When Employers Want Work Samples ... But You Don't Have Any

How to present your work when you've got nothing to show for it

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I got this from an AOL reader:

I've been an independent consultant for the past few years and my work is all confidential for clients. I was asked to show some samples of my work in a recent interview for a full-time job and I don't have anything current or that I can show. What should I do?

Methodology Matters Most - Create Samples Showcasing Your Expertise

When you are unable to show actual projects you have worked on due to confidentiality, you need to create a set of samples you can bring to interviews that mimic what you did in your past projects. Identify 2-3 typical problems a potential employer would need you to solve as part of your work and then design a basic overview of the methodology you would use to solve each problem. It's even better if you can design a simple example to prove your point.

Don't Have Time to Create Samples? Focus Your Answers on the Process

If you find yourself in a situation where you don't have time and/or access to samples you created, then you are going to need to punt in the interview. It's very important to focus your answers to interview questions around examples of projects you have worked on. While you can't name the client or some of the specifics, you should be able to at least outline the process you took to execute the project successfully. And that leads to the next tip...

Always Prepare Examples Prior to the Interview

Good interview preparation means writing out what you can and can't say about your work with a former employer. Take the time to list out exactly what you can share and then rehearse it. That way, when you are in the interview and the pressure is on you'll have some answers ready to roll. There is nothing worse than seeing someone stumble with a response like,

BAD: "I, uh, um, I don't have any samples with me, and I can't really talk about my former work because it was proprietary. So, I, um, not sure how much I can share."

This looks like you are unprepared and not the level of professional they want. Instead, prep your answers so you can confidently say,

GOOD: "While I'm not allowed to disclose certain information about my work with former employers due to confidentiality, I have mapped out a few things I can share about my work that will hopefully give you a sense of my methodology when working on projects like this."

Knowing how to respond will make you appear confident and prepared, not confused and overwhelmed.

The goal is to always to try to have samples of your work, but sometimes it's not possible. Yet, it's still your responsibility to find the alternative. You are a business-of-one marketing your services. Find a way to create tools and deliver the message that won't conflict with your need to keep client confidentiality, or suffer the consequences of being seen as unprepared.

First time reading my posts? Nice to meet you! I write for AOL on a variety of topics. Here's another you might find of interest:

No. 1 Way to Jump Start A Job Search
Filed under: Interviews
J.T. O'Donnell

J.T. O'Donnell


J.T. O'Donnell is a career and workplace expert who founded the top-ranked career advice site, CAREEREALISM.com. In 2009, she launched CareerHMO, the first on-line career care membership site which specializes in curing chronic career pain.

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You must also be cognizant that the interviewer may be interested in only what the actual work says and less about the interviewee themselves. This interviewer may have as his only objective is to victimize the naive interviewee by stealing the concept and never wanting to hire that person in the first place. The same can be said about the interviewer asking an applicant to submit a proposal and without the applicant having a signed agreement that states the proposal can not be utilized without either hiring the applicant or paying for that proposal. Most interviewers would either balk and/or immediately dismiss that applicant but at least the applicant will be cognizant that the interviewing company will not steal their work and not get justly compensated. A professional doing the interview of a person who does not want to be unjustly used or giving away valuable information may see that applicant as a person with cohesive business acumen and logistical professionalism. If an interviewer asks the question to see their prior work and is told for legal reasons it can not be provided the subject should be immediately dropped without further discussion. Question is answered and time to move forward plus most interviewers should be cognizant of that fact anyway but with the proliferation of too many inept interviewers and job managers they will never get it.

December 26 2013 at 10:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

No samples because (a) I was laid off without warning, and (b) even if I did have access to documents, due to confidentiality at my previous company, I would not be able to provide samples. All I can provide is achievements. Will that not be enough?

December 12 2013 at 11:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Odair Arouca

Congratulations on the article, precisely because up to this point professionals who play their best projects in strategy or literally created for the profile of the company for which they work. As these projects were developed, as well as why they were born, is what can make a big difference in an interview or survey work of this professional in the business in which it operates.
Odair Arouca
Systems analyst

December 06 2013 at 4:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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