Doc. What are my chances? the patient asks.
Well I’ve got great news! This operation has a 90% failure rate, and the last 9 patients have died. So it will certainly be successful on you!
The importance of Track Record
For those that are fans of the late Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy books, you will know of the Babelfish. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Races_and_species_in_The_Hitchhiker%27s_Guide_to_the_Galaxy#Babel_fish
The current closest function is provided by our friends at Yahoo http://ca.babelfish.yahoo.com/translate_txt
So for a moment, we are shifting gears from being the consultant to being the hiring employer or client. The difference this time is that when the prospective consultant answers an interview question, the Babelfish will translate it to a factual representation of what was said.
Let’s try it…
Interview question No. 1: “Tell me about yourself.”
“I graduated from University in Computer Science and since then, I have been working contracts in software development in progressively more complex projects for the last X years and have taken architecture leadership roles most recently. I specialize in super-agile short-term projects”
I got my degree from a mail-order house and have been contracting for years in very small gigs as it takes usually 2 or 3 months before my employer figures out that when I run out of “requirements gathering” questions that I can’t actually program anything at all.
Interview question No. 2: “Why did you leave your last job?”
“The company just wasn’t a good fit for my creativity, but I learned that organizations have distinct personalities just like people do. Now I know where I’ll be a better fit.”
They fired me for being lazy and stupid.
Interview question No. 3: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
“I want to secure a position with a national firm that concentrates on enterprise software development. Ideally, I would like to work for a young company, such as this one, so I can get in on the ground floor and take advantage of all the opportunities a growing company has to offer.”
Being a small company, your HR practices won’t be a thorough as a big one. If I can slide through this interview it will be months before you realize your mistake.
Interview question No. 4: “What are your weaknesses?”
“In my last position, I wasn’t able to develop my configuration management skills to the expert level. I’d really like to be able to work in a place that will help me get world-class.”
Well it was either the standard CM answer or the old stand-by “I worked too hard”.
Interview question No. 5: “Why were you laid off?”
“As I’m sure you’re aware, the economy is down right now and my company felt the effects of it. I was part of a large staff reduction and that’s really all I know. I am confident, however, that it had nothing to do with my job performance, as exemplified by my accomplishments. For example…”
Because I contributed the least and really wasn’t very good at my job.
Interview question No. 6: “Tell me about the worst boss you ever had.”
“While none of my past bosses were awful, there are some who taught me more than others did. I’ve definitely learned what types of management styles I work with the best.”
All bosses are equally bad. They think that just because they employ me they have a right to barge into my cube and interrupt my power nap.
Interview question No. 7: “How would others describe you?”
“My former colleagues have said that I’m easy to do work with and that I always hit the ground running with new projects. I have more specific feedback with me, if you’d like to take a look at it.”
They would say I hit the ground running. I hit the ground running at 4:59pm every day. Straight to the pub with my friends.
Interview question No. 8: “What can you offer me that another person can’t?”
“I’m the best person for the job. I know there are other candidates who could fill this position, but my passion for excellence sets me apart from the pack. I am committed to always producing the best results. For example…”
Nothing actually, there are many better qualified, motivated people who can do this job for way less than I am asking.
Interview question No. 9: “If you could choose any company to work for, where would you go?”
“I wouldn’t have applied for this position if I didn’t sincerely want to work with your organization.”
Any place that wouldn’t get so cranky about letting me put a well-stocked beer fridge under my desk.
Interview question No. 10: “Would you be willing to take a salary cut?”
“I’m making $X now. I understand that the salary range for this position is $XX – $XX. Like most people, I would like to improve on my salary, but I’m more interested in the job itself than the money. I would be open to negotiating a lower starting salary but would hope that we can revisit the subject in a few months after I’ve proved myself to you.”
Heck yes, it’s not like you’re going to get any work out of me anyway.
Okay … perhaps that was a little cynical. I guess the point that I am trying to make is that CV’s and interviews while useful are not the best way to determine a candidate consultant’s fit for your project. What is most important and very rarely pursued with rigor is the validation of track record and references. It may not be the end of the world if you make a hiring mistake on a entry-level C# developer, but if you make a mistake on your PM, your architect or a senior technical lead the results can be disastrous.
“Yes, but they were MCSD Certified!”, you say.
Yes the certification tells you that they could know or do something. It does not tell you that they have done it or will.
As a consultant the most important thing you have to sell is your track record. As a hiring client, the most important thing you can do, is to check that track record.