A business analyst with 10 years of experience in an informal environment shared how his work samples lost him a job opportunity. Work samples are powerful and dangerous at the same time. Let’s first consider his story and then look at how you can provide work samples that get you hired.
Here’s the reader’s dilemma:
I’ve been the sole BA in my organisation for nearly a decade, only finally getting formal training in the past 8 months or so. The ‘Barely controlled chaos’ and lack of interest in formal methods has been incredibly frustrating. I’ve now been made redundant, and would like to share what happened with the first job I applied for.
For info, I have a BSC in computing, a diploma in systems practice, a diploma in business analysis, and I’m a professional member of the chartered institute for IT.
I went through the recruitment process for a firm about a month back. I passed two interviews and a group exercise with flying colours. The feedback was all very positive. However, they commented that they’d have liked longer to talk about the specific tasks I’d completed. At their request I forwarded copies of some deliverables I’d produced from various projects. They were very aware of the informal setting I work in, and lack of exposure to other BAs.
The final feedback I got was that the content of the deliverables was good, but not ‘strong’ enough, so I didn’t get hired.
I feel frustrated, as anything more complex than the examples I’d sent would be inappropriate in my current role. By their own admission I was a ‘Great fit’ for the organisation, and I hold qualifications that they hope to have their other staff pursue. I feel I’m in a catch 22 as I can’t get experience of using formal methods extensively until I get another post. Can’t get another post because I can’t evidence long-term use of formal methods!
Thanks for sharing your story. That sounds like a really unfortunate situation — to be so close to a job that’s the right fit and have it fall through. In what follows, I’ll describe the problem with work samples and give you some practical tips for using them to your advantage.
Why Interviewers Request Work Samples
Often, it is very difficult for an interviewer to assess the quality of a business analyst in a job interview. The fact that you engaged in the interview, but your interviewers did not yet feel quite confident is evidence of this. They had a good conversation but it still wasn’t quite enough.
Work samples are seen as hard evidence of what you’ve accomplished in previous roles and interviewers expect that past performance is the best predictor of future success.
However, as we’ll see next, there is an inherent problem with using work samples independently as an assessment of the capabilities of a business analyst, as you rightly point out.
The Problem with Work Samples
When it comes to showcasing your work, the requirements documentation you created doesn’t tell the entire story.
The deliverable doesn’t necessarily show the complexity of the process before you simplified it, the diversity of personalities amongst stakeholders, the politics you negotiated, or the challenges you overcame. It’s simply a representation of what you created after you worked through all the messiness of the business analysis process.
Because of this, it’s very difficult for someone to review a work sample and get a good sense of your work as a business analyst. Without the context of the project, they are going to make some assumptions about how that work sample would fit into their work environment.
And since the environments are different and stakeholders are different and it’s our jobs as business analysts to create deliverables that meet the needs of specific audiences, those assumptions aren’t likely to fall in your favor. It becomes very easy to say, well, if he’d done that in our organization, it wouldn’t work because… and then because hiring someone is such a difficult decision to make, a hiring manager talks themselves out of the decision to hire you.
Luckily, there is a solution.
Provide Work Samples with Context
Since work samples only present a small slice of your work as a business analyst, I strongly suggest that you do not provide work samples without context. Preferably that context is included in a live setting, so you are showing your deliverable while describing the contributions you made and the problem it solved.
Since you had already been through 2 interviews, suggesting a follow-up phone discussion or 3rd interview would not have been out of line. If they were serious about you being a “great fit” then they would be willing to invest that time. As an aside, it’s imperative to take some ownership of the job search process to ensure you are presenting yourself in the best way possible.
In this discussion to review your work sample, you could speak to why you included the elements you did, the stakeholder needs your document met, and how you were fitting your work within the circumstances of the project. You could also choose to speak to how, in a different environment, you would have handled things more formally.
If a discussion is not granted, but you still feel your work samples will strengthen your positioning, a second-best approach is to provide work samples along with a written narrative describing the context I’ve recommended above.
You Can Rework Informal Work Samples
There is no rule that says you have to submit work samples exactly as they were created in your last work environment. I’d suggest updating your body of work samples using more formal methods of documentation you’ve learned about in your training.
Our participants in The Business Analyst Blueprint® certification program leave with a collection of work samples covering the foundational business analysis skills and techniques. Often they will create new work samples, but at times they go back to past work, use our templates and teaching to update their documentation, and are able to present this as part of their real-world business analysis experience.
By updating your body of work, you demonstrate what you are capable of doing and not just what you did in an informal environment.
For more information on exactly how to do this, check out How to Present Yourself as Capable of Doing Requirements Specifications (Even If You’ve Only Created Informal Documentation).
How to Interview So Work Samples May Not Even Be Requested
Although we’re talking about work samples today, there are things you can do in the business analyst job interview to help avoid the request for work samples in the first place. For example, you mention that they didn’t have time to talk about your specific tasks. I would take this feedback to heart and consider how you could adjust your approach during your next job interview.
Every interviewer is going to want to hear specific and concrete details in a job interview. Don’t wait for a behavioral interview question to share those details. Incorporate an example into every answer. That way even if the person doesn’t get to their full list of questions you are able to leave them with concrete details that demonstrate what you are capable of.
Thanks for sharing your story and I hope my advice helps you and other job seekers create and present work samples to your advantage. Remember, only you can decide how to best present your skills and qualifications. Sometimes a little push back shows how you can use influence to get things done, another valuable BA skill.
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