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The Art of Conducting A Consulting Project Interview

By Michael VanBruaene, Big4.com Guest Blogger

When conducted correctly a consulting project interview will result in more than just useful information. 

Properly conducted interviews will go a long way in building client confidence that you are competent; and that you will deliver what is required from the objectives of the consulting project.  And you will have enhanced your relationship with the client. This can be essential for a successful project particularly those that will result in providing the client with contentious, controversial or negative information and/or that will require substantial changes in its operations.

Here are some useful tips.  You may have others that you follow.

You should be really interested in the topic at hand and the operations in which the interviewee is involved.  Being genuinely interested in the key.  It will lead you to go beyond your prepared questions to ask important follow-up questions that can yield useful information.  Demonstrating your interest in their operations and what they do can significantly help in building their confidence that you are competent and will deliver what is required by the objectives of the consulting project.  And you will have enhanced your relationship with the client.  Your interest will also show in facial expressions and mannerisms, body language and tone of your voice; and how you generally interact with the interviewee.  Most interviewees will notice much of this.

 

Confidentiality.  Hopefully you can inform the interviewee that answers will be confidential and that the information you receive will be aggregated along with the results of other interviews.  This will also help in your obtaining the information you need.  Granted some interviewees may still be suspicious and not helpful.

What you ask and how you conduct yourself in the interview will be discussed by the interviewee with fellow employees at all levels of the organization.  Thus it’s important to follow the tips above and also to be professional in how you conduct yourself.

Develop your questions ahead of time based on the objectives of your consulting project.  Know what you want to achieve going into the interview.

Go over the questions in advance with a colleague.  It’s a good warm-up and sometimes you find that certain questions need to be restructured.

Before the interview find out whatever you can about the interviewee, such as history with the organization, responsibilities, possible opinion or perspective about the consulting project, performance issues, and personality.

Think about how the interview will go.  Consider the types of answers you will get.  How will you deal with a recalcitrant interviewee?

Make the interviewee comfortable.  Introduce yourself – name, title and role on the project.  Describe the nature and objectives of the project at hand, and the types of questions you will be asking.  Confirm the amount of time that the interview will take.  Its fine to come back a second time if you run over; or maybe you can do the follow-up by telephone or email.

Ask if the interviewee has any questions at the beginning of the interview.  You must be honest and forthright in your responses to the interviewee’s questions.  It’s fine to say that you cannot answer a certain question.  In most instances they will understand why you made this response.

Start with the more general and non-controversial questions.  This helps to establish a rapport with the interviewee.  Then later move into the more challenging questions and discussion.  The hope is that the interviewee will become more confortable over time in the interview and will then expound more about the topic at hand.  Ideally you should have an interview that takes on the nature of a discussion.

If possible, have two interviewers and no more than two.  One of you can be the lead interviewer and the other can be chief note taker.  However, the lead interviewee should take notes also, granted they may not be as complete. Allow the note taker the opportunity to ask some questions also.  Their perpsective on the interview can be valuable via their questions.   Howeever, there should be only one primary interviewer.

Type notes directly into a computer if you can.  This is particularly useful and efficient if you have a lot of questions and are acquiring a lot of discrete information.  In most instances this is an accepted method.

However, for high level executives it’s usually best to write your notes, as these interviews tend to be high level discussions and somewhat conceptual in nature.  They are not “straight ahead” fact finding.

Upon the completion of the interview ask the interviewee if there is anything that you should have asked and didn’t?  Or is there anything else you should know?

If a project objective is to improve some aspect of the organization ask the interviewee for suggested improvements.  The response to this type of question can be very useful.

 

 Michael VanBruaene is a KPMG alum and blogs at www.advancingyourorganization.com.

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