An Insider’s Look into an AEC Project Interview/Presentation


MARKETLINK Principal Stephanie Craft, MBA, got a first-hand understanding of how a client/owner views an AEC team presentation after being invited by the Facilities Director of a community college district in California to attend a selection committee interview. By experiencing the process in real time, Stephanie learned some insightful facts that she can now share with MARKETLINK’s clients to prepare for AEC interview and presentation coaching sessions. 


Insight 1: Your Words Matter and the Team Members are Important


Each team was to provide a 15-minute presentation followed by nearly an hour of Q&A. The unwritten rule in the AEC industry has been to only bring team members to the interview who have a speaking part, and in this case, some abided by that and some did not. During this particular interview, Stephanie observed that it did not make a difference to the selection committee. What did seem to matter is what was said and who said it.


One team chose not to give the Project Manager have a speaking part. The seasoned, gray-haired Principal did all the talking. Occasionally, the PM would try to dive in when there was a break, but it was rare. The selection committee was not impressed. This strategy did not provide the selection committee a chance to get to know the day-to-day contact person with whom they would be working. One selection panelist mentioned that it often seems firm principals and executives spend too much of the valuable time speaking during an interview. With a short time period of time to present, it’s important to use this time making a connection.


One firm closed their