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Contractors - Brush Up On Your Interview Skills!

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When I first started recruiting over 15 years ago, the contracting market was very different.

By different I don’t mean in terms of job types or pay rates, but rather in the increased amount of attention that is now being paid to the selection processes as you try to land that assignment. Back then it wasn’t uncommon to secure a contract without an interview (especially if you had a well-connected and knowledgeable contracting recruiter). If you had to attend an interview, it was usually a short meeting, often over a coffee, and there was more emphasis on gut feel in terms of fit and capability. This has changed, and for good reason.

How contracting interviews have changed

In general the average length of a contract assignment has increased over time, and hiring managers need contractors who are a good team fit and better suited to longer-term engagements.

We also live in a different world, where privacy, confidentiality, security and risk aversion are at significantly higher levels compared to 15 years ago. Since these changes, there has been an intense focus on thorough screening, selection and probity checking as part of the contractor engagement process.  

We are now seeing multiple interviews, including peer, technical and panel, before moving to the probity checking stages. With time-to-fill at an all time high across the board, what used to be a shorter and simpler process is now sometimes being stretched out to weeks – not unlike a permanent recruitment placement.   

We still see some situations where contractors are hired following minimal interviewing. In fact, I had one last month where someone in the team knew the potential contractor, and the line manager offered without any interview process. However, this kind of situation is coming up less and less everyday.

More common recent examples of intricate hiring processes for contractors include a large corporate interviewing an intermediate .NET developer three times, before progressing to a lengthy technical test, only to decide that team fit wasn’t quite there. Another, a large government department, asked the contractor to undergo a formal white-board presentation, a panel interview, and a coffee meeting.

There is nothing worse than expecting a quick coffee meeting, only to discover you are facing a panel of three senior managers who start asking behavioural based interview questions! A good recruiter will always know the process that will be undertaken, and will prepare you for this. However, below are some of the key things contractors can do to prepare.

Preparing yourself

  • Assume that your interview process will be thorough, detailed and robust. There are numerous resources on the internet to help you prepare for the various styles of interview including our very own one. This information is aimed at people seeking permanent work, but we recommend that contractors also become familiar.
  • A job description, as such, is pretty rare in a lot of contracting situations, but if you do get one, review it, and be prepared to talk about how your skills and experience match what is required in the role.
  • Prepare well-thought-out questions in advance that demonstrate a good understanding of the organisation and the project you are being interviewed for.
  • Common questions you can have a well-prepared answer for include; “Why does this opportunity interest you?” and “What do you know about us?” An answer that starts with “I was going to look at your website but I ran out of time” doesn’t normally cut it!
  • Google interview questions and do your own research. A good tip is to research from a hiring manager’s point of view, as this will give you some insight as to why certain questions are asked. This article will give you a nod in the right direction. 
  • Run a LinkedIn search of the hiring manager and gain an understanding of their background.
  • Know your best strength and be able to give an honest assessment of your weaknesses.

There are also several small things that are very easy to do but have a really big impact on your chances of success:

  • Smile.
  • Find a common point of interest in advance to help to help break the ice.
  • Be able to articulate why you are interested in the contract.
  • Be on time.
  • Be positive and don’t talk negatively about any other person or organisation.
  • Smile!

And Finally…

One last relevant point: we have recently placed a senior contracting role. The candidate underwent a panel interview style process that ran for a number of weeks. The panel were all very surprised at how badly most candidates dressed. This was a $1,500 a day role and the client’s expectations were that the candidates would at least be smartly presented. They were surprised how scruffy some candidates were. So always remember that it’s better to overdress than to underdress!

If you would like any more advice or tips on how best to approach that contract interview, anyone in the Beyond Recruitment Contracting Solutions team would love to help.