Friday, April 8, 2011

Communication - Interviewing

Every procurement negotiator needs to have good interviewing skills because you will be doing interviewing as part of qualifying a supplier, checking references and part of the negotiation can take the form of an interview. The simple fact is you never learn anything from speaking, you only learn by listening and asking questions.  

In performing a supplier qualification part of the process should be to interview the Supplier and key members of their team. As with any meeting you should be clear with the Supplier about your expectations, the purpose, who you want involved, and what the agenda will be.  You or someone on your team should take notes.

There are basically four types of interviews:




No predetermine questions, and form is open and adaptable


Standard information is sought from all such what occurs when you use an interviewing checklist such as a supplier qualification checklist.

Open ended

Allows probing to uncover information by allowing the individual to decide how they want to respond

Fixed response

Simple yes or no questions

In dealing with Suppliers your interview could combine each type.  For example in a pre-qualification you will most likely have a standard list of questions that you want answered. However based upon the Supplier’s response or based upon what you have seen in terms of the Suppliers production or service you may want to use open ended questions to probe deeper in a specific area or you may use a fixed response type of question to determine whether you correctly understood something.

M. Q.  Patton in “Qualitative evaluation and research Methods” defined six basic types of questions that would be used in an interview:
  1. You can ask what a person has done or is doing (Behaviors)
  2. What a person thinks (Opinions/values)
  3. How they feel (Feelings)
  4. Facts  (Knowledge)
  5. What people have seen, heard (Sensory)
  6. Background/demographics

For an operator on a production floor or a quality inspector you would use a behavioral question to understand what they do and how the do it. You might also ask them about what they think or how they feel about what they are doing. For the business manager or financial manager you would probably focus on the facts. If you had questions about what approach you should use or what potential problems you may have you would ask them their opinions. If you wanted to plant a see about the competition you could ask about what they have heard about another supplier or a new product and what differentiates the two. For someone that would manage or be a key member of the Supplier’s team that will support the work, you would focus on their knowledge and background to understand their capabilities and what they have done. You are there to understand what they do, how they do it, and what their opinion or values are. Something as simple as an opinion or value can reflect a potential disconnect between the Buyer and Supplier where selecting them may cause conflicts.
The sequence of questions is most important when trying to resolve a conflict in a negotiation.  What you want to find out is whether it’s simply a negotiation position on their part or whether there is an underlying problem that needs to be discussed and dealt with.

When you are trying to uncover a problem, use open ended questions so they free to respond in their own way and describe the issue or problem. Use fixed response type of questions (simple yes or no, or single response) when you want to either control the direction the discussion goes or when an open ended response could provide an answer you don’t want on the table.

Sequence of Questions
  1. If the Supplier submitted pre-qualification information, don't ask those same questions.
  2. Ask clarifying questions if the information they provided wasn't clear.
  3. Ask about facts and include fact-based questions throughout the interview.
  4. Ask questions about the present before questions about the past or future. 
  5. The last questions might be to allow respondents to provide any other information they prefer to add and their impressions of the interview.

Wording of Questions In an Interview

  1. Initial Questions should be open-ended. Respondents should be able to use their own language and terms when answering questions.
  2. Questions should be asked one at a time.
  3. Questions should clear.
  4. Ask "why" questions to better understand what the do and how they do it.
  5. If you feel the Supplier is being evasive in their responses, ask fixed response questions. 

Conducting Interview

  1. Ask one question at a time.
  2. Look at their expressions and body language when asking the question as it will provide you with indications on whether they understand the question or whether you're hit a sensitive topic.
  3. Listen attentively, take notes of their responses
  4. When necessary, ask probing questions to fully understand their response or get the information you need..
  5. On key issues, restate what you think they said in your own terms to confirm that you understood what they said.
  6. When you need to switch topics make it clear so they understand the context of the question.

Where interviewing is extremely important is when you are purchasing a service that is highly dependent upon the skills of the individual or team that will be providing the service. A Supplier may
have a significant portfolio of work they have performed in the past that may make the company look like a good match for your needs. An interview would be used to find out who the individual or team was that performed the work, whether they are still with the company, and whether they would be available to perform the work for you.  If they won't be available or are no longer with the company, you then would need to understand the capabilities of the individuals or team that would be assigned and their experience.

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