“Why should I pick you?” It’s possibly the most obvious question to get asked in a job interview, but also the one most likely to send you scrambling for the right answer. One answer can make you sound too overconfident and with an unwanted ego. Another answer could make them see you as unsure or not ready for the job. Don’t panic but do prepare for this.
When conducting interviews, an employer is trying to assess if you are the best candidate and you could be one of many they are speaking to within a short period. After performing mock interviews with thousands of students, I can tell you that most people say some version of, “You should pick me because I’m a people person and a great communicator. I am dependable and hard-working.” While all important attributes, none of these can be proven true at the moment. That’s why I strongly encourage candidates to come prepared with a portfolio of their work and documented proof they can point to during the interview to help them stand out as the best candidate.
What is a portfolio?
Portfolios are typically simple binders that contain documents that tangibly demonstrate your abilities to future employers. This can include writing pieces, pieces of graphic design, metrics, testimonials, or other tangible documents to show your work. Bringing a portfolio with you for the interview will already place you steps ahead of most of your competitors and show your potential employer that you have the skills to do the job and were well-prepared for the meeting.
What should be in your portfolio?
Although we talk about having tangible documentation in your portfolio, that may not be entirely clear, nor does it include everything that you should have in your binder:
- The Essential Resume: Inside the binder, you should have some key information such as your resume. Your interviewer may not have your resume right in front of them, so it is helpful to be able to put that information in front of them.
- Examples of Your Work: Depending on the type of work you do, and the job being applied for, the contents may vary, but your portfolio should contain the best representation of who you are and what you can do. Imagine that someone doesn’t get to talk to you, look at you, or interact with you. All they can do is open your portfolio. What do you want them to see? What work best highlights what you offer? Make those the items that stand out and are front-and-center when they open it.
- Words from Others: In addition to some of your work, you should have letters of recommendation. They are some of the best pieces of information to have available especially as you go into interviews. They bolster your resume and add credibility to any skills you may share with an interviewer. You don’t have to be job searching to ask for letters of recommendation, you can start asking people NOW for these letters! You can ask instructors, classmates, peers, extern/intern site supervisors and your past and present coworkers and bosses. Do be mindful of how you approach current employers; if you are planning for your future career trajectory as opposed to looking for a new job right now, your employer must understand that distinction.
- Supporting Documentation: Other documents to consider would be a copy of your transcripts and any certificates you have earned. Your certificates could include Dean’s List awards, President’s List, CPR and First Aid cards, perfect attendance, honor roll and any relevant industry certifications that you may have. If you are a member of any civic organization, make sure that is reflected in your portfolio, too. Keep in mind that you can even share samples of your outstanding schoolwork. You do not want to include every “A” assignment you received so please reserve this only for your truly best work. If you were ever awarded any accolades from jobs, past or present, like Employee of the Month or Year, put that in your portfolio, too!
- Details on Who You Are: You’re more than just who you are from 9-to-5. If you have important or relevant volunteer experience, make sure that it is included in your portfolio. You can usually ask your volunteer coordinator for documentation from when you have volunteered. Lots of people do volunteer work around the holidays, so think back five years. Unless your experience relates to the job you are applying for, any volunteer experience further back than five years ago is not always relevant. Today’s employer understands the need for work-life balance and giving them a sense of who you are outside of work can give them a better idea of how you’d fit into their company culture.
- Past Reviews: Other things you can include are past glowing performance reviews. Consider if you had an article in the paper that you wrote or if you were mentioned. Have you rescued someone from a building? Volunteered at a shelter? This is your brag book so be sure to include it!
- Electronic Copy: While you may bring a physical copy of your portfolio, in today’s tech-savvy world it only makes sense to be prepared to offer an electronic copy via email. This will allow the interviewer to easily share the portfolio with others across their company’s hiring team and ensure that if your hard copy portfolio gets lost or damaged, the information isn’t gone.
Why have a portfolio?
A portfolio is a helpful tool because it does the bragging, so you don’t have to. This can be reassuring especially if you’re more of a modest type.
Most of us are nervous when interviewing and forget what we want to say. The contents of your portfolio are a prompt or gentle reminder to yourself to make sure the employer knows about all your professional accomplishments.
Do not expect an employer to look at your portfolio page by page — they may not even ask why you’re the best candidate.
We encourage students to have a copy of all their portfolio contents ready to share. If your interview is winding down and the question has not been asked, simply hand the copied contents to the employer and state, “I know your time is valuable and you surely have a tough decision ahead of you. I’ve made a copy of my professional accomplishments for you, while you are considering who is the best candidate, that you can review on your time. I am excited about the possibilities with your company!” Even after you leave, your portfolio will be a reminder, sitting on their desk, and acting as a demonstration of your preparation — for the interview and maybe for the job. Try it and let us know how it goes! You won’t be sorry!