08 Jan In the Interim (part four) aka The Whole Bag of Feed
You have to be of a certain vintage to know this story; bear with me, dear reader, for there is method to my madness. Read on…
The story goes like this…. There was once a priest who had to trudge many miles over hill and down dale to reach his church. One Sunday evening, in the middle of an icy winter , the priest set off for his church. The walk took him hours and the weather was freezing, the icy winds blew and the rain and sleet scratched at his face. Eventually he reached his church but, on opening the door, he found but one parishioner waiting expectantly for him. Just the one. The priest walked up to the man and looked at him. The parishioner was care worn, weather beaten, sad eyed. “My son,” said the priest “only you have turned up here this Sunday, go home and rest”. “Father” replied the man “I am only a simple farmer and farming is all I know. But if I walked for hours to feed my flock, and only one sheep turned up to be fed, I would not turn that sheep away, I would feed him.”
Humbled by this man’s simple faith, the priest turned to the man and said “my son, you are right”. He walked up to the pulpit and began the service. The priest gave everything he had, he gave two readings, sang hymns, said prayers, gave a 45 minute sermon, more readings, more prayers and yet more hymns. Exhausted, yet exhilarated, the priest turned to his parishioner and said, “my son, what did you think of that service?” Sitting back, the parishioner thought for a moment then turned his face up to the priest and said, “Father, I am only a simple farmer and farming is all I know. But if I walked for hours to feed my flock, and only one sheep turned up to be fed, I wouldn’t throw the whole bag of feed at him.”
Trust me, dear reader, this brings me to the ever thorny subject of the job interview. In my current contract, working at Programme Manager for an NHS Trust going through “interesting” times, I have interviewed a great many fellow interims in the hope of appointing skilled, experienced and articulate project managers to work as part of my team. And this is the pivotal word, “articulate”. While I have found some fantastic candidates, I didn’t realise how many interviewees suffer from “the whole bag of feed” syndrome. So, from the other side of the interview room for a change, here are my tips on keeping it clear, crisp and engaging when being interviewed
Do your research. Please don’t just rock up for the interview because your agent has sent you and you need the contract. Be intelligent, Google the organisation, ask your network, do SOMETHING! If you are contacted on a Friday afternoon with an interview appointment for first thing Monday morning, then please spend some time over the weekend doing some research. DO NOT, as some candidates have done, simply say “it was very short notice”. It wasn’t short notice, you had the weekend.
But keep it relevant. The Trust I’m currently working in is undergoing a major plan for redevelopment but one candidate I interviewed was fixated by the new helipad. I assume that was how he planned to arrive at work.
Your previous work experience. Here it is, “The Whole Bag of Feed Syndrome”. We really don’t need every single project, in detail, for the last ten years. Keep is precise and, ideally, relevant to the job you’re being interviewed for. One or at the most two key examples. What your role was, the difference you made, the stakeholders you engaged and the impact it made. How was the project evaluated? How was quality improved or finance saved? Be precise. A good agent will have sent you a job description and/or person specification beforehand. Match that up with your CV; what do you want to emphasise? Your stakeholder engagement skills, your top rate technical skills – prepare beforehand and make sure you get your point across in a crisp, articulate manner.
But don’t be a robot. So, your CV is resplendent with Project Management qualifications. Wonderful. But, actually, what will I get from you in terms of reporting that will give me assurance that the project is on track, on budget, within the timeframe and is going to be delivered?
Keep it real. You may have saved a particular organisation from bankruptcy, you may have been instrumental from taking an NHS Trust from Special Measures to Outstanding but, well, really? Beware “spin”. You will be found out. And beware of phrases that mean nothing; one candidate I interviewed repeatedly used the expression “I was parachuted in”. Seriously, his reply to every single question started with this phrase. No. Unless you are a member of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, you were NOT parachuted in. Stop it.
Oh please stop! If you really can’t stop yourself and you really do want to throw the whole bag of feed at your prospective employer, learn a little emotional intelligence. If the interviewers stop writing notes, close their note books, fold their papers up, shuffle in their seats and put their jackets on, they are pretty much hinting that the interview is over and you need to shut up.
And finally, do you have any questions for us? Again, please at least act interested. Do not ask if you can work from home, come in at lunchtime on a Monday, increase your day rate or what the canteen’s like.
My next blog will focus on how interims are chosen for interview and what the interview panel are really looking for in an interim.