Techniques for interviewing outsourcing companies
Don’t be confused reading this post. This is not helping the job seeker interview. This is helping the company boss give an interview to a company that he is considering hiring for some outsourced tasks.
What is the goal of the interview?
You can never know how good an individual’s work is, or how good a company’s work is unless you try them out. But, you can only try one company out at a time (generally), and it is expensive if you choose one who does a poor job or is aggravating to work with. So, asking the right questions is really important. The problem is that people always tell you what they think you want to hear, so you have to use tricks.
An interview with a customs inspector – trick questions
Actually, I don’t know if this guy intentionally tricked me or not. He asked what my address was, and I gave him my mailing address, not my physical. He asked if I was the only one at that address, and I said yes, because it was a mailbox that only I had access to. Then he asked me about my physical address and I said I had housemates. He raised his voice in anger and said that I told him that I was the only one at that address. I told him that many people have mailing addresses, and that I thought he was talking about the mailing address, because that is the address I give to people in case they want to send me something. The point here is that he might have been profiling me as a criminal and wanted to see if I panicked if he raised his voice and accused me of telling him false stories. I’m not sure what tricks or techniques he was using, but this could have been a sophisticated technique.
Ask probing questions
If you are at a restaurant, and the waitress comes over and asks, “How is everything?”. This is the most stupid question you could possibly ask — and 99% of waitresses ask exactly this question. Nobody will give you a true answer, so why bother asking? You would be better off asking if they needed anything. Everyone will say everything is fine unless something is very wrong. If you REALLY want to find out how they gauge the quality of your food and service, ask something more probing. “Was there enough garlic in the burger?”. That is a question that brings out the food critic in me. If you ask a prospective employee, “Do you like your work?”, do you expect him to say no? You can read his body language, because that doesn’t like. If he starts looking at the floor when you talk about work, that is a sign right there. If it were me, I would ask open ended questions that start with, “Tell me about your past work experience and about the programming languages you use”. That forces them to think and create conversation of value. I might also ask, “What do you think are the characteristics that makes a good call center worker?”. That way you can see if they are in tune with what matters, or at least what matters to you. But, what if you want to see how they handle sticky situations?
Catch them offguard!
In real life, some people are honest, some stretch the truth, others are nonsense artists, some are helpful, and some are neglegent. You need to get as good a picture of the people you are hiring before you are “involved” with them. It is costly to get out of a work relationship sometimes — emotionally and financially.
I was a bit rude at an interview once, and found that I got amazing input about the company from this rude remark. Please keep in mind that when I made this statement, I was not intentionally trying to catch them offguard, it just happened spontaneously. I said that the neighborhood they were in was scary, and that there seemed to be a lot of drug activity in the area. The girl said that drugs were everywhere — which is sort of true, but avoided the point that their area had exponentially more drugs than most. Then, I said that many people outside were wearing winter hats in 75 degree weather, which is indicative of drug or alcohol dependence. The girl said that the locals felt cold since they are used to much warmer weather. I learned that the type of answers I got from my off the wall comment were valuable to me, because I got to see how this individual handled controversy — and she handled it politely, but with evasion.
The problem is that conflicts happen when you use a company, and you need to know as much as possible about how they handle conflicts. You need to know if they keep appointments on time. You need to know if they overbill, or are careless in their work too. Other companies might ditch you in the middle of a big project. There are many types of debilitating issues that can happen when you hire a company.
The most serious issue I have with companies is that you might work with a different employee every year or two in a company relationship. One employee might be wonderful, while the other one might be a disaster from hell. A particular company is only as good as the employee that they have who works with you now!
So, how do you craft probing questions?
Probing questions are easy. Just ask open ended questions that can only be answered with a paragraph. If the interviewee clams up, then you know that the person is really not very thoughtful. If the person has a very thorough answer and peppers it with a few little jokes, then they are very thoughtful. You might get an answer that sounds like it comes from a textbook in a dull monotone as well which tells me all I need to know.
And how do you craft trick questions?
Hmm. This really depends on what you want to find out. If you want to find out if they bill for excess hours, then you could mention in passing how this “Other” company you heard of gave your friend a crazy bill with all types of inflated figures and unauthorized charges — see how the interviewee reacts. You might learn nothing from this, or just get a politically correct neutral answer. They might assure you that THEY would never do that. It is hard to tell what you will actually learn. If it were me, I would pay attention to their level of anxiety when you ask this question, and what their body language tells you.
If you are concerned about being ditched or put on the back burner in the middle of a long project, discuss the topic of time sensitive contracts with incentives and penalties for timely or untimely delivery of work up to specifications. See if they would consider it. A contract doesn’t really protect you. Someone irresponsible will fail on a contract very often, and perhaps get sued, while someone reliable will be true to you with or without a contract. A company’s willingness to sign a time sensitive contract would be an encouraging sign, but there is no such thing as a definte sign — there are only indications.
If you think that many employees are drunkards, you could make a remark about how many people in the neighborhood or at some other company you went to were drunkards. See how people react.
You will learn nothing by asking questions that lead people to only one answer. Don’t ask if they like their job, and don’t ask if they are conscientious. As HOW they are conscientious, and WHAT they like about their job. Ask probing questions, and try to catch people off guard to see what happens. Prepare a few curve ball questions and take notes on how everyone reacts. With Indians, this might be a little harder to manage, because there are many people in India who are emotionally very over-reactive and panic very easily. Have fun, and keep the paramedics on speed dial just in case you accidentally ask someone if they did something bad that they actually did — and then they have a panic attack and have trouble breathing!