When interviewing for contract work, consultants often find that they’re being asked all the wrong questions. In a recent article, Meredith Little offered advice for interviewers evaluating prospective consultants. In a discussion stemming from Little’s article, many TechRepublic members agreed that standard, human resources-type interview processes do not apply to consulting contractors. This article highlights some members’ opinions and suggestions for effective and efficient consultant interviews.

There’s no “HR” in “interview”
Based on his experience in interviews, TechRepublic member Glen McLeod believes that human resources representatives are superfluous in contractor interviews.

“Employers have to realize that we’re not there for a career with the organization, and the ‘classic’ HR questions simply don’t apply to us,” McLeod said. “I’m here to accomplish a specific task; then you’re going to get rid of me. The technical people are perfectly capable of evaluating my capabilities and making the decision on whether or not to hire me.”

Member t_trainor44 agrees that interviews need to address the technical capabilities of the consultant vying for the contract.

“Give me a knowledgeable, savvy technician any day, and I’ll pass the interview with flying colors. Throw a quiz, corporate culture, gang interviews, or unknowing middle managers at me, and I will politely end the interview in less than two minutes.”

Bob Tabor offers this recommendation to managers seeking consultants:

“Please ‘tech’ us. Please look at our work experience and our certifications. Please have your technical people spend a few minutes with us.”

Some recruiters are sensitive to these concerns and do their best to make a contractor comfortable in interviews. Member Durwood uses these interview tactics:

“A lot of times I play stupid and ask how this works or why this has to be done and then listen to the answer. This has worked well for me, as I didn’t know a whole lot about the technology when I started as a recruiter.”

Durwood also asks about prospective contractors’ future project goals or expectations.

“Contractors rarely move to do the same mediocre task day after day. They want to learn new technology and methods.”
What would you like to change about contract interviews? Join the discussion and share your thoughts or advice.
Be careful not to ask for free advice
Although consultants can demonstrate their skills with examples of past work, some members cite problems with such a practice. RockyMountainScot suggests that asking to see a consultant’s past work might result in using a former client’s property. “That’s outright theft and very easy to prove.”

Instead of asking for proof of past projects, some members suggest that interviewers present a candidate with the problem or an outline of the client’s needs. The candidate would in turn make recommendations and demonstrate his or her capability to handle the task. However, according to jpander, this borders on asking for free consulting advice.

“When you ask a contractor for advice or an opinion, that is what they get paid for—especially consultants who don’t actually perform the work but just say how it should be done.”

Volunteering information
If the candidate doesn’t feel like he or she is being asked the right questions, Wayner recommends that the candidate ask his or her own. From an interviewer’s perspective, “One good indication of whether or not you are speaking with a competent contractor is whether they ask intelligent questions that help them to understand the project.”

Mwillis agrees: “I believe a prospective contractor should come to the table with a ‘What can I offer the company’ as well as a ‘What can I get’ attitude. Both sides can be explored sensibly.”