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The Do' and Don't of Interviewing

September 6, 1998
by Bret Wright

As Director of Production for the Jack Morton Company, San Francisco one of my greatest responsibilities is to find and recruit new resources. I receive hundreds of inquiries from freelancers and independent contractors via voicemail, email and fax. I thought it might help the group to outline -- from my perspective -- the Do,s and Don'ts in breaking through the clutter.

Don't... Be the vanilla wafer that looks like every other cookie in the box.

Your marketing efforts need to catch the attention of the buyer. Send him something via whatever method that stands out from the pack. I once received an e-mail that indirectly mentioned work that the vendor had completed for my competition. It got my attention; she was on my calendar immediately.

Don't... Make it easy for the prospect to punch erase on his voicemail.

Leave a voicemail that clearly communicates the value for the prospect so he will return your call. Make it intriguing but Don't be cute. Put yourself in the prospect's shoes. He gets inundated with voicemail. Make that person pause and think that I need to meet with that person. It truly helps to discover through a little espionage what makes the prospect tick. What problems Does he face? Make sure your voicemail clearly and quickly communicates how your services can meet his needs immediately. Break through the clutter.

Don't... forget to Do your homework.

I find it amazing how few people who come in to a long-sought after interview with me Don't at least visit our Web Site to learn a little bit about our company. If a person had done his research about our business and service lines it immediately makes me perk up and listen. It astounds me how few vendors and freelancers do it. Let's face it: you are there to impress upon the prospect on how much you can help him. It's not all about you.

Don't... Wing it!

It is so hard to get that first meeting with the prospect. The way in which you present yourself and your work in the first three minutes will probably determine if the prospect will hire you. It's that simple. Think of your presentation as a Broadway Show. Plan, script and rehearse. And then rehearse some more. Also set expectations. Tell the prospect what you are planning to present and ask if there were anything else that he would like you to cover. Make sure you are in sync with the prospect.

Don't... think "It's me, me, me."

Ask the prospect lots of questions. It's ok to come with a prepared list of questions. It demonstrates that you have done your research and planning and care enough about the prospect to obtain his needs.

Don't... Wait for the telephone to ring with opportunities

Immediately after that first meeting send a personal note to the prospect. You might consider a clever postcard. Let them know that you are very interested in collaborating and add to the note how something special that you can offer that can specifically help their immediate needs.

Don't... Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

Every prospect has a right hand person who is acting as gatekeeper. This crucial person can take the form of receptionist, administrative assistant, husband or wife. Winning that person over is essential for getting that first meeting or project. Contact this person and ask them questions about the prospect. They are the holders of much information and access to the prospect. You always need the blessing of the gatekeeper.

Do... be persistent. "Keep smiling and dialing" your prospect

There is a very delicate balance of being persistent and being a nuisance. After you have sent the personal note after the first meeting; contact the prospect one-week later. I always find a call on Friday afternoon much more welcoming than one on Monday morning. Prospects are much more inclined to set up a follow-up meeting for the next week rather than the week of a call. If you aren't having luck on your follow up, contact the gatekeeper to see if the prospect needs any other information or if there are other people in the operation that you can contact. See if you can make the gatekeeper your champion.

Do... be creative in your persistence.

Knowing that you are the not most important thing for your prospect, make it fun and entertaining for your client to see more of your work. For example if you add something new to your website, develop a creative invitation via e-mail that will make the prospect want to visit you site. Make the experience a bit of fun in his hectic day. Once again, stand out from the clutter.

Do... be flexible on the first project.

I've got the I'm in like Flint!

Now you have worked so hard to get the first opportunity and finally the phone rings from the prospect with the first job. Be flexible. Show the prospect that you are willing to take on something that might not be exactly (God forbid under your skill set) what you have in mind. Be flexible on price, role and availability. Realize that the prospect is taking a risk by bringing in a new resource...make the decision easy for him or her.

Business prospecting can be a difficult task and certainly one that many do not enjoy. However, with a little bit of creativity, research and planning the experience can actually be rewarding and most importantly successful!

Bret Wright is Vice President of Production for the Jack Morton Company, where he has received his paycheck for over 14 years. He has acted as Executive Producer for such clients as Apple Computer, American Express, LifeScan, National Semiconductor, Volvo, Citibank, AT&T, and IBM. Bret currently oversees the entire production department of Jack Morton's San Francisco office. He has won accolades for his work, including Best of Show from the New York Film Festival for projects he produced for Hartford Insurance and Avon. Bret's latest achievement includes the executive production of 15 interactive touch-screen kiosks for the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution.

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