Talent Development Centre

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All Talent Development Centre posts for Canadian technology contractors relating to preparation.

Preparing for a Successful Client Interview

Frances McCart By Frances McCart,
Vice-President, Business Development at Eagle

Preparing for a Successful Client InterviewGot an interview coming up with a client?  It should be a piece of cake, especially if you are a professional contractor.  Most contractors go on 5-6 interviews a year, so it should be a breeze and just a little prep should be needed, right?  Think again!!!   Preparing for a contract interview should be taken with as much care as preparing for a full-time interview.  Although the client will often ask similar questions, the contract interview tends to happen at a much quicker pace and as such, it is important for a contractor to relay their skills and value proposition to the prospective client in the first interview (often…the only interview).  A complaint I am hearing from clients recently is that contractors are showing up to interviews unprepared and sometimes even uninterested.

If a contractor is working with an agency to secure their next contract, the agency should be able to provide you with details about the role, why it is open and who the interviewers are.

Preparing for an interview for a contract role goes beyond knowing about the project and the client.  It is being able to clearly demonstrate your value proposition to the client and why you would be the best person for the role.  In order to do this, candidates must really know what they have put down on their resume and what value past experience will have to the potential client and the project.

Clients tend to focus on the following when interviewing contract candidates:

  • Provide examples of where your past project experience is similar to the upcoming project – What value can you bring to the project? Any lessons learned?
  • Describe the project in detail. A common complaint from clients is that contractors often skim project details. This gives the client the impression that the contractor does not know the work they had done and also gives the impression that some the details found on the resume were fabricated (i.e. you did not actually do the work and added in key words into your resume in order to be selected for an interview). Project details that clients are most interested in are:  role in the project, size of the project team, stakeholders who were involved, technologies used, value of the project, what stage you entered the project and was the project implemented on time/budget.
  • What type of style do you have in relaying the information. It is critical that when recapping projects to a client that you know all the details and can relay them with ease (and not struggling to remember).  Not being able to recall past projects is a potential sign that the project was not important or again, the project was embellished on the resume.
  • Be professional when speaking about past projects. We have all worked on a project that has not gone well.  When speaking about the project, focus on your role and the skills you brought to the project.  Clients will select a candidate who is more positive about past experience, rather than dwelling on the negative sides of a project.
  • Ask questions about the current project. Go prepared with a copy of the role description and show interest in the role.  Clients have sometimes chosen a less qualified candidate as they showed more interest in the project than someone who came across as less “excited” – ie. “been there, done that”.

Just like past employment/projects follow a candidate, especially in a small market, so do bad interviews.  Clients will pass along information to other potential hiring managers within their organization about contractors who have come in for an interview along with their biases.  It is really important to keep in mind that when interviewing with any organization, especially large ones that hire many contractors such as the Banks and Telcos, to always be prepared and to leave a positive experience with the interviews.

Be Involved in Your Submission

Brendhan Malone By Brendhan Malone,
Vice-President, Central Canada at Eagle

Be Involved in Your Submission

The IT contract market today is extremely competitive in Canada. While some regions have more openings than others, and some skills are in higher demand than others, there are very few, if any, people who can be confident enough in their abilities that they can simply apply to a job and wait for an offer. If you’re in the habit of submitting a generic resume to a job posting or a recruiter and then waiting for the phone to ring, then you’re probably not getting many phone calls. In fact, a recruiter may not even call you for future opportunities because you’re perceived as unwilling to do your part in the submission process.

