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Freelance Consultant’s Guide to Interviews

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by Celine Roque

For freelancers and consultants, client interviews can be a major challenge, especially if you’re shy or prefer to communicate via email. While job interviews are equally challenging for employees, they typically go through these once every few years or whenever they’re switching jobs. For freelancers, interviews take place with every new client you bring in.

This means that apart from being proficient in your field, you should also know how to give a good first impression in interviews, build rapport with potential clients, ask the right interview questions, and how to turn those interviews into projects.

Some freelancers might see interviews as optional or as a minor step in acquiring a client. But, when done well, interviews can help solidify your position as a trusted freelance consultant, as well as help you catch some potential problems early on. This tutorial will show you exactly how to do that.

Do a Bit of Digging
When it comes to researching a potential client, leisurely browsing through their website isn’t going to cut it. You need to know more than what their business does and who the key decision makers are. Here are other things you should look at:

What’s Their Brand Voice Like?
Deconstructing their voice can hint at their company culture. Are they formal or casual? What kind of language do they use? If you were to personify their brand based on their voice, what kind of person would they be like? It might help to look at their social media accounts as well. Analyzing this on your own can be more accurate than reading their “About Us” page, since a brand can claim to be approachable but address their customers in jargon or formal language.

What’s Their Role in Their Industry?
Are they a top performer in their field, or a mid-level player that stays afloat comfortably, or a potential disruptor with unique skills and technology that can change their industry? Or are they struggling unknowns? This can tell you how they perceive their business in terms of a larger vision, as well as the possible part you can play in executing that vision. This can also help guide you regarding any questions you might have about the company’s future.

What Major Changes Have They Gone Through Recently?
If they’re looking to work with new freelancers, this means that they are working on something they can’t or won’t handle in-house—and that signals some kind of change. Try to spot any recent changes that can give you a hint about the company’s general direction. This can include new products and services, rebranding, or a change in leadership.

Apart from their website, you should also look into their press releases. Search for their business name in sites like PRWeb and PR Newswire. Digging through their press releases can give you an overview of the most important events in their company for the past year or two, as well as what they’re currently working on.

Looking through customer review sites like Yelp and Angie’s List can also help you see your potential client through their customers’ eyes, giving you insight on what current customers love about the business and what needs improvement. To get an employee’s perspective, you can use Glassdoor, Job Advisor (for Australia), or Rate My Employer (for Canada).

As you’re doing your research, write down any key questions or concerns you have that crop up: What about their business, customers, or industry don’t you understand? Is there anything about their business that feels like a red flag or rubs you the wrong way? Do you get any ideas about what role you could fill? Do you think you’d make a great fit with their brand, or would you have to modify your working and communication styles a bit?

Write down these questions and concerns as you research so that you can get back to this list later. The goal is to eliminate all these questions and address all these concerns before or during the interview.

Improve Your Interviewing Style
Another important way to prepare for your freelance interviews is to take your interviewing skills up a notch. This can help you approach new interviews with confidence and build rapport more easily with clients.

Find One Thing to Improve
Just because you’re looking to improve your interviewing skills, it doesn’t mean that you have to be the perfect speaker or negotiator before you start your interview. Rather than overwhelm yourself with many radical changes, simply pick one thing to work on. This is your “big win”, the major fix that, once you’ve done it, can make the biggest difference in your results. This could mean removing “uhms” and “ahs” from your speech, slowing down how you speak, or speaking with more energy.

How do you find out what your “big win” is? One way to go around it is to get feedback from your friends, family, and colleagues. Ask them whether you sound confident and competent when you speak and, if not, what changes you should make.

You can also record yourself speaking and answering potential interview questions and send the recording to them for feedback (this was the approach I tried when learning public speaking). For practicing face-to-face interviews, record video rather than just audio. It might make you cringe to watch or listen to these recordings, but that’s part of the process. Note which parts make you cringe and why.

As you’re gathering feedback, don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re just going to improve one thing. That’s it. Save the rest of your energy for preparing the content of the interview and the questions you’ll ask. After all, you’ll still have more opportunities to tweak your interviewing skills.
Plan Your First Impression
The initial moments of your interview are critical, because this is the point where you make a first—and lasting—impression. According to psychologist and author Sian Beilock, who specializes in the research of human performance:
“First impressions are important. Set the stage early on for what your interviewers remember about you by giving them a positive schema by which to encode your job potential. Even if you show nerves after the fact, this initial impression may help ensure your success.”

From “Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To” by Sian Beilock.

A “schema” is just a framework of preconceived ideas, essentially telling your clients what to expect. By making this schema a positive one, you’re ensuring that clients will see their succeeding impressions of you based on their initial positive impression.

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Let us know what you think or any comments you have. Thanks.

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