First Encounter: running a great project interview with a freelance consultant
To set your project up for success, having the right person in charge is key.
However with freelancer interview processes often limited to a single round, it can be tough to cover enough ground to make a good hiring decision.
We’ve put together a guide with key principles and practices to use before, during and after your first meeting with a consultant. They'll help you dig deep, make the right call, and, ultimately, increase your project's chance of success.
5 KEY QUESTIONS
To make a strong hiring decision, there are five key questions you'll need to be able to answer after your meeting:
How hands-on is your consultant - does this fit with what you're looking for?
How much depth and breadth do they have to their skill-set (e.g. if they do operational transformation are they data-driven and tech savvy too?) - are there any essential skills missing?
How do they deliver impact - will their approach work in your specific context?
How well do they embed within / build / lead teams - do you think they have the right qualities to succeed with project stakeholders?
What will they need from you to deliver successfully - is this feasible?
You can use these questions throughout the process - to guide your preparation, and to refer to for decision-making and feedback. In addition, we recommend you take the following steps:
Be clear on current project status
Is the project planned out and ready to execute, or does it need additional scoping? If so, what? What are the likely challenges for the person coming in to take this role - are they, for example, going to have tricky stakeholders to manage? What does success look like?
It’s not a problem if your project needs more shape, consultants are used to this; and if you give a specific, accurate representation of the status of the project, you’ll ask better questions, have a better conversation, and increase your chances of making the best hire.
Prepare specific, project-focused questions
Prepare questions that focus directly on relevant experience. You can choose the parts of a CV you want to talk about or you can ask something more open: Based on what you know about this project, of your experience to date, what is most relevant / positions you best?
It's also good to prepare questions based on challenges you’re currently facing / have encountered on other projects, or situations that you think might arise. You can be direct (The board is behind this 100% but there are going to be some challenges with the COO) or hypothetical. Another way to open this line of questioning is to ask what the potential challenges / barriers to success are from their perspective, and expand from there. All approaches will give you the chance to explore how a consultant might operate in a context that you know well.
Be clear about who you’re looking for…
Make sure you have precisely articulated the skills and qualities you’re looking for. Be clear about which are deal-breakers, and which are nice to have and make sure you've prepared questions that test the depth and strength of these skills.
…AND keep an open mind
Even if they look perfect on paper, in person, you might feel that a consultant who has delivered an identical project in your industry is going to operate on autopilot, rather than engage with the nuance of your context.
Although someone without direct industry experience might feel like a risk, if what you need more than anything are fresh ideas and a new perspective, they might be a great fit. Can the industry knowledge be learned / assimilated quickly? Is it more about the ability to pull together and motivate a team?
As well as setting the scene for the project clearly, and talking through a consultant’s relevant experience and approach to potential challenges, make sure that you also:
Ask about your consultant's working style
How do you approach a project / set up for success? How do you communicate throughout? How much contact do you think you’re going to need? What do you do when a project is missing milestones? How do you avoid scope-creep? What project environments have been frustrating for you?
A good freelancer will know how they like to work, how they engage clients and how they set up for success; and although you’ll want to save a more detailed ‘ways of working’ conversation for post-hire, it’s useful to have a clear sense of this from the beginning.
Ask about values and drivers
Understanding someone’s values, what motivates them in a project context - where they get their energy from - will give you a deeper sense of how they operate practically and emotionally, and whether that feels appropriate for this context.
Challenge, unpack, raise objections
You’re looking to understand what a consultant has actually done, specifically. What the context was, what the outcomes were - and how they were achieved. If an answer isn’t clear, say so, unpack it. If someone is vague, says we not I all the time, and you can’t tell what their specific contribution was, flag it, and go back.
If you think a consultant could probably do a great job, but you have a few doubts, raise them - either in the moment or give them a call afterwards. Talk through your concerns directly and open the space for a response: your fears will either be allayed or confirmed, and you’ll be able to make a better decision. Hiring someone when you have a few nagging doubts creates an unstable foundation.
Give time for your consultant to ask questions
As well as giving you a sense of their understanding and engagement, it might also flag things about the project you’ve not considered. (And of course, always beware the consultant who asks poor-quality questions!)
And don’t forget to ask the obvious questions too…!
You need to know whether someone is available, whether they have other projects on the go / pending - and any other commitments that need to be factored in.
Revert to your the 5 key questions and stress-test against each point
It’s useful practice to do this every time you interview - whether someone was a yes, no or maybe. It allows you to give decent feedback, and you’ll know specifically what you want to drill into if there’s another round. Beyond this, you’ll sharpen your sense of what you’re looking for. You might even change your mind!
Follow up quickly
Good consultants are in demand. If someone is a yes, tell them asap. The longer you wait, the more likely they are to feel that you’re not serious / interested and you risk losing the momentum that you’ve built up during a great conversation. If someone is a maybe, a ten minute phone call is a great way to address nagging doubts.
Communicate your decision thoughtfully
If someone is a definite yes, give them a call - you can follow up with an email, but a call sends a clear signal that you’re excited and committed.
If someone is a no, don’t leave them hanging. If you send an email, make sure it’s personal (not addressed ‘Dear Candidate’!). Always give, or offer the option for feedback, if at all possible. It’s good practice, it’s courteous, and consultants really appreciate it.
If you’re looking for top tier management and strategy consultants for project requirements - either now or down the line, Choix is here for you. If you’d like to know more about the Choix platform and the consultants who are available right now, our team of dedicated Account Managers are here to help - just email email@example.com to arrange a call.