10 Things NOT To Do in a Project Interview

Published: Aug 17, 2011

Topics: Consulting       

by Kristine Schoonmaker, MyConsultingLife.Com

Interviews can be nerve-wracking, especially when what’s at stake is a role for you and a new project for your firm.  During the proposal process clients often want to meet the prospective team, or at least the key members, before they make their final decision.  And it’s understandable.  If you were going to pay someone even $50,000 for a project, never mind millions, wouldn’t you?  While you may have found internal staffing conversations to be less formal, this isn’t the place to wing it. Here are a few mistakes I personally witnessed this week that you should avoid if you find yourself in the hot seat.

  1. Speaking too generically and overusing buzz words.  Every consulting firm a client considers is going to be concerned with strong project management, milestones and dependencies.  Don’t waste their time talking about these things in generic terms.  Let them know what makes you different than everyone else and what unique experiences and skills you bring to the team.

  2. Answering the wrong question. It’s normal to be nervous, but don’t be so consumed by it that you don’t listen to the question.  If you show you can’t understand what they are looking for before they even sign on the dotted line, they won’t have much confidence you’ll be able to do it when it really counts.

  3. Not following up when their question is unclear.  By the same token, hearing the question, not understanding it and throwing any answer at the wall to see if it sticks is equally bad.  Like you should do in any conversation, if you don’t understand the question, don’t guess. Ask them to clarify what they mean.  Even if you don’t have a good answer, at least you’ll demonstrate strong listening skills.

  4. Having only one example.  If you’ve only worked on one project, that’s ok. But you don’t want to sound like you have no experience to draw on.  Consider in advance how you might tee up your examples from your one client engagement so that they sound like they could be from different clients.  You might also want to have examples of other projects your firm has been involved in to share as things “we have done with other clients.”  Your goal is to build their confidence in you and your firm. 

  5. Taking a one-size fits all approach to their problem.  Just because you did something one way on your last project doesn’t mean it will work for every situation.  Clients want to know best practices but they also want to know you get their business.  Everyone thinks they are unique.  Build credibility by showing them you know what’s worked well before, but avoid sounding inflexible when you reference other engagements.

  6. Being too casual.  While you want them to feel comfortable with you, you aren’t old friends yet.  Casual language like “ya’ll,” “juicy,” and “stuff” are simply not appropriate for this type of conversation.  [Did she really say juicy?  Oh yes…I heard it personally.]

  7. Not knowing the client situation in advance.  It always amazes me how many people walk into a situation and have NO idea what they are getting into.  Don’t make this mistake.  Have enough sense get the scoop on the scope of their project before the meeting.  Using examples of what you’ve done with 100 people, when they are talking about 5000 doesn’t translate.  If you don’t know how you would handle something of that size or scope, at least ask a subject matter expert or more seasoned consultant in your firm who would know. 

  8. Talking over the client when they are trying to clarify their question. This can be a challenge when you are on the phone, but if you hear background noise, don’t just keep talking.  Stop and ask if someone was trying to interject rather than continuing to talk over them.

  9. Not understanding the role they want you to play. Are you building the system or building the training for the system?  Do they have an internal team you’ll be leading or are you doing the work?  If they realize you’re unclear about the role, its way too easy to start questioning whether you have the skills to do what they want you to do.

  10. Not giving an answer when they ask for a recommendation. This may be your first face to face meeting with the client but you should always have a going in position about your work stream based on the background information you have.  If they ask for a specific recommendation, you don’t have to commit to an answer but at least be able to refer to “best practices to keep in mind” based on their project needs.

So what’s my advice to avoid these mistakes?  Do your homework, prepare well, know what makes you different, have a perspective and be professional.

Kristine Schoonmaker is The Career & Lifestyle Coach for Consultants and founder of MyConsultingLife.com. Her bi-weekly ezine Accelerate offers practical insider advice and quick tips from a former consulting exec to help YOU take greater control of your career and stay engaged in your personal life from the road. If you’re ready to have it all – an amazing career in consulting without giving up the lifestyle, relationships and experiences you want, get your FREE subscription now at www.myconsultinglife.com.