Choosing Contractors – Why I’d take on some IT contractors and not others

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Choosing Contractors
Contractors I Would Take at Interview

Choosing Contractors

There’s no doubt I would take on some IT Contractors as opposed to others when choosing contractors.

OK, so the IT contractor has now sat down at the interview. I have already made up my mind whether I like this person or not. I’ve also made a judgment as to whether they could fit in at our company in terms of personality.

Now, I‘ve got to find out if he or she will be able to do the job. I want to know if they will advance my career or be detrimental to it.

There may be other clients who will judge people by their age, sex, colour of skin etc. etc. etc. However, I‘m not one of them.

I suspect that there are not too many other Project Managers like that either. What we mainly want is someone who can do us some good and help advance our careers by helping us get the job done. That‘s the priority for most of us.

Our priorities are:-

1) Our careers
2) The Project
3) The Company

in that order.

So what do I want when choosing contractors towards that end:-

1) Good Technical Knowledge

First and foremost I need to know that the contractor is technically able to do the job. I need to know that he or she really knows the skills that are needed on the project. That may come out via questioning, via his or her CV, or via a technical interview

2) Skills Experience

I also need to know that the IT contractor has had experience of using the skills that I require. It’s no good choosing contractors just off a training course on the subject who can give me all the answers.

I want to know where they used the skill before, what parts of the skill they used, to what extent and for how long.

3) Problem Solving Knowledge

It could be that I have someone that is able to pass the first two of the categories here but I still won‘t take them.

It‘s possible that they did a good training course on the skill, was at a place where the skill was used extensively, but didn‘t use it much themselves.

Things are going to go wrong when they use the skill. I want to know that, when that happens, they are going to be able to put the problems right. I therefore, when choosing contractors, want to hire those contractors who know what can go wrong when using a skill. They also need to know how they can fix it or put it right.

If I am able to satisfy myself that they have passed all three of these categories then I‘m starting to feel pretty good about the candidate.

They are now in pole position but they haven‘t got it yet. However, it‘s only theirs to lose now.

4) Good Communication Skills

When choosing contractors I like to find out if hey are able and willing to communicate. That is crucial on a project. I really think that communication must be a huge disadvantage to those sending projects offshore.

A huge amount of interaction needs to take place on an IT project. Nothing is cast in stone.

As you drill down in a project, you are able to see more clearly whether the requirements and the design are correct.

The requirements will change, as will the design, and the project specifications will be constantly changing as the developer looks closely at them.

Therefore, someone who can interact with whoever supplies him or her, and whoever he or she supplies is a big plus.

Those that beaver away and never ask any questions before submitting their work might as well be working offshore.

I will be watching at the interview, therefore, to see who can communicate well (and will) and those who can‘t.

5) Easy to Get on With

One makes up one‘s mind in a pub or night club, or if one needs directions in the street, as to which people look more approachable and friendly than others. We judge which ones might bite your hand off. We are making these decisions all the time.

When we are taking on someone to work with us, and for us, at a company, we make the same instant decisions too. Someone who is witty is good, but not someone who is sarcastic. A genuine smile is good as opposed to a smirk or a sneer.

Someone who can tell a good anecdote is good. That’s unless it is against their old boss or teammates.

6) Sharp Witted

One has to think on one‘s feet. This is especially true if we are offering a post that has interaction with users or external customers. We don‘t want some idiot who keeps blurting out stupid things to our users and customers.

If they say stupid things to us at interview, then they‘ll probably do it when we leave them alone with customers.

I ask the hated question about what your strengths are and what your weaknesses are. This is not to find out what your strengths and weaknesses actually are, but to find out how astute you are.

Anyone who replies by telling me what their actual weaknesses are wouldn‘t be a person who I would want to leave alone with our users or customers.

I also ask other questions along the same lines, what I call ‘bowling the bouncers‘ These are designed to find out who can think on their feet and who can‘t.

7) Quick Learner

The interviewee may well have all the skills that we want but nothing is ever quite the same at any two sites. The set-ups are different and there will always be something that the contractor has to learn. I therefore want to know how quickly that he or she can pick things up.

I‘ll therefore choose a skill that he or she has only used for a short time and at one previous site and ask him or her questions on that.

I will also ask him or her questions later in the interview, about things that I‘ve told them earlier, to see if they have been paying attention. It’s to see if they‘ve managed to pick up what I‘ve been telling them.

8) Project Preparation

We want someone who is diligent and who prepares themselves well on the project. Therefore I always try to find out if they‘ve done any preparation for the interview. I don‘t really care if they have heard of our company and know what we do. What I do want to know is if they‘ve put the preparation in for the interview by finding out the answers to these questions.

Do I really want somebody who can‘t be bothered to go into our company website to find out who we are and what we do? Would I want to pay him or her at the rate of up to a hundred grand a year to work for us when he or she couldn‘t spend a couple of minutes preparing for the interview?

I would also expect the contractor to have asked the IT agent about the actual job that he or she has applied for.

Conclusion on Choosing Contractors

Not all of these categories are as important as others. I would say that the first three are the most important. If the contractor can pass the first three and only do averagely at the rest I would probably still take him or her on.

However, if there is a big negative in one or more of the other areas I probably wouldn‘t.

That‘s in normal market conditions though.

In downturn conditions, which we experienced a few years ago, where there are more IT contractors than there are IT contracts available, I can afford to be choosy on whom I would take.

I am likely to get several who satisfy the first three categories when choosing contractors. It comes down then to who has the greater number of plusses in the other areas when I decide whom I would take on.

These other areas are what give one contractor that competitive edge on others.

Knowledgeable Contractors

At most times I can get contractors who are knowledgeable, experienced and good problem solvers. I can also get ones who are good communicators, can think on their feet, are quick learners and who come well prepared too.

I can‘t speak for all clients but I suspect that they would take on contractors along similar lines to myself. The reason I write this in order to give contractors an idea on how, when there are plenty of those who fit the first three categories, they can get that little edge themselves.

I know of one set of interviews where I couldn‘t choose between two candidates and I gave it to the one who had done the most preparation for the interview.

On such small things may tens of thousands of pounds in lost or gained income lie.

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