Procurement job interviews: First impressions do count! You have two seconds...

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Malcolm Gladwell.jpg"Professional speakers and trainers have long asserted that people make up their minds about people they meet for the first time within two minutes.  As it turns out, this process may be underestimated," Elaine Porteous of CA Global, a procurement recruiting firm tells Smart Procurement.   She sites Malcolm Gladwell (pictured), in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, that "decisions may occur much faster - think instantaneously or within two seconds..."

Gladwell cites, as an example, the fact that many try-outs for orchestras are now held with the applicant musicians playing behind a screen. All sexual, racial and physical characteristics are hereby eliminated so selectors can concentrate on listening for the best musician. However, this is unlikely to happen in Procurement!

What's important for the interviewer?  

Interview.jpgPreparation!   Time is money and the hiring of staff is very time consuming. All possible ways of improving efficiency in the process should be welcomed.  Often Procurement professionals are not skilled interviewers despite their obvious skills in negotiation with suppliers.     

Interviewing is often just as stressful for the interviewer as it is for the job-seeker. Knowing the different types of interview techniques, and why and when they are successful, can help make your interviews more comfortable for both parties.

The process of hiring can further be streamlined by ensuring, firstly, that the job description and the person profile are accurate and complete.  Applicants should be assessed against these to provide a short-list of suitable and qualified applicants to limit the number of face-to-face interviews.    

Remember not to ask any family-related or domestic situation questions as this may be regarded as discriminatory. Candidates usually volunteer this information without thinking.

What is important for the candidate?

Preparation, preparation, preparation!   Research the company and understand the reason that they are in business and, where possible, find out about the top management and the people that you are going to see.  The Internet is a mine of information in this regard.

It is a sad fact that not all job interviews are structured to follow a proper plan and many can drift aimlessly. The questions that are usually asked are fairly predictable and to be expected along these lines...

What are your strengths and weaknesses?
What interests you about our company/this position?
Why do you think we should employ you in this position?   
Can you explain this time gap in your employment history?  

However, the most successful interviews are usually built around establishing technical and behavioural competencies.    

The Competency-Based Interview  

Competency-based (or behavioural) interviews are based on the premise that past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour.  These interviews are designed to establish a person's skill using historical and fact-based evidence on how they dealt with particular issues.  Questions are asked using the STAR technique:

•    Situation:
Think of a situation when you.............
Describe a time when.......................
            
•    Task:
 Tell me about this task.....................
 Explain what you had to do...............

•    Action taken:
What did you do to...........................
Tell me about how you.....................

•    Result or outcome:
 So then, what was the end product?
What happened then?
How could you have performed better?
What could you have done differently?

Skilled interviewers will then follow with some probing questions, possibly clarifying a particular area.

In a Procurement interview, an example of this could be a question like:    
"Think of a supplier relationship you have maintained for many years. Please tell me how you have approached maintaining that relationship."  This opens the doors to many questions relating to inter-personal skills and tenacity.   
Honesty and integrity are qualities that are highly desired in a procurement professional.  To establish a person's level of understanding of good ethical behaviour, you can ask:   
"Give me an example of a time when your integrity was tested in a purchasing situation.  How did you feel and how did you handle the supplier?"  

Anyone not admitting to having experienced a situation like this may not have been in a procurement position very long!

Remember to terminate the interview positively when the time is right.  A "thank you for your time" will never go amiss - and that would be welcome from both sides!  

Author:  Elaine Porteous of CA Global Africa Recruitment can be contacted at elaine@caprocure.co.za.

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