Recently a reader asked me about functional interview questions, and it started me thinking about what is the current thinking on preparing for interviews. It also reminded me about a recent Linkedin Post I read on interviewing. The post was written by Lou Adler, a recruiter over the last 30 years and an author, and it was read over 325,000 times.
The real detail is in the follow-up questions, and this is what you should concentrate on the interview.
The remainder of my answers are below:
- Can you give me a detailed overview of the accomplishment?
- Tell me about the company, your title, your position, your role, and the team involved.
- What were the actual results achieved?
- When did it take place and how long did the project take.
- Why you were chosen?
- What were the 3-4 biggest challenges you faced and how did you deal with them?
- Where did you go the extra mile or take the initiative?
- Walk me through the plan, how you managed to it, and if it was successful.
- Describe the environment and resources.
- Describe your manager’s style and whether you liked it or not.
- Describe the technical skills needed to accomplish the objective and how they were used.
- Some of the biggest mistakes you made.
- Aspects of the project you truly enjoyed.
- Aspects you didn’t especially care about and how you handled them.
- How you managed and influenced other, with lots of examples.
- How you changed and grew as a person.
- What you would do differently if you could do it again.
- What type of formal recognition did your receive?
Describe the environment and resources.
My client is an environment where great flexibility is required of the people who work there. During this project for instance, the entire supply chain was re-designed part way through the project, with no scope for schedule postponement. This required the diversion of senior resources to the new design initiative, and left the primary team somewhat short handed. Market and shared service center resources are also tight, including one of my markets whose personnel were also in design phase of an ERP migration project.
Describe your manager’s style and whether you liked it or not.
My manager’s style is fairly light-touch. I had worked with him on previous projects so he knew my strengths. Discussing of issue took place mostly during weekly status calls, and in between times I worked on my own, or leveraged the relationships with the other market managers, to resolve any issues I had.
In one of my markets the local system design was on Red status for 2 months so we had some extra discussions as this status was reported to the overall project steering group in corporate HQ. I did like the style of my manager.
Describe the technical skills needed to accomplish the objective and how they were used.
I have a background in Order To Cash(O2C) so this area was straight-forward but I needed to come up to speed on P2P and R2R processes within my markets. I did this by discussing with other market project managers, and by talking to shared services team and the market. With my technical background I have the advantage of being able to look “under the hood”, so I could fill any gaps in the documentation where necessary.
Some of the biggest mistakes you made.
I made some mistakes in the approach to working with some of market personnel. I had some difficult getting buy-in from certain market personnel, and I could have been clearer on what my expectations were from them.
Some market personnel were happy to take responsibility for scope and design considerations, and quickly retreated when something went wrong. I had conversations with super users during early stages confirming their responsibility, and later conversations stepping back somewhat from that role.
In retrospect I would watch the market engagement more closely, and talk more frequently with the market senior management, especially if they attend weekly status meetings.
Aspects of the project you truly enjoyed.
I really enjoyed working with the other country managers and my trips to work with market personnel. Conference calls can be a bit impersonal, you can influence someone much easier face to face. I enjoyed picking up new skills and working with people I had recently met, and having the satisfaction of 2 successful go-lives where I could be proud of what I achieved. I enjoyed broadening my skillset far beyond what I already knew, and proving to myself I could project manage in a fast-moving environment.
Aspects you didn’t especially care about and how you handled them.
I didn’t enjoy consistently requesting for response on pre-notified schedules. I built enough flexibility into my project plan to handle some delays, but some resources will just avoid responding no matter what approach I used.
Having tried the soft approach multiple times with one vital busy resource, it became clear my tasks were at the lower end of their priorities. I escalated to their manager, unfortunately was forced to repeat this many times with the same resource.
How you managed and influenced other, with lots of examples.
Not having BT team members directly reporting to me, I need to influence the central resources on an everyday basis. The central teams are responding to requests from various country managers, so you need to be persuasive to get your work done on schedule.
As BT manager running a project where the market personnel are overloaded already, I needed to influence them to complete tasks that they owned, or needed to sign off.
I read Cialdini’s book on Influence which details some principles Reciprocity, Commitment and Consistency, Social Proof, Authority, Liking and Scarcity.
Reciprocity; I mentioned before that I helped out other BT project managers when I could; this allowed me to call in favors when I needed them.
Commitment & Consistency; once I established the written agreement of someone to get a task done, they mostly followed through as I could refer to their previous commitment.
Social Proof; I referred to my previous experience, and to what was happening on other markets to persuade on a course of action.
Authority; Not managing personnel directly, from time to time I engaged a person’s manager as authority figures to ensure task completion.
Scarcity; Sometimes I was able to limit my own availability to get asks completed at first time of asking, rather than multiple attempts.
How you changed and grew as a person.
I had not managed a project of this scale previously, so I spent most of my year outside my comfort zone. Part of each market scope was outside my current skillset, so I had to pick up and use a lot of new information in short timescales. I re-confirmed to myself that I can pick up skills, and manage tasks outside my core knowledge areas to successful completion. I further confirmed that my technical background is extremely valuable in project management roles. I believe that experience gained in the domain “next-door” increases your value to the project, and differentiates you from the standard project manager.
What you would do differently if you could do it again.
In retrospect I would watch the market engagement more closely, and talk more frequently with the market management, especially around they attend weekly status meetings.
What type of formal recognition did your receive?
For an external consultant an extension is the primary form of thanks; I was extended twice. I received a public thanks from market, shared services and my own management on the Low-Volume Start-up calls, and informal thanks from various other team members, market and shared service personnel. Proving yourself on a project like this one really deepens your relationships with people who work together frequently, and I consider this also as recognition from my peers.
I quote from the article “If the accomplishment was comparable to a real job requirement, and if the answer was detailed enough to take 15-20 minutes to complete, consider how much an interviewer would know about your ability to handle the job. The insight gained from this type of question would be remarkable. But the real issue is not the question, this is just a setup. The details underlying the accomplishment are what’s most important. This is what real interviewing is about – getting into the details and comparing what the candidate has accomplished in comparison to what needs to be accomplished. Don’t waste time asking a lot of clever questions during the interview, or box checking their skills and experiences: spend time learning to get the answer to just this one question.
As you’ll discover you’ll then have all of the information to prove to other interviewers that their assessments were biased, superficial, emotional, too technical, intuitive or based on whether they liked the candidate or not. Getting the answer to this one question is all it takes.
Lou Adler is the Amazon best-selling author of Hire With Your Head (Wiley, 2007) and the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! His new book, The Essential Guide for Hiring and Getting Hired, will be published in January 2013.”
For those who are interested, the original Linkedin post is here http://linkd.in/YVi1M9