The Canvas

by: Russ Hovendick

Watching a painter is art itself. He starts at a blank canvas, adds a few simple brush strokes, and suddenly a picture emerges. Wisps of blue transform to a sky, a line of brown becomes the country road, and red curves outline a distant pick-up truck. It’s a miraculous process—well, maybe for some.

Being the person—the one person—no one ever picked as Pictionary partner has always been, and probably always will be, my designation in life. I can’t even draw stick men! Needless to say, few of my paintings ever got magnetized to the refrigerator. But I’ve always appreciated great painting and, in particular, one great painter.

For a number of years, PBS aired a program hosted by a soft-spoken painter with a big afro and a gentle brush stroke who appeared to have walked right out of a documentary on hippies. Bob Ross, now deceased, was one of our nation’s premier painters and developed a wide audience following through his show. Within minutes, Bob could turn a blank canvas into a masterpiece, mixing the paints on his wooden palette, using the narrow tip of his brush—all the while explaining his handiwork in soothing narration that made for probably the most relaxing program in the history of television.

Now, I don’t expect you to pick up painting—you’ll need a different trailblazer for that task! But, I believe we can learn something about interviewing from Bob. As a painter, Bob understood how minute strokes affected the big picture (or painting, if you will). And much like painting, interviewing is painting—except instead of color, you’re using words. Instead of brush strokes, you’re giving your potential employers details that will form the broad picture of you, the candidate.

When considering adding staff, an organization will assemble several members on a team to discuss the profile of the ideal candidate. Based upon the success of previous hires and character attributes conducive to the work environment, the team solicits ideas to add to this imaginary profile (or, ahem, painting) for the ideal candidate. Individual team members are handed a paint brush and encouraged to share qualities: “He or she must have two years of experience” “They gotta have a sense of humor” “We need someone who can stay positive.” Now, each comment acts like brush stroke on the blank canvas on an easel. With each recommendation, a brush stroke is made, until the final picture becomes complete or alive and the perfect candidate profile is created.

The same painting of the candidate happens during your interview, too. When you interview, each member of the interview team has a virtual brush in his or her hand. With each comment you make, a brush stroke is added to the canvas until the final picture is complete. Then, a comparison is made. If the image on the interview team’s easel looks the same as the company’s overall profile of the ideal candidate, a hire will most likely occur. If there are areas missing on the canvas—not a missing tree or nose or waterfall, but experience, charisma, expertise, etc…--the picture is incomplete, and there won’t be any future interviews.

So keep in mind, as you interview, your comments need to be directed at giving the employer the complete picture of who you are. The basics will be your education and work history, but they are looking for much more to complete their picture. They want to know who you are as a person, what makes you different from other candidates, what you’re passionate about, and how you’ll impact their organization in a positive way.

Keep in mind, your final picture may not be what they are seeking. But without painting the picture to completion, your odds of landing this job are definitely against you—kind of like me ever picking up a painting instructional program on your local PBS affiliate.