J Lawry | In the Interim (part six) aka Do I get a Parking Space?
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In the Interim (part six) aka Do I get a Parking Space?

In the Interim (part six) aka Do I get a Parking Space?

In my blog, In the Interim Part Four (aka The Whole Bag of Feed) I talked about the skills that interims need to make an impression at an interview; here in Part Six I’ll talk about what your prospective customers are looking for in an interim, as well as my top interview tips for nabbing that contract.

By virtue of the fact that your customer is looking for an interim means that either a) there is a problem that needs solving and their existing resources are stretched b) they need some transformation work done and want to keep their employees focused on business as usual or c) they need some niche skills and knowledge which they cannot find within their existing employees.  They also usually need an interim now.  Actually, make that RIGHT NOW!  So your prospective customer is looking for someone who is immediately available and (to be honest) available to work long hours.  They won’t be interested in anyone who needs a month to learn how the photocopier works – you know that phrase “hit the ground running”?  That’s what they’re looking for.

They are also looking for someone who is resilient, dare I say – tough – physically, mentally and emotionally in some cases.  Someone who has a good track record of delivery, excellent references, a sound knowledge of project management (and bear in mind, you may well be tested by means of an inbox exercise if you are applying for a contract at project management level) and someone who is articulate, confident and engaging.

Time to set the foundations.  First of all, let’s talk about your CV and your LinkedIn page. Keep the CV precise, relevant, and not too long.  I must admit I’ve been guilty of writing a mini autobiography but if you give an outline, with the emphasis on delivery, (quality improvements, cost savings, teams built etc) you can put flesh on the bones when you’re talking to your agent.  Your LinkedIn page?  Keep it up to date, add a decent photo (looking at your most professional please, this isn’t Facebook), get some (genuine) recommendations and this is your chance to actually “sell” what you can offer your customers.  Use key words such as “integration” on your page which will show up when prospective customers or agents carry out searches.  Connect with some key people in your current contracts and, of course, with good quality agents.

Which brings me to your agent…..

Work with your agent. When they contact you with a potential contract, get the JD from them and don’t be afraid to go back to them and ask more questions. Ensure you know the right address and location for the interview, who the interview panel will be (and don’t be afraid to look them up on LinkedIn – know their strengths and interests, where they have worked before etc). Look up travel times, car parks, bus or train routes. Oh, and whatever the travel time is, add at least another 30 minutes. Keep your agent’s contact number with you and, ideally, a contact number for your customer.

…and that means, keep your agent informed.  Oh, it also means being honest with your agent too.  Are you available immediately or do you have holiday, child care commitments that need to be factored in, how flexible are you really on location – do you mind a weekly commute? Are you expecting to work from home part of the week?  Make sure that you know what the day rate will be and whether that includes accommodation and travelling costs. Do not put yourself or your agent in the position where you go back, after the offer is made, to negotiate the day rate or tack on expenses or ask if you can work from home part of the week. It looks unprofessional and it puts you on the wrong footing with your new customer and your agent.  For your customer, who may have spent days reading CVs and  interviewing when they are already short on time, stressed and in dire need of an interim who will save them , it will drive them to strong drink.   In short, be absolutely honest with your agent.

It’s ok to be more Primarni than Armani but please at least be clean, tidy and smart. Keep buttons and zips done up, don’t wear trainers, don’t slump in your chair. Try to not be too cluttered, if you have to carry a coat AND a jacket AND an umbrella AND a hat AND a rucksack AND a briefcase AND a handbag, please try and get yourself sorted before walking into the interview.

Research. As I said in part four, please do your customer the courtesy of researching the organisation. Don’t trot out ANY excuse and definitely don’t say “well, I’ve finished my last contract and now I’m just looking for my next one”. Look at the organisation’s website, Google them, Google or LinkedIn their key players, ask your agent or your network of contacts for the low down. Make notes from your research and don’t be afraid to refer to those notes when you ask questions at the end.  In fact, doing so will make you stand out.

Be precise.  So, if you’ve been part of a PMO or project team, what was your role? What did you contribute – was it stakeholder engagement, drawing up the project packs etc? Be clear, before you go into the interview, on a few key examples that demonstrate your strengths and your ability to deliver and evaluate.  Do not give general answers; give very specific examples of past work.  THAT is what the interviewer is looking for, not a regurgitation of the PRINCE2 manual.  You will stand out if you say “what you will get from me by the end of the first week is this – a project plan on a page, a milestone tracker, a risk & issues log”  I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea, right?

You are going to ask questions, aren’t you? Yes, you are, you’re going to ask questions. And those questions aren’t going to be about your working hours, where the canteen is and do you get a parking space.  Try a variation on the following…what will you (the customer) expect from me in the first week and the first 30 days?  Who else will be in the PMO team?  How long has the PMO been formed?  What are the main challenges that the organisation faces, and it’s greatest advantages?  What is the organisation’s strategy and is that strategy understood by all levels in the organisation?  Actually, don’t forget that an interview is a two way thing – so take the opportunity to ask questions, please.

And finally, back to your agent.  Phone them as soon as you can after the interview and give them feedback, not just on the interview, but also your views on the organisation.  It’s also helpful, and professional, to tell your agent if you have any further interviews lined up via other agencies.  There are few things worse for both agent and customer than offering a contract and making plans for the interims first day only to be told 24 hours later that the interim has accepted another offer elsewhere.

Incidentally, I’m an interim who had done a lot of interviewing particularly in the last few months!  It’s been interesting to see things from the customer’s perspective.

Good luck with that interview!