A Very Creative Interview

My name is Danielle Byron.   I am a Health IT project leader who is passionate about using technology to improve patient safety and outcomes.    In the days of the “buyers” market I’ll take any opportunity to interview:   phone, face to face or twittering in 140 characters.   However this interview format was a bit different than ones I had previously encountered.

The interview was for a senior project manager position at a Healthcare services firm.    I went in having brushed up on all my behavioral interview questions, had my “SAR”s (Situation, Action, Results) stories polished and ready to perform as if I was Meryl Streep getting yet another academy award nomination.     I had worked my Linkedin network gathering any classified top secret intelligence as well as looking for embarrassing pictures on Facebook.     I walked into the conference room 12-feet tall and Bulletproof wearing my, newly out of hock from the drycleaners,  interview suit (having successfully avoiding the dog on the way out the door).

I was ready to launch into my opening “Tell me about yourself” pitch.    Instead I was handed a four page business case, a brand new marker and pointed to a clean white board.    I had one hour to pull together a high level project plan, key deliverables and my assessment of the project.      Wow!

I was actually being asked to put my mind and skills to work!    How exciting.   I got to draw diagrams, create milestones and identify potential risks.      I’m scribbling down insightful questions far beyond the ever popular tell me about your company culture, how popular is your department and just what kind of boss are you type questions.

The hour flew by and my two interviewers returned for my presentation.      The next hour felt like a real business meeting – discussing options, pros and cons of each.    We even got to Monday morning quarterbacking the reality of how the actual project had turned out.

At the end, my interviewers shared that they also really enjoy this process because no one ever has the same presentation — there is always a new way to do it.    They had come up with this approach after having been burned several times in bringing on project leadership that looked great on paper and had passed rigorous verbal interviews – however when they came in to start actual projects there was a disconnect.

Another aspect that I liked about this interview approach was that it was all done as part of the interview.     Several individuals in my job search network have been asked to pull together extensive business plans on their own time (which typically turns into several intensive all nighters).   The perfect business case is handed over and next thing they hear is that an internal candidate gets the job.     Some feel justifiably used for free consulting; others feel it is part of the process and move onto the next opportunity.

Doing some quick Google searches revealed some Internet resources in case I encounter another interview of the type.     Mastering the Case Interview gives a good overview.    The management firm McKinsey site has a simulated online game for practice – might be better to play than Spider Monkey Solitaire.

Regardless of the outcome of this Health IT interview – I have a new interview technique that I have placed in my toolbox to bring along to my next position when I am back on the other side of the table.

What has been your most engaging and interesting interview?

About the author


Danielle Byron


  • Hi Danielle:
    We met briefly at a Techleaders.net meeting some months back. I read your blog with interest. What you described is indeed a unique and great way for employers to get an idea of how you work and your personality. However, I personally lean in the direction of your 7th paragraph (“Another aspect…”). I have had a number of interviews similar to this (in my case, develop an IT strategy on the spot), only to find the employer was just trying to get free advice/ideas on a challenge they have. I’ve seen at least 2 companies who never hired anyone and used this approach to acquire a scope of knowledge they did not have inhouse. After spending much time preparing for these kinds of efforts, I won’t do them anymore (at least not in much detail). I will read the Mastering the Case Interview article with interest to learn more about how to manage these situations in an interview.

    A job seeker cannot simply say “No” when asked to do this kind of thing, but we do need a strategy on how to manage it and make sure we’re not giving away our “secrets” gained through years of experience.

    Thanks again for posting this very interesting and relevant experience. Did you/will you get the job?


  • Hi Danielle – thanks for sharing this brilliant idea for interviewing! It is a great way to see how someone’s mind works, how creative they are and how they can think on their feet. I am definitely going to “borrow” this method for interviewing!

  • Hi Danielle,

    Really interesting insights….I had not heard of this being done before exactly like this; but when I interviewed at Crowe I grabbed a whiteboard to share my thoughts on Y2K (hot stuff in 1998) with lots of graphics. Good advice for project manager candidates to be prepared to build a project charter live on the fly. I wonder if they will incorporate your ideas.

  • I had an experience with the “free consulting” outcome, and I also was hired once after preparing a presentation showing my approach to a project. But, my very recent experience with this style of interviewing was somewhat of a roller coaster ride! It began as a one-hour verbal interview, but just when I thought the conversation would wind down and lead to a discussion of next steps, I was asked to join in a product demonstration for a prospective client, including the post-mortem discussion. Then, I was asked to prepare and deliver a presentation for the next meeting with the prospect. I agree with Allen’s statement, as I had to take a “time out” to develop a strategy for staying engaged and interested but resist giving away my “secrets” and too much of my time, while awaiting an actual offer for a position. It feels good and reaffirming to put together a well-received product in these uncertain times, though!

  • Wow your story moves free consulting dilemma into the free business development and sales space. I’m glad that you are positve about the process of putting together excellent deliverables ~ good luck on getting the paying position (perhaps the client will be interested in bringing you on board)

  • Hi Jeff – Thanks for reading & the comment. Today I was asked for my “project manager kit in a box” – the hiring manager wants to see examples of past project plans. Danielle

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