Job interviews are stressful for many of the same reasons that life is stressful. We all want to make sure we’re the perfect fit. We want people to like us. We want to prove to the potential employer that we have all the right answers, experience and enthusiasm to join their team, no matter how unreasonable that desire might be.
In regular life, it’s easier to accept that we aren’t perfect for everything. The standards and rules change too often. So we just try to be good enough for the right type of person. But no matter how many times that strategy works for us in our personal lives, we still won't apply it to job interviews. In the back of our mind, we believe if we just practice the right sentence or reference the right research, or work on the right project, we can be the perfect fit for a company.
It's enough to drive us all crazy. We start to think about interviews as a full-blown interrogation of the things we lack instead of just a conversation about our personal journey. We start to see our portfolios as a list of what we lack instead of a story about how talented and hard-working we are. The desire to be perfect instead of right is enough to make some people avoid the job search altogether.
But just as fear cannot drive the decisions we make in our personal lives, it also has no place in dictating our professional lives either. So if you're starting to feel insecure that your portfolio isn't where you think it should be, here are three easy ways to use what you have right now to make yourself the perfect candidate in your next job interview.
Highlight Your Variety
A trend for Millennials (I know, I hate the word too) is we change jobs frequently. We aren’t scared of relocating or even changing entire professions. As a result, we have a wide range of experiences to draw on, a strong network of people we’ve worked with and a special ability to learn a new skill quickly. It also means that we don’t have traditional portfolios that fit neatly under one category.
In the past, if someone was looking for a new job 8 years after graduation, it was safe to assume their portfolio reflected 8 years of specific, relevant experience. Now, it could mean that you have 3 years of specifically relevant experience, 2 years of slightly relevant experience and 3 years experience in a totally different industry.
We tend to think this will reflect poorly on us, but there’s a way to use that to your advantage. Not only does it make us more interesting to talk to, it gives us an entirely different perspective from the other candidates interviewing for the same position, which is invaluable in the right company.
There’s a rule in business that if two people agree completely, the second person is redundant. Avoid being obsolete or redundant by highlighting the fresh perspective only you have because of your unique background. . Make yourself necessary by bringing in a new, interesting perspective.
Using a diverse portfolio to position yourself as adaptable, resilient and fresh will make it easy for an organization to decide to bring you onto their team.
Be Totally Transparent
There is a myth that some people make a habit of padding their resume, especially while actively searching for a job. They make a few vague statements to hint at their own involvement in a project, but not give a clear answer as to what exactly they contributed. The goal is to make themselves stand out above the rest of the candidates.
I’m not here to debate whether you should do that. Only you can decide. But what I will caution is definitely not doing that in your portfolio.
Your portfolio should be totally transparent and reflect your work alone. Including group projects is great, but you should have a full grasp on how your team arrived at the final result shown in your portfolio.
There are two main reasons. First, if your potential new employer sees a piece from your portfolio and totally falls in love with it, he or she might ask you to recreate something similar for the organization. If you get hired based on something you can’t do, you’ll either have to spend long hours outside of work learning, or you’re going to be outed as a liar.
Neither one sound particularly fun.
The second reason is you’re going to have to do a lot of talking about the pieces included in your portfolio. Specifically, you’re going to have to talk about what your process was like to get to the final piece, your thought process behind it, what you liked about the project, what you hated and how you would do it differently if you could.
These are important questions that give people an insight into the kind of employee you are. If you don’t have thorough answers that are truthful to who you are and how you behave in the office, it’s going to be obvious immediately. Do yourself a favor and make it impossible for them to think poorly about you. Only include pieces in your portfolio that you can speak about from a genuine and detailed place.
Run It By Your Circle
I don't mean for you to actually send your portfolio to your friends or family. Some might not even have a full understanding of the kind of work you do. What is the most helpful for you is to find a few honest people in your circle who are willing to listen to you talk through the pieces in your portfolio and give you feedback on your skills.
Actually speak the stories of your work out loud to them in a real conversation. Encourage them to ask questions as they think about them, have them interrupt you if something is unclear. Make it as authentic as possible and when you're done, ask them how interesting the stories were. Take note of the kinds of follow up questions they asked, which topics were most clear (or unclear), and of the expressions they made throughout your conversation.
Basically, what you're trying to figure out is if they enjoyed talking to you, or if they thought you were boring.
You can’t change the perceived strength of the pieces you have to include in your portfolio nor can you predict whether your potential employer will prefer them to the others he or she sees. What you can (and should) prepare for is how engaging you are when you present them. Whether you just give the facts or if you paint a story around how the pieces came to be.
Taking the time to make sure you have the most interesting stories behind the pieces in your portfolio is the way to set yourself apart and make yourself a more perfect candidate.