Staffing agencies work hard to get you in front of a client and sell your skills, but to truly be successful, you need to meet us half way and be involved in that submission. Here are a few examples of what you can do to get involved and increase your odds of a win:

  • Communicate and participate with your recruiter throughout the process.
  • Understand that you are competing against up to 30 people.
  • Understand the project, line of business, and industry you are applying to.
  • Do not make the mistake of assuming a cover letter or summary replaces the need to highlight the necessary skills IN your resume.
  • Know the job description inside out. If there are “must-haves” make sure your resume highlights your experience accordingly.
  • In fact, make sure all relevant requirements are highlighted in your resume.
  • Avoid generalities where possible. Target the specific job with your skills and experience that are relevant to the job, company, project, and business line.
  • Sell Yourself!! You have the skills, now work with your recruiter on a winning presentation of you skills.
  • Part of the process of selling your skills is determining a fair and competitive market rate. This is not the only factor determining your selection but a MAJOR factor. Work with the experts in the market to determine what that rate is.

When you work closely with a recruiter and provide them with more information, they are better able to sell your skills. A recruiter will also remember your commitment and want to work with you on future contracts, meaning you’ll start getting phone calls before job openings are even posted!

How do you work with your recruiters? Have you had any positive or negative experiences you’d like to share? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

The Right Way to Prepare for an Interview with a Recruiter

The Right Way to Prepare for an Interview with a RecruiterA couple weeks ago, we shared a positive finding from a survey that was conducted among Eagle’s Recruiters. Almost all contractors we meet with arrive on time and come well prepared. The same blog post pointed out that you will easily stick out like a sore thumb if you fail to follow suit on your interview. As promised, to help you meet recruiter expectations, here are the top ways Eagle’s Recruitment Team suggests you can prove how organized you really are.

  1. Bring the Right Things

There are many different items you can bring to an interview.  Here are the top suggestions from recruiters:

    • Pen and Paper/Notebook. Taking notes in any meeting not only shows that you’re listening well, but it helps you look back and remember everything that happened. Let’s face it, nobody has a perfect memory and there are many things you’ll want to remember: upcoming opportunities, answers to questions, or any to-dos you may have promised.
    • A Copy of Your Resume. And it should be the same resume you already sent the recruiter.  They will likely have a copy printed out for themselves and will ask questions about specific projects. Dialogue is a lot easier when you’re both looking at the same document and referencing the same sections.
    • Reference Information. If your interview is successful, the next step for a recruiter may be to contact some of your references. You could promise to email them when you get home, but it would be a lot more convenient for the recruiter if you had them readily available at that moment. Remember, recruiters are more likely to work with professionals who make their life easier.
    • Business Cards. Business cards add a professional touch, help with personal branding, and are one extra measure to make sure your contact information gets into the system.  Also, while most recruiters today are electronic, others still like to collect business cards for networking purposes.
  1. Wear the Right Clothes

A mere 8% of recruiters say they couldn’t care less about what a contractor wears to an interview, but over 20% say attire is one of the top qualities they consider to forming an opinion of a candidate.  When dressing for an interview, for any position, for any company, always dress professionally. That means nice, at the very minimum, a collared shirt, dress pants, and nice shoes.  A tie, for men, is a great touch and, if you’d really like to stand out, a suit wouldn’t hurt (a tuxedo may be over kill). We should point out that not a single recruiter said a contractor should wear jeans to an interview.

  1. Ask the Right Questions

Having prepared the right questions shows that you’ve thought about the interview, the potential opportunities, and that you’re interested in working with the agency. Arrive prepared with questions and right down the responses (remember the notebook we suggested earlier?). This will also help you compare other interviews you’ve had at other agencies when deciding who to work with.

  1. Follow-Up at the Right Time

Over 90% of recruiters say they like it when a candidate follows up after an interview with them. Of those recruiters, 3 out of 4 want to hear from you within 24 hours.  Make a point of sending that follow-up email or placing a phone call. Be sure to reference something you discussed in the interview to show you were engaged (again, remember that notebook?).

The majority of recruiters create first impressions based on how prepared you were for that interview.  Do you really want to ruin your chances at an opportunity or start a relationship on the wrong foot simply because you didn’t take a few minutes to prepare? Are there any other preparation tips you can share with our readers?  Share your thoughts below!

