It’s fair to say that not many people relish job interviews. They can be a nerve-wracking experience and it can often be difficult to do yourself justice in such a pressure-cooker environment. But what about the people on the other side of the table? Well, that’s not necessarily an easy task either.
It’s that time of year when resolutions and the January blues inspire plenty of people to go in search of new jobs, while ambitious companies could be planning expansion or simply replacing staff who have moved on to pastures new. But if you’re the person giving the interview, you want to make sure it is properly thought out and specific enough to give you a good indication of the talents, skills and knowledge that the interviewee possesses.
So if you’re are looking to hire an event planner or manager, whether for a new role in-house, an agency position or as a consultant for your own business, it pays to ask the right questions. And for an events role which demands specialist knowledge, experience and skills, then you will need to be knowledgeable enough to ask questions that can really put them to the test. Generic interview questions may help give you an overall impression of what somebody is like in the workplace, but you’ll really want to drill down with some tougher teasers to find out how much they really understand about the events industry and what it takes to perform effectively in an events planning role.
There are plenty of resources out there which can help you prepare catch-all, general questions for wannabe recruits, but for this post we’ll be looking at the specifics and addressing some of the things you can ask that will really tell you what you need to know before taking on a new events professional.
Separating the wheat from the chaff: General knowledge
We don’t mean pub quiz questions here, but rather using wider ranging questions to find out somebody’s general knowledge about the events industry as a whole. If you want a new recruit to be able to perform a particular role then it will help them hit the ground running if they already understand the industry and, crucially, demonstrating the desire to learn more is a major plus. These are the sort of questions which can help you whittle down applicants through a telephone interview or application form process before getting down to the real nitty gritty in the face-to-face interviews.
Here are some examples to give you an idea:
What is IS020121? What does it do, how does it work?
The formal adoption of 2007’s British Standard for sustainable event management on a worldwide scale as the International Standard ISO20121 last year was one of the biggest news stories for the events industry in 2012, so you would expect anyone already involved in events planning to have picked up on it. Even if you’re interviewing for starter roles, somebody who has done some basic research in advance of a job application or an aspiring events professional who has kept abreast of developments in their preferred career of choice, really should have picked up on this key change, which kicked in just in time for last year’s biggest event, the 2012 Games.
Not only should applicants be able to explain the basics of ISO20121, but an added demonstration of their potential capabilities would be hearing them go on to describe what it means and what it does in the context of how it affects event planners, that sort of answer would show a good ability to approach events from a professional planning point of view.
What does DDR stand for? What is typically included in a DDR?
“DDR stands for day delegate rate,” is, of course, the basic answer you would expect, while hearing your candidate go on to say things like “it is often the most cost effective way of booking hotels or venues for event planners as it is a per person cost” could mean bonus points.
Questions such as ‘what is typically included in a DDR?’ also give the candidate the chance to show their general understanding of professional event organisation, as there is no simple yes and no answer, but listing things such as room hire, water, buffet lunch, car parking, wi-fi connection and so on would show that they have dealt with such venues before, or could at least use their initiative to think about what a venue might be expected to include as part of its conference facilities.
How do you keep up-to-date with event industry changes?
Again, a question with no definitive right or wrong answer but one that gives the candidate the chance to show their personal interest and passion for the industry or to show that they have used their initiative when researching it as a career path. “I read Event, The Main Event and Stand Out magazines, have Google News alerts set up for ‘event management’ and ‘event planning’ and subscribe to the eventindustrynews.co.uk newsletter,” is the sort of answer that would suggest they are on the right track, while namedropping key industry bloggers, Linkedin groups and relevant influential Tweeters will give you even more cause for encouragement. Naming industry events, conferences and meet-ups they have been to or regularly attend, annual reports they keep an eye out for or active online communities with which they engage will show an even more proactive approach to staying on top of the industry.
Give me five of your favourite venues in X, Y or Z and tell me why?
This is the sort of question which can really help you whittle down those early applicants. “I like the Apollo in Manchester because the sloped floor makes me feel drunker and it’s close enough to my house to mean I don’t have to pay for taxis,” is the sort of answer which might suggest they are looking at events from the wrong perspective. Saying something more like, “Colston Hall in Bristol really has the wow factor for visitors since its £20m refurbishment, while the spaces are bright and airy, parking and accessibility are great and the staff make sure everything is streamlined and runs smoothly for event planners,” however, might suggest you have somebody more suitable on your hands.
Getting down to the nitty gritty: Strategy and Tactics
Once you’ve established whether or not they have a general grasp on the events industry, it is time to start grilling your candidates on some specifics.
Event planning is a strategic business and you need to find out if they have the necessary competencies to be able to effectively implement the strategies and tactics needed to organise successful events, on any scale. The final answer is not necessarily the all-important factor here, it is more about how they got there, how much they listened and took on board the instructions, whether they’ve approached it logically and how much they have considered all the different permutations and potential eventualities.
These sorts of questions would be perfect for pre-interview projects or exam-style questions during the assessment process.
You have been give a brief of organising a team building event for 150 Google employees to get them sharing resources and working better together. Brainstorm with me some suitable bespoke ideas to achieve the brief.
Naming one of the world’s biggest and most innovative companies in the question should hopefully bring out the best in the applicants. You would want to hear ideas which would fit the Google ‘ethos’, of course, but you’re not necessarily expecting an answer which is guaranteed to win Eric Schmidt’s approval. Instead, having an answer which focuses on the benefits of each suggestion, as well as discussing the general ideas of what the event would involve, would demonstrate that the candidate has the sort of well-rounded approach to event planning which can help win more clients and keep them happy too.
What are some of your favourite ways to enhance an event on a budget?
Of course, event planning isn’t all team building with Google or staging multi-million pound festivals, there are times when you need to make something sparkle with limited resources. This is a great way to test your candidates’ initiative, assess their creative thinking and see if they show flashes of originality and fresh thinking when it comes to planning stand-out events on a budget. Practical considerations such as providing a cloakroom or positioning plenty of water jugs around the venue demonstrate an understanding of things which will make delegates’ lives easier without costing a fortune, while mentioning little details such as ensuring somebody is in place to greet arrivals or putting fresh flowers around the bar help to show that personal approach to event planning too.
Jameson Irish Whiskey are planning an advertising campaign to reinvent themselves as a young, cool brand and you have been briefed with organising the launch. Explain how you would approach selecting a venue for this?
Using established names such as Jameson Irish Whiskey is a great way to gauge an applicant’s brand awareness and gives them a chance to demonstrate their understanding of the impact events can have, both positive and negative, on the public perception of a brand. A campaign of this scale is likely to involve a big budget too (unless you specify otherwise) so it’s almost a blank canvas and a chance for them to show off their creativity.
Can they come up with ideas which marry the classic reputation and timeless traditions of a drinks company like Jameson with a fresh approach which would appeal to younger audiences and attract the right sort of coverage?
You would want to hear some specific venue names, and there are plenty of specific names you would not want to hear too of course, but more importantly you want to hear why they have considered such places. It might even be that they would suggest avoiding traditional venues altogether in favour of a pop-up space in Shoreditch, on a surfer beach on the Northern Irish coast, or nestled away in secret woodlands. But the key word in this question is ‘explain’, specific locations aren’t what it’s all about, it’s hearing their thinking behind why they would select a venue and how they feel this fits in with the aim of the brief.
And instant black marks for anyone that suggests holding an Irish whiskey launch event in Scotland.
The devil’s in the detail: Websites, systems, tools and metrics
They may have demonstrated their creative flair, their passion for the industry and shown that they are potentially brimming with ideas for planning great events. But we all know that is only half the battle. All the creativity in the world is almost useless if it can’t be funnelled in the right way. There’s also winning new business, billing at the correct level, demonstrating return on investment, planning down to the nth degree to ensure an event runs smoothly and preparing detailed reports and feedback on what worked, what could be improved upon and what it achieved for the business involved, be it your own company or an agency client.
Experienced event planners would be expected to have a grasp of some of industry tools, whereas prospective first jobbers should be able to demonstrate some basic research into the tools and systems out there but, more importantly, show that they have an appreciation of why such elements are important.
These are great face-to-face questions too as there are some quick answers but also the chance to spark up a discussion on the merits or disadvantages of particular tools and the importance of establishing effective processes.
How do you decide how much to charge a client for an event?
The money question, if you like. Without effective cost analysis and the ability to budget effectively, an event planning business is not going to last long. You want your applicant to demonstrate an appreciation of this, as well as show they can think strategically about how to make sure events are profitable for the agency, cost effective for the client and demonstrably worth the investment for the host business.
You would expect to hear mention of some of the basic costs that obviously need to be factored in, venue hire, food and catering, suppliers, equipment needed, and booking speakers or entertainment, for example, while it would be great if they also brought up less obvious costs such as online registration software, covering supplier fuel costs and accommodation or Temporary Event Notice fees for premises which need additional licences from the local authority.
And then it’s how they add the juice on top, the slice of the pie for the event planner. First of all, you would expect them to recognise that an agency needs to charge a profitable figure on top of the all the basic costs, and you would want to hear a couple of the different standard ways of charging a client, such as a set percentage of the overall event cost, or as an hourly rate, and if they are an experienced event planner you want them to specify how they have done it themselves or perhaps what the system was in their previous roles.
How do you measure the success of your event?
This is another question which helps to assess that your candidates are approaching event planning from a professional standpoint as, in many ways, an event is only as good as you can prove. Planning a ‘legendary night’ where everyone enjoys themselves sounds all well and good, but how do you then go on to prove to the client that it has enhanced their brand, increased staff motivation or coverage or brought them lots or prospective new leads. Keeping event-goers happy is not all that goes into a successful event, this is not club promoting, this is professional event planning so it is just as important that venue staff, suppliers and contractors are happy too. And the client of course.
A quick email from the client saying they were pleased with how things went isn’t a thorough analysis, you want your candidate to suggest ways of putting together a detailed post-event report. Perhaps they use online tools such as Survey Monkey to get feedback from delegates, maybe social media monitoring tools such as SproutSocial or Wildfire to help analyse the online ‘buzz’ the event generated, while a debrief with suppliers and event staff will not only provide more feedback for a report but also help maintain positive working relationships with fellow industry professionals. You would also expect to hear mention of analysing ticket sales and profitability, which is of course one of the key indicators of success for ticketed events, while you’ll also want to hear some ideas on how methods of measuring the event against the objectives and targets established beforehand.
What tools do you use to source and record venues?
‘Perform a Google search’ is the answer to so many ‘how do you find’ questions these days, but in this particular case you’re looking for that little bit more. References to respected industry publications such as Event magazine’s online directory and annual venue awards would show a willingness to keep up to date with venue developments, while they should be able to name other specific websites, directories and venue finders that they use.
An efficient event planner should also be keeping their own records of venues and their own professional experiences with them, including positives and negatives and any notes that may help inform their decisions for future events. Whether it’s CRM software or their own personalised spreadsheet, the important thing is demonstrating an effective and efficient way of keeping track of their venues and showing an understanding of why this sort of record-keeping is important.
Hopefully if you work in the events industry you should already be able to answer most if not all of our sample questions above and we hope they have given you some inspiration as to what you should be asking to ensure you’re hiring the right people for event planning roles. The important thing with application questions is striking the right balance between extracting specific information which demonstrates a level of knowledge and understanding, but also giving candidates enough freedom to show their own talents, creativity and general approach to logically planning and assessing professionally-organised events.
Keeping your questions consistent and establishing beforehand what sort of answers you would like to hear also helps you effectively compare candidates and establish who would be the best fit for your workplace.
Do you have any good questions for interviews in the events industry or faced any great questions yourselves? Let us know in the comments below.
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