not have any depth of understanding.  Should this occur, it is readily apparent the individual could not have possibly performed the work.  At that point, the credibility and integrity of the applicant just went out the window – along with any chance of landing the job!

What Can I Do?

Suppose show-and-tell is not the norm for job interviews in your field.  What might you present to the interviewers?  The following items might be applicable for you:

  • Reports which you routinely prepare.
  • Spreadsheets, charts, or graphs.
  • Screenshots of a website you designed, or if possible, call up the actual site on a mobile device.
  • Presentations you prepared and delivered.
  • Specifications which you have written.
  • Photographs, blueprints, or schematic diagrams.
  • Brochures or advertisements you created.

When taking samples of your work to an interview, here are a few important guidelines:

  • Don’t overload the interviewers with quantity; just a few quality pieces are best.
  • Don’t leave items expecting the interviewers to return them; make copies to leave, if appropriate.
  • Don’t show anything potentially sensitive, proprietary, or confidential.  Your work quality may be great, but revealing inappropriate information clearly shows you suffer from a lack of good judgement. Worse yet, your actions might even be illegal or result in you being fired from your present job!

Having something to show helps differentiate you from the other interview candidates.  If you haven’t already done so, be sure to read the article “Stand Out from all the Other Job Applicants!

 

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Featured image courtesy of NEC Corporation of America – flickr

Stand Out from all the Other Job Applicants!

A graphical representation of a table surrounded with identical figures.Have a job interview coming up?  Great!  Now, put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes for a moment.  When looking out into a waiting room full of candidates, what does the interviewer see?  If the job posting worked, it is quite likely he or she may be looking at a room full of clones.  After all, these are people who probably all have the same degree, who all have similar work experience, who all have the same license, certification, or other required credential, who all are professionally dressed, who all have neatly prepared resumes, and who all are polite and well-spoken.  Everyone in the room – including you – meets the same basic requirements for the job or else they wouldn’t be there, right?

So, what makes you think you’re anything special?

This is a problem marketing professionals have struggled with for years! When you purchase facial tissue, do you research all the products available and then stress out over the decision of which brand to get?  Probably not.  For many people, a tissue is a tissue is a tissue.  You likely either just buy what you always do or grab whichever one happens to be on sale this week.  For the makers of facial tissue, this situation is a nightmare!  Their challenge is to convince you that out of all the tissue choices available, their brand is the one you want.

To this end, they spend millions of dollars on advertising, product design, and physical appearance.  They try to convince you their tissue is softer and thus gentler on the nose.  It is more absorbent, stronger, and comes in attractive colors.  Maybe it also contains aloe, packaged in a prettier box, is a convenient size, etc., and therefore the one you should purchase.  They look for and tout anything which favorably separates their product from that of the competition.

Differentiation

In the field of marketing, convincing the customer a product or service is different from that offered by the competition is known as differentiation. Just as when selling products and services, differentiation is a real and important factor for you when it comes to job interviews.  How does this impact you?

Without some way to differentiate the candidates, an interviewer might as well save some time and just simply draw a name out of a hat.  OK, I’m kidding; that’s a stretch.  But, by design, the job posting is supposed to bring in applicants who are all equally qualified, right? So, just like the tissue makers, you need to favorably set yourself apart from the competition.  How can you adapt and use this marketing concept?

Differentiate Yourself!

How do you stand out from the competition?  As every line of work will be different, you must look closely for what is valued in your own career field.  Identify these valued things, and if you have them, promote them.  Here are a few general ideas to get you started:

  • Is your education or training beyond the bare minimum required?
  • Do you have “better” experience than the typical candidate?
  • What specific and valuable skill sets or knowledge do you possess which other candidates might not have?
  • Have you attended professional conferences or seminars which other candidates have not?
  • Are you a member of one or more professional organizations recognized in your field?
  • How’s your GPA? If it’s impressive, this may be helpful, especially for recent graduates who may not have a lot of experience.
  • On your present job, have you volunteered for special projects or served on committees?  If so, be sure to tell about it.  Unlike you, many employees avoid volunteering like the plague!

What if you realize there is actually nothing which differentiates you from the other typical candidate? Make sure to practice and sharply hone your interviewing skills.  In the end, even if you are identical in most ways to the other candidates, at least you may make the best impression. Also, start looking for and working toward ways to set yourself apart from the crowd!  Help the interviewer to see that from among all the others, you are the clear and obvious best choice.

Put marketing differentiation to work for you!

 

Agree? Disagree? Share your experience or thoughts?
Click “Leave a Comment” at the top right of this post.