To have the best chance of securing your next freelance or contract make sure you adhere to the three Ps – preparation, preparation, preparation.
Without it you put yourself behind other candidates and will not impress the client and secure the work.
Dave Chaplin, author of The Contractors’ Handbook – Third Edition, says doing it right should become part of the natural cycle of your interviews and offers some top tips that will help secure your next freelance role.
Why does the client need you?
Establish why they need you:
- Perhaps the client wants to spend money to become more cost-effective
- Someone has left quickly and they need a replacement
- They need a one-off bespoke piece of work which they cannot do in-house
- They need to train their staff with the niche skills you offer
What is the company all about?
Find out about the company:
- how many employees
- when it was formed and by who
- the company’s mission statement and unique selling proposition (USP)
- office locations at home and abroad
- expansion rate of the company
- annual turnover
- current share price and how it has done over time
- recent press announcements
Prepare this before the interview. It will help inform your discussions and demonstrate your intelligence and capabilities.
What skills is the client looking for?
Make a short list of the skills you think the role will demand. Use the motivation of what they are looking for in an interview to tailor your answers accordingly. An example of a PR Consultant’s list might look like this:
- Experienced B2B communications professional – at least 5 years experience – I comfortably qualify
- Replace an existing team member –wonder why they are leaving?
- Excellent communication skills written and verbal – so I will be speaking to press, clients and stakeholders as well as writing materials
- Global company – my languages could be useful
- Proven track record of delivering on time and on budget with strong planning and project management skills – need to demonstrate I am organised
- Ability to think strategically and translate business objectives into implementable PR strategies – show I can work with senior leaders to deliver PR counsel and a communications plan that will impact their market position
As well as the PR skillset needed, keep in mind all the other transferable skills you have as these will be needed to drive the motivation behind your questions.
Prepare a list of questions that demonstrate your value
This is a key element of any interview process and there is nothing wrong with physically getting out your list of questions when you are at the interview and using them. It shows that you have prepared.
Your list of questions should follow these guidelines:
- they must promote discussion about topics where you can demonstrate your relevant skills required for the role
- they must address all of the aspects the interviewer is looking for
- they should also demonstrate extra skills you have so the client thinks they are getting more value if they hire you
Final preparation on the day of the interview
Before you leave home, check out the latest share prices and any mention of the company in the news. Have fresh up-to-date information on the company which will give you extra kudos when they ask the inevitable first question. You can also use the information as an ice-breaker.
Any extra information whilst waiting in reception?
Get your notes out and brush up on the company facts. Try and commit your questions to memory. If you see one, grab a copy of any magazine published by the company and try and read something about press statements and company news to talk about if appropriate during the interview.
Another good trick is to scan the walls of the offices for any award certificates. They can be useful in your opening conversation.
How to start the first conversation
You meet, shake hands and then you are led to the interview room. The chances are you are probably met by the person who is interviewing you.
It is a good idea to have an opening conversation prepared for the walk between reception and the room and it can help to remove any awkward silences and get you off to a good start.
Some examples might include: “So, how long have you been working for XYZ?” or “I noticed you have been awarded an XYZ. You must be proud of that?”
You will find the interviewer may ask the inevitable “Did you have any trouble getting here? Always answer “No problem” then continue with one of your prepared questions. Don’t go into detail about your journey – it’s boring and they don’t really care. Switch it around so that they can talk about themselves and the company.
How to treat the interview like a sales meeting
Remember you are a product and as such you are offering a specific package of skills and experience, designed to be a ‘plug-in-and-play’ solution to a client’s requirements.
View your interview with potential clients as product sales meetings so during the interview you must quickly identify the client’s needs, then ‘pitch’ your own particular features and benefits that will meet those needs and help them.
Sitting back and offering a client a double-layer chocolate box of skills and experience in the hope that they’ll find a flavour they like is a high risk, hit-and-miss strategy. However, treating the client to an hour’s interrogation about what they are looking for will yield zero results.
Treat your interview like a professional sales pitch and your expertise like a product. Selling yourself is a process: you ask questions, define the client’s needs, explain your offering and ask for the business.
There is nothing underhand about sales because there is a major difference between a salesperson and a ‘con artist’. The latter will try to cheat the customer. The former will use their skills to establish what the client is looking for and match their services to those needs. This is the way to secure a role and the next contract.
Get the preparation and approach right and by following these steps you will be in a good position to secure the contract role every time.
Dave Chaplin is author of The Contractors’ Handbook – Third Edition (Nov 2017), which provides all the advice freelancers and contractors need to know whether they are new to freelancing or experienced old-hands.