IT contractor interview tips - 5 things not to be fazed by

With record levels of buoyancy in the IT contractor jobs market, it’s no accident that computer professionals are once again on the hunt for top interview tips before sitting down – on the phone or face-to-face - in the hope of securing a freelance contract.

Aside from the so-called ‘gotcha’ questions, among them Microsoft’s ‘Why is a manhole cover round?’ and Apple’s ‘What are five ways to put a hole in a sheet of metal?,’ I’ve noticed there is a batch of recurring queries about interviews put to me by IT contractors, specifically.

Here, exclusively for ContractorUK, I tackle five of the foremost from this batch, bearing in mind of course that the optimum interview advice for IT contractors is that which is tailored to the specific role or individual, writes Michael Bennett, a director of ReThink Recruitment.

Contractors’ interview query 1:

As a specialist in IT, I would expect to be interviewed by fellow experts in my field, is my expectation realistic?

This is often where IT contractors let themselves down in the temporary recruitment process. While there will be occasions where the interviewer is from a similar technology background, there will also be many instances when the opposite is true.

Remember, if you’re at the interview stage it’s likely the hirer/employer is looking for experts for a project which they cannot find internally. As such, you are likely to find yourself in front of hiring or line managers who may have little knowledge of the IT arena. In these cases, avoid using industry jargon which will mean little to the interviewer. Don’t be patronising, however, you might find they know more than you think!

In order to be in the best position possible in an interview, find out from your recruitment agency or the hiring manager just who will be in the meeting on the day. Look these individuals up on LinkedIn and gauge their level of expert knowledge ahead of the interview.

Contractors’ interview query 2:

I’m increasingly doing phone interviews when I actually prefer meeting in person, so can I suggest a face-to-face interview instead of calling?

Obviously it’s fair to suggest meeting for a face-to-face conversation as this can be hugely beneficial in the business environment, but don’t shrug off a possible telephone interview. In a heavily populated temporary employment market, hiring managers will need to sift through a number of potential candidates quickly, and that’s why phone interviews come in.

If you find yourself in the situation where you’re having to take a phone call in your pursuit of a contract, state up-front that you’re happy to run through any initial questions on the phone, but stress you would like to meet in person too.

And don’t feel pressured into doing the interview straight away. I once had a candidate take a call out of the blue and, being highly unprepared, wasn’t successful. So don’t be afraid to push back on the interviewer and ask for a more suitable time. Remember, as with any other interview you must prepare, whether this is a phone call or face-to-face conversation.

Contractors’ interview query 3:

When speaking at interview, is it ok to cover over a few gaps in my work history by saying I was casually freelancing for friends and old clients/colleagues, during those periods?

Having gone through times of austerity, this is an increasingly common question. However, my response is always the same. Unless this is really the case, don’t cover it up - on your CV or in the interview.

 Lying on a resume – or worse to the hiring manager’s face - is never a good idea, regardless of how confident you feel about it. By suggesting you worked during the enquired about period, you could find yourself in the situation of the interviewer requesting examples of work, testimonials or your pay rate - all of which you won’t be able to produce.

So don’t be ashamed to be honest. If you were out of work for a particular time, be open about it, but be clear about what you were doing to resolve this. For example, were you studying a relevant course, volunteering on projects to develop new skills or building a website for a friend’s small company free of charge? Almost anything which highlights you were active during breaks in your career, and can demonstrate that you weren’t just idling on the bench, will be of great benefit.

Contractors’ interview query 4:

I thought the interview went particularly well, but I didn’t secure the project assignment. Why, when I felt so confident leaving the interview, was it unsuccessful?

If you find yourself asking this question it is imperative you seek feedback as to why you were unsuccessful. Any good recruitment agency will always seek to provide you with this information and you may find it reassuring. It’s a highly competitive market at the moment so you’re likely to be up against a number of IT specialists going for the same job. It might not be a case of a bad meeting, then, but rather a more experienced alternative.

However, remember that the perceptions of the candidate and interviewer differ when it comes to how a meeting went. When you consider the reverse scenario, how many times have you left a meeting thinking it didn’t go well, only to win the work? While it’s almost impossible to know what the other person is thinking, you can maximise your chances by asking the interviewer directly if there’s anything they are concerned with or have reservations about. In doing this, you will give yourself that extra chance to sell your skills appropriately and professionally clear up any doubts.

Contractors’ interview query 5:

I’m great at securing the interviews, but I struggle to pin contracts down after the meeting – how do I make this process more effective?

The simple answer is; ask for the business! It’s interesting when speaking to most IT freelancers just how many leave an interview with little resolution. Finish the conversation by stating you would be really interested in working on the assignment and asking if they feel you meet the requirements.

Always bear in mind - interviews for a contracting opportunity are different to those for permanent roles. The prospective client is looking for not only a person they can buy into, but also a business partner who will fully support the development of the company or a particular project. Show measured confidence in yourself and don’t be afraid to openly ask for the business, you might find it stands you in good stead. Remember, if you don’t ask…

Wednesday 10th July 2013