page title icon How to Interview the Client’s Employees

On most projects there is an interviewing process.  This usually takes place after the team has understood the gist of a problem.  With a general project framework in place, you can start interviewing employees.

Consultants do this in order to learn things that they can’t learn from the C-suite executives.  This may be a direct reflection on their bosses or simply a dialogue about their own experiences.  If for no other reason, this is important to understand the business from every strategic level.

Most consultants resent this part of their job.  It involves interviewing people who often feel like you are wasting their time.  They might be irritable, irascible or downright afraid of saying the wrong thing.  Most of the time, employees don’t turn out any gems, but give rather droll replies.  Their testimonies are useful for PowerPoints at best.

We have come up with a few ways of maximising the value of these interactions.

Build rapport

This may seem like an obvious, but I can’t tell you how many consultants don’t do it.  Firstly, do the basics.  Don’t speak down to people, don’t make it feel like they are wasting your time – basically, be approachable!  Make it a conversation. This will relax employees and make it feel more like a normal day.   A good way to do this is to move between topics carefully.  Leaping from one branch of questioning to another will feel structured and unsettling.

Going in a bit deeper, there are a few useful tricks to use.  Ask about their job and make it as open as possible.  This will make them feel comfortable and give them the space to talk about the things they want to.  At first, at least.  Hopefully, they will reveal some useful tit-bits that you can hone in on.  When they do pipe up with something useful, don’t leap on it like prey.  They probably know what you are after and may feel intimidated by consultants’ bloodthirstiness.  Chill out.

And don’t take the buddy-ness too far!  They will see straight through excessive familiarity.  They know you are there to do a job as well as you do.

Prepare

Again, sounds obvious.  Most of this is self-explanatory.

However, it is important to understand the firm in the same language it uses about itself.  If you are familiar with its inside terminology, you will be more agile in your questions.  If you are thinking in different terms to your interviewee it is unlikely that you will be able to figure out what they really mean or where to probe.

Sometimes interview guidelines that get handed down to consultants are quite structured.  They might be worded in consultancy jargon.  These usually need some rewording and interpretation.

These guidelines also rarely take into account your employee’s seniority.  SO many consultants forget who they are talking to.  It is important to tailor it on this basis.  Is this employee senior enough to answer your question?  Is this employee too senior to be answering your trivial nonsense?

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Analyzed by Will B

My name is Will. I am a Cambridge graduate and consultant working in London. I started this website to share insights, guides, and more about consulting. Learn more about Will.