Career Matters

By Lily Whiteman

Interview show and tell

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Consider every job interview a “bring your own success portfolio” event. What is a success portfolio? A package of materials proving that you’re eminently qualified for your target job.

Success portfolios are compelling because applicants who provide hard, irrefutable evidence of their success are generally more impressive than those who only provide unsubstantiated, potentially self-serving claims.

So when you’re called for an interview, ask how many interviewers will interview you. Then, if possible, before your interview, prepare one success portfolio to give to each interviewer to keep. Package your portfolio in a neatly labeled, annotated portfolio.

Your portfolio should include your resume; never assume that your interviewers have read, can remember or even find your resume. You may also include:

Several of your best work products that parallel the demands of your target job. Get ideas for which products to include by reviewing your annual reviews and your lists of accomplishments. Identify your contributions to group projects.

An excellent recent performance evaluation.

Noteworthy awards.

References.

For recent grads: academic papers that cover issues addressed by your target job and/or your transcripts, if they’re impressive.

Another must for your portfolio: Materials that will help you ace your answer to the virtually inevitable interview question: “Provide an example of a successful project … or a project you’re most proud of.”

These materials should include a concise summary of your best, most relevant success. Under a page title, explain your case study with fast-read bullets logically distributed under the following headings: project description, goals, obstacles, my actions and results. Ruthlessly edit unnecessary details from your case study. More tips:

Support your case study summary with evidence of your results, such as printouts of relevant websites, social media campaigns, publications, diagrams, photographs, maps, praise from managers or stakeholders, media or newsletter coverage of your work, survey results or audience feedback from trainings or presentations you gave.

Practice explaining to trusted advisers your case study in two minutes or less, and walking interviewers through the rest of your portfolio in a minute. Speak with confidence and animation without cockiness.

If, by chance, your interviewers don’t pop the “give me an example” question, here’s how to segue into your case study: When your interviewers ask you if you have any questions about your target job, say, “Yes, I do. But first, if you don’t mind, I’d like to take a moment to show you some examples of my work.”

Don’t leave preparation of your success portfolio to the last minute. Selecting appropriate examples of your work (be discriminating; don’t overpack!); finding supporting documents; editing your case study into quick, compelling written and verbal explanations; and neatly packaging and labeling your portfolio will be time-consuming.

If appropriate, consider alternate ways to package your portfolio. For example, if you’re applying for a job as a webmaster, you may showcase your work to interviewers on a tablet with bookmarked pages or on your online portfolio. But if you do so, check beforehand that your interview room will be wired. And while quickly describing your case summary, provide your interviewers with your hard-copy summary document.

But even if you’re assured of Internet access, always have a Plan B, such as a quick PowerPoint presentation that displays screen shots of your work. And if your interview includes software demonstrations, bring extra software and hardware copies.

A complementary approach: Post links to your work products on your LinkedIn profile; include its address on your resume; and tell interviewers that it provides a panorama of your work.

Lily Whiteman is federal communications expert and author of “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job,” and a trainer of career advancement skills and communication skills. Her website is IGotTheJob.net. Email your career questions to lwhiteman@federaltimes.com and view her blog at blogs.federaltimes.com/federal-careers.

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