How to Stand Out in an Interview (but not in a good way)

How to Stand Out in an Interview (but not in a good way)When you score an interview, either with a recruiter or directly with a client, you know that first impressions are critical.  You know that you need to stand out so the interviewer remembers who you are and immediately puts you above all other applicants.  The reality about first impressions, though, is that while some can help you differentiate yourself for the better, others can immediately send you to the bottom of the pile.

There are many interview horror stories, from stalking the CEO to hitting on the hiring manager.  Most people have common sense and would never do things like this, but a more subtle way to create a negative first impression is to simply lack in some common recruiter expectations.  A few weeks ago, Cameron McCallum, Eagle’s Edmonton Branch Manager, wrote a post about common expectations staffing agencies have of the best contractors.  When even the greatest professionals don’t meet these standards, it’s easy for them to fall to the bottom of the list.  The same holds true for recruiters in interviews.  They have a set of expectations for interviews.  Meeting those expectations will gain you average rating and then give you the opportunity to impress. Failing to meet expectations, though, will immediately earn you a negative rating in the recruiter’s mind.

So, what’s the simplest way to get yourself off on the wrong foot?  Arrive late or unprepared! A recent survey of Eagle’s Recruiters revealed that independent contractors are almost always prepared and very rarely arrive to an interview late.  If you’re a contractor who recently interviewed at Eagle, you can give yourself a pat on the back now, because you contributed to this statistic.  If you’re preparing for an interview anywhere, take note of this fact.

Recruiters have come to expect that contractors will be punctual and organized for an interview.  If you’re neither, or lack just one of those two traits, you will immediately stand out, but not in a good way. In fact, in the same survey, one in five of Eagle’s Recruiters pointed out that being punctual is among the top three qualities that influence their impression of a candidate, and over half of them consider preparedness as a major factor in how they judge you.

How can you ensure you don’t blow this first impression? Being on time is just a matter of taking measures to arrive a little earlier than the scheduled interview time – set alarms, check traffic, and plan where you’re going.  Being prepared can be a bit more subjective, depending on what the recruiter values in preparation.  We’ll cover that in a following post in a couple weeks, where we’ll look at the same recruiter survey and examine what Eagle’s Recruiters consider as great preparation. Stay tuned!

Job Interviews – Getting the Job

Job interviews are a stressful thing and new contractors don’t always realize how easy it is to do certain things that will increase their chance of getting a job. In fact, they may simply hope they do well, which puts all of the power in the hands of the interviewer!

In addition to the basic skills needed to do the job, here are some other things a recruiter First Job Interviewor client may be looking for:

  • A positive and cheery attitude. Clients don’t want a “negative personality’ on site and recruiters would be embarrassed to present negative people to a client.
  • Evidence that the person did some research before the interview. At a minimum, that includes visiting the website and understanding a bit about the client and the project.
  • Some questions that show they have thought about the role, and how it might work.
  • Appropriate interview attire.  Make sure you create that great first impression with neat and tidy clothing.  You only get one shot at a first impression!
  • Enthusiasm for the opportunity. The client wants to know that you want the job and you’re interested in their success, not that you’re only looking for your next contract.
  • Good manners! (shocking that we have to mention this one, but, ya)

Great interviewers may also dig to learn a few things about a candidate to determine a few specific traits.

  • Will they be willing to put in longer hours when it is needed?
  • Do they really care about the client’s success?
  • Are they investing in their training and making sure they’re on top of the latest trends and best practices in their field?
  • Are they involved in their industry and do they have a network of other professionals in case they hit a snag during the project?

A job interview is hard work. If you “wing it” then you are flipping a coin, if you do the preparation then you have a much better chance of success.  Not only should you remember the basic interview skills listed above, but think about the deeper traits the client or recruiter is seeking, and plant those into your responses.  It could make or break your interview!

How to Remain Successful When Your Plan Fails

It’s easy to talk to people and find articles offering advice and stressing the importance of creating a plan. You need to plan your career. What’s your plan for your next contract? You obviously have a project plan. Do you have a life plan? The Talent Development Centre definitely is a great place to look for these articles.

A topic commonly avoided with this advice, though, is the fact that sometimes plans don’t work out! What if the world changes on you? Your client goes bankrupt? Your project is cancelled? Your priorities change? What if you are just not achieving the targets that you set for yourself?

So, what if your plan fails? The answer: Make another plan!

  • Learn the lessons from the first plan.
  • Make sure that you understand why the plan failed and address those issues.Making a Plan
  • Don’t keep doing the same things.
  • Don’t use it as an excuse to accept failure, rather use it as a motivator to do better!
  • Ask yourself HARD questions, and give yourself honest answers.
  • Did you believe in the first plan? If you don’t believe a plan is possible then don’t bother! You will NEVER succeed at a plan if you don’t believe it is doable.
  • Did you do everything in your power to meet the plan? Did you work hard, avoid deviating from the path, focus on the task, get advice and help as needed?
  • Were there circumstances beyond your control?
  • What could you have done differently? Better?
  • What should you have NOT done?
  • Who can help you to meet your plan? Are you engaging them?

At the end of the day, a good plan is the roadmap to reach your goal, whatever that goal is, be it personal or professional. Missing a plan is not the end of the world, BUT it means you need to either plan better or execute better.

Have you had a plan crash and burn before?  How did you handle it? What did you learn?  Share your experiences with our readers below.

How to Tackle Large Projects

Large projects can be daunting whether it is a project at home (a renovation, a new garden, planning a big trip) or a project while on contract.

When you’re working on a client project, very often there is a Project Manager (or you are a Project Manager) so the roles and steps have already been carefully thought out. In other cases, though, especially with smaller clients, you may find yourself consumed in a complex project and unsure where to start.  If you have little or no project management experience, this can be quite stressful.

One way to get going is to remember the Eating an Elephant theory. It would be impossible to do all in one shot, but to eat the elephant (the big project) one bite at a time(the manageable pieces) would be much more feasible.

Therefore, the trick is to break the project down into manageable pieces and to work yourProject Management way through those pieces. Here are a few tips to get you started:

(a)    Don’t “freak out”.  It’s OK to panic a little but only on the inside and just to get past the initial shock.

(b)   Then start to plan:

  1. What are all of the things that need to happen?
  2. Plan a timeline. Some tasks will be dependent upon others happening first.  (i.e. You shouldn’t book hotels on a big trip until you know you can get there).
  3. For each distinct task, decide what is needed to complete it (i.e. tools, information, help, other resources etc.)
  4. Start to execute.

(c)    In essence you are creating a Project Plan just like any Project Manager, but it really doesn’t need to be complicated.

(d)   If you find you are in over your head, let the client know early on.  Perhaps it would be a good investment for them to hire a Project Manager.

Finally, the small tasks that you “bite off” need to be manageable (by your definition) or you WILL get into trouble.  Keep it simple and you will amaze yourself at what you can accomplish!

What tricks do you use to approach large projects?  If you’re an experienced Project Manager, do you have any other simple steps you can suggest to a new contractor?  Please share your advice in the comments below.

10 Tips to Master the Phone Interview

It’s very common these days that before going for a face-to-face interview, you’ll be required to do a phone interview, either with a client or a recruiter at an agency.  It could be for any number of reasons – perhaps it’s because you’re submitting your name to a contract in another city, or maybe there are so many qualified applicants that they’re looking to narrow down the options.  Regardless of the why, you need to be prepared.  Here’s a great infographic we found at Talent And Recruitment.com with some great tips to master the phone interview.

10 Tips to Master the Phone Interview by TalentAndRecruitment.com
10 Tips to Master the Phone Interview by TalentAndRecruitment.com

10 Tips on Working your Plan

If you want to be successful as a contractor, then you need to focus your energies on the types of activities that move you towards your goals and the work that you want to do.

Some excellent advice says Plan your Work and Work Your Plan.  We would take it one step further: Plan Your Work and Be Very Focused in Working Your Plan!

Person creating a planHere’s some quick tips:

  1. When working on any contract, be VERY focused on those activities in your plan! Always perform all tasks with 100%, but ensure you’re especially building good references to help land future contracts that fit into your plan.
  2. When you’re at a client site, be social with those around you but do NOT get sucked into long conversations, solve- the-world discussions or “whine sessions” about the company’s internal problems.
  3. Stay Positive! Your attitude will ultimately determine your success.
  4. Use GREAT time management techniques and continually upgrade your time management skills. The most successful people are incredibly productive and that is no accident!
  5. Don’t focus on other people too much. YES emulate those who are successful, YES learn from those around you and YES be happy for your colleagues’ success. But do not worry that “she” is better than you, that “he” is getting better contracts or that “they” should do their job better. Focus 99% of your energies on making YOU better, getting YOU where you need to be and on YOUR success.
  6. Keep focused on the positive. It doesn’t matter what happened last month, last week, yesterday or even an hour ago. By “working your plan” with a view to now and the future you will be moving towards success.
  7. Remember that we are all human and we all make mistakes so don’t sweat it!
  8. Remember to revisit your plan often enough that it is not stale, but not so often that it never gets a chance to be executed.
  9. Look for solutions not problems.
  10. Did we mention Stay Positive? Positive people make things happen, focus on the good, and, from our experience, clients love having them around!

Do you have a plan?  If so, how do you keep the right attitude to drive towards it?  We’d love your input!  Leave us a comment below.

How to Take Advantage of an Opportunity

Life offers us opportunities all the time — the trick is spotting them and taking advantage of them.

When you are new to a client, new to an agency or just networking to enhance your reputation as a contractor, you will be presented with opportunities to shine, either through the normal course of business or better yet, because you made it happen!

Here are some thoughts for you

  1. If you get the chance to chat with someone influential be prepared to have a meaningful conversation.
  • Do you have something interesting to tell?
  • Can you ask interesting questions and stimulate conversation?
  • Are you actually prepared for the opportunity or are you going to wing it?
  • Do you know what messages you want to get across, and how best to present them?
  1. Business PeopleYou might be a guest at a client function, a charity event or some other “social business-related” setting.
  • Do you know how to behave?
  • Do you understand etiquette and manners?
  • Do you know who will be there and what you might say to them?
  • Are you treating it like an opportunity to shine?
  1. You may find yourself in large networking events.
  • Do some research – who will be there, what is the event is all about, what is the history, who are the organizers etc.
  • Learn how to network.  There are many sources that offer advice and some training.
  1. At any time in your career you may find yourself with opportunity.
  • Remember the basics.
  • Do NOT just play it on instincts.
  • Be prepared.
  • Put your best foot forward.

Never assume that you know it all, that you have the experience and that your past experiences have prepared you for this moment.  You might just let the moment slip through your grasp for lack of a little preparation.

Some of the dangers lurking in the shadows of your contract opportunities:

  1. People’s opinion of you can be colored, good or bad, very quickly.
  2. One small indiscretion can cause the red flags to go up, meaning that you now have a hurdle to overcome.
  3. A favorable impression on the right person can go a long way.
  4. Some of the classic moments that will  not help your business:
  • Getting drunk at a client function — social or not;
  • Speaking from the hip, possibly because of too many drinks.  Nothing wrong with a little honesty, but always be cognizant of your audience.
  • Not being prepared for a meeting.
  • Being given an opportunity to present ideas/concepts/opportunities and focusing on negatives, not solutions.
  • Talking too much.
  • Not listening enough.
  • Ignoring the normal etiquette of a situation.

All of the above could have been opportunities to impress or to build your reputation in your industry. Remember, as an independent contractor, your reputation, among potential clients, within recruitment agencies, and even among your peers is critical.  There’s a good chance that all of these groups will talk to each other and hurting your image with one can affect future contracts or partnerships.

How do you keep your reputation in tact?  Share your comments below.