Show Your Work

No matter what you do for a living, no matter the skills you’ve decided to develop, it’s long been understood that there’s an extra skill set you need in order to be successful, and that’s telling people about what you do.

No matter how good you are at something, it’s tough to be successful if nobody knows what you can do. If you’re in business for yourself, that means marketing and sales. If you want to work for someone else, it means interviewing and networking. If you’re in academia, it means writing and publishing. No matter where you are, communication is key.

What’s often strange to me is how much people try to communicate by keeping secrets.

So much of “selling yourself” on the modern job market seems to consist of telling people just how awesome you would be, but balking at any request to demonstrate anything. We’re happy to hand over finely-tuned resumes, but it never even occurs to us to provide a sample of our work. It’s like we’ve gotten so caught up in the communication piece that we’ve forgotten what we’re trying to communicate.

I see it all the time in various online and offline conversations: “I applied for a copywriting position, but they wanted me to actually produce a 500-word writing sample. They’re just trying to get free work out of me, no way!”

That’s crazy to me. Those same people will complain that no one will “give them a chance” because they don’t have the right qualifications or something. Have you ever heard the classic complaint, “you need experience to get a job, but you need a job to get experience?” Well guess what – you DON’T need a job to get experience. You can get experience however you like, and then show it off.

Showing a sample of your work puts you miles ahead of anyone who isn’t. Yet people actually work hard to not do this! I had a client who was applying for a very interesting role, and they were coming up on a final interview with a panel of senior leadership who wanted to know how they’d approach the core problem of the role. The client said to me “I’m really struggling with how to present my approach without just actually doing it and showing that to them.”

I was flabbergasted. Why work so hard NOT to just do the task? I understand the concern, sort of. Maybe you’re worried that if you present your actual work, they’ll… run off with it? And not hire you? Well, let me tell you how ridiculous that is. Good ideas are worthless. Work is what matters. They’re not hiring someone to have good ideas, they’re hiring someone to work. If you do have good ideas, AND can show that you know how to work to make them real, then you’re golden.

Maybe you’re just worried that your actual work won’t shine as brightly as all the flashy resume language you use to describe your work? Don’t feel that way. You’re awesome. Do your best work and let them judge – you’ll learn more and be better for it.

The best thing you can do for yourself is to cut through all the bull and get as close as possible to just showing off your work directly. Think about what happens when someone sells something – they don’t talk about their resume. They show off the thing, as directly as they possibly can. Free samples, test drives, trial periods. They do that stuff because it works. Because if your product or service is good, people will buy it when they experience it.

The same is true for you. Whatever you do, even if you want to do it in an employee context (as many do!), treat it like you’re selling a service. Show the work, let them see how awesome you are, and they’ll buy.

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