Advice for Tackling Perm vs. Contract Interviews

There are best practices that lead to success no matter what type of position you’re pursuing. For instance, you should always research the company and the hiring manager before an interview and be ready to ask pertinent questions when the time is right.

But since tech managers have different end goals in mind when they interview contractors for short-term projects and candidates for permanent jobs, how you present your skills and experience makes all the difference between success and failure.
Here’s a look at the key differences in the two interviewing formats and some ways to adapt your preparation regimen and interviewing style to fit each scenario.

One’s a Sprint, the Other’s a Marathon

Like a large ship traveling through the locks in a canal, the goal of perm job hunters is to continue advancing through each step in what can be a lengthy hiring process, until they finally receive an offer.

Every meeting has a specific purpose and contenders have time to establish rapport, reflect back and clarify what has been said in previous discussions. For example, employers use an initial phone screen to gauge a perm candidate’s interest in a particular position and to review and verify the information in their CV.

Hiring managers usually conduct one interview, two max to decide if a contractor can do the job according to Chris Mitchell, director of recruiting for WinterWyman’s Contract Staffing Technology division.

“It’s generally a shorter process,” Mitchell explained. “And since they need someone to start right away, they prefer to interview contractors via phone or Skype rather than face-to-face.”

With only one shot at success, contractors must master the art of first impressions, build rapport quickly and begin addressing the manager’s pain points straightway. They also need an effective way to deal with the awkward pauses, lags and dropped calls that often plague phone and video interviews.

While a perm prospect’s CV should tell a story of why you would be a good fit for a particular role, contractors should make a habit of placing experience with relevant tools and projects near the top of the document, as their discussions with hiring managers tend to be most productive when they have a clear focus.

Deep and Narrow vs. Wide and Shallow

Cultural fit is paramount when tech managers consider professionals for perm jobs, so they tend to ask behavioral-based questions or administer personality assessments. They also look for broad skillsets and growth potential as new hires may need to wear multiple hats. Candidates for perm jobs typically have an extended opportunity to demonstrate their technical chops and problem-solving approaches through whiteboard and pair programming tests.

Contractors, on the other hand, are expected to hit the ground running and make an immediate impact by providing critical skills and expertise. To prevail during interviews, they should outline their assimilation techniques and experience with similar projects in explicit detail.

“Study the scope of work and be ready to go narrow and deep when describing your experience with a specialized program, set of tools or methodology.” Mitchell said.

If you’re a contractor, describing the specific role you played in a previous project and personal impact makes your case stronger, while perm candidates are better served talking about team efforts and successes noted interview coach, Margaret Buj.

Consider using the STAR or PAR method to structure your answers Buj added. And remember to rehearse your answers because articulating intangible deliverables, data modeling techniques, architecture designs and so forth can be challenging.

Closing Techniques

Expressing interest in a role and asking about the next steps is generally an effective way for perm candidates to close out an interview.  In contrast, contractors can’t afford to beat around the bush especially if they’re pursuing multiple opportunities. Tech contractors must be comfortable asking for feedback and be adept at anticipating and dispatching objections. And they certainly can’t shy away from asking for a job or negotiating a contract rate.

For example, the interviewer really wants to know whether a contractor is going to stay to the end and finish off the project completely without getting distracted by other offers, noted Claire Jenkins, owner of One to One Interview Coaching, who responded to our questions via email. Being aware of these issues and prepared to address them is essential.

Finally, although a referral can open doors for all candidates, given the condensed evaluation process, having a colleague vouch for your technical skills, experience and work habits can help tech contractors close more deals.

“Being referred is slightly less important for perm candidates,” Buj said. “But if you’re a contractor, being recommended for a project can get you hired.”

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