The Empty-Handed Job Interview Candidate

An empty hand overlaid with the universal red circle "no" symbol.Are you going for a job interview? If so, assume all the interviewers are from Missouri! Why? Missouri, of course, is nicknamed the “show me” state. All joking aside, most interviewers, regardless of their 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 check out a photographer’s website but notice there are no sample photos. That seems odd. Assuming maybe you somehow simply missed the portfolio link, you contact the photographer. “Oh, I don’t have any samples to show,” says the photographer, “Trust me, I’m good.” Based on that response, you’re ready to sign a contract and plop down a big deposit, right? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Yet, this is exactly what happens during many job interviews! Candidates have the opportunity to show some form of evidence of their abilities but do not. In 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 typically the norm?

A Real Example

I was once looking to hire someone for a team that performed business process improvement activities. A basic but essential part of this job involves identifying and documenting the existing process through a flowcharting technique known as “process mapping.” Microsoft Visio ™ is a commonly used software tool for this purpose. As you might expect, the resulting process maps can be quite involved and complex. Skill is required to understand the flow of a process and then use software to accurately and logically present it graphically.

The recruitment resulted in the interview of several prospective candidates. During the interviews, each candidate described their experience in developing process maps. Each claimed to have process mapping experience, and some touted having excellent Visio skills. Yet, except for one, none provided a single shred of physical or tangible evidence of such skills or abilities.

Doesn’t this sound like the “trust me” comment by the wedding photographer?

The one candidate showed copies of several process maps and explained, in detail, how they were created. Clearly, this candidate knew both how to do the mapping and use the software. As you probably already guessed, this was the person who got hired.

Was the Candidate Honest?

OK, you might ask, how would we, as interviewers, know that a candidate personally did the work and created all the materials as claimed? Perhaps someone else actually did the work, and the candidate merely plagiarized the results. Yes, that is always possible.

However, my experience is that a skilled interviewer can easily expose such fraud in seconds. All an interviewer needs to do is merely ask questions that “scratch just below the surface.” When asked for anything beyond the most basic information, an untruthful candidate’s complete lack of knowledge becomes readily apparent. When that happens, how could we be expected to believe such a clueless individual actually performed the work? At that point, the credibility and integrity of the candidate just goes out the window—along with any chance of landing the job!

Won’t Reference Checks Prove I’m Good?

While it’s true that reference checks help verify your credibility and abilities, first, you have to impress the interviewers enough to even get to that point. They are not going to waste time checking references for someone who does not become a finalist.

Does This Apply to Me?

Before accepting this or any recommendation, apply a little good old common sense. Some fields probably just don’t have anything physical to take into a job interview. For example, a customer service representative working at a call center who interacts with clients strictly by phone or online chat would likely not have anything to show. Similarly, a candidate for an automotive repair technician position obviously isn’t going to lug in a rebuilt transmission but may have pictures of a vehicle restoration if they have performed that type of work.

If you have nothing physical to show, speaking knowledgeably during the interview becomes even more critical. Be prepared to provide details about your work so they know that you know what you’re talking about.

What Could I Show?

Even if taking along some type of portfolio of your work is not the norm in your career field, at least give the idea some thought. What might you show the interviewers? Perhaps some of the following items might be applicable:

  • 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
  • PowerPoint or Google Slides presentations you prepared and delivered
  • Policies, procedures, or specifications you have written
  • Photographs, blueprints, or schematic diagrams of items you have designed or built
  • Brochures, flyers, or advertisements you created

When taking samples of your work to a job interview, here are a few important caveats:

  • Don’t overload the interviewers with quantity; just a few high-quality pieces are best. They probably only have time to look at a few.
  • Don’t leave items expecting the interviewers to return them. Instead, take a few copies to leave, if appropriate, and ask first if they want them.
  • Don’t show anything which might be considered sensitive, proprietary, or confidential. Your work quality may be excellent, but inappropriately revealing such information shows you clearly suffer from a lack of good judgment. Worse yet, your actions might even be illegal or result in being fired from your present job!

The bottom line is this: lots of applicants talk a good line, but having something to show the interviewers might just make the difference. Bringing samples of your work can help differentiate you from the other interview candidates, helping to make you stand out as the best choice for the job. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to read my article “Don’t be a Clone at Your Job Interview!

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

Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.