Project and change management interview tips from a recruiter

Mark Astbury 13.12.2017

In need of some advice on how to interview for projects and change specific positions? As a specialised recruiter, I've highlighted the most important tips to take on board, how to gauge whether the interview has gone well, and the best ways to present yourself to an employer.

A job interview can be both an exciting but daunting experience – no matter how confident you feel, some interviews can leave you feeling uncertain. As recruiters, we often see definite reasoning between successful and unsuccessful candidates. You don’t have to be a seasoned worker to get the job, you just have to know how to be yourself while expressing your best self.

To set yourself in good stride for impressing in the interview, you should read the job specification in detail and ask the recruiter as many questions about the role as you can. It’s good to find out about the project scope and the aims of the specific job you’re interviewing for. This involves understanding the potential issues the company faces, grasping the direction of the project and the involvement of stakeholders.

By researching the company, you will be doing yourself a huge favour. I’m not talking about just reading the “About Us” section of their website. The values of a company are of huge importance when answering competency based questions. This is more important than ever, with companies wanting like-minded people who are going to get on well with colleagues and stakeholders, who have the same goals in mind and the determination and confidence to get the job done. The most common of these include things like integrity, providing a service and respect. They may ask values based questions such as “give an example where you put the customer first”. For these questions you will need to give a specific example. Even when they don’t ask these types of questions it’s always worth trying to demonstrate their values in all of your answers. 

Most questions in project focused interviews will be competency based such as “name a time you had to deal with a particularly difficult stakeholder and how did you overcome this?” or “how can you add value to this company beyond the initial project scope?” The key to answering these sorts of questions is to demonstrate your skills by using a single specific example from relevant previous projects rather than talking in a general or theoretical manner.

Making generalisations is the biggest mistake we see in interviews, with feedback often saying that candidates failed to demonstrate the necessary relevant experience.  Job seekers can get carried away or lost in their answers. A solid format for answering questions is through the STAR method, which stands for “Situation” (setting the scene), “Task” (describing the purpose), “Action” (explaining what you did) and “Result” (what the outcome was). Using this method should provide a thorough answer for the interviewer, demonstrating your ability to communicate and explain the relevance to the question.

In order to use the STAR method appropriately, you need to be able to demonstrate the skill set through a specific example. Always use “I” rather than “we”, since the interviewer wants to see your independent thinking and what YOU delivered. Of course, if the question is about team work, then “I” may not be necessarily appropriate. Just always use your best example to answer the question, with a logical layout, as this provides an insight into how you think and communicate.

In most interviews, you are pretty much shooting yourself in the foot if you decide to dress for an interview in anything but smart attire. Okay, some clients we deal with in the projects and change world have more of a casual environment and a laid-back dress code, but in all cases, dressing appropriately looks not only professional, but can give you confidence and self-belief. As they say, it only takes the first initial 7 seconds for us to judge another person, so make those 7 seconds count.

So if you take all my pointers on board, what are the signs the interview has gone well? Of course, body language will give it away, like head nodding and signs of agreement. Even if the conversation turns casual, this may show the interviewer is relaxed in your presence and impressed by what they hear. In these instances though, remember to not drop your guard, some interviewers use this as a tactic! If the interview runs over slightly, or starts talking about perks of the position and the company, these are often tell-tell signs as well.

The last point I want to cover is that an interview is more than just responding to questions. It’s also about asking questions, which not only makes you look keen, but provides you with an opportunity to find out more about the position on offer. It’s all well and good talking to people like us to get your foot through the door. However the people working there can give you the best idea about the actual role, the shape of the project and the company culture. It’s always worth knowing what you’re getting into before making a decision.

There you have it! We all have to go through interviews at some point in our lives; just remember interviews are there to find out more about YOU and to gauge whether you are a good fit for the position. If you prepare well and believe in your abilities, this will give yourself the best possible chance to impress.

Mark Astbury's picture
Associate Director
mastbury@morganmckinley.co.uk