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

Hand holding a tablet device 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 searching for a wedding photographer.  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 really did the work and the applicant simply plagiarized 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 if the person lacks depth of understanding.  Should this occur, it is 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 “Don’t be a Clone at Your Job Interview!

Agree? Disagree? Share your experience or thoughts? Feel free to leave a comment!

Featured image courtesy of NEC Corporation of America – flickr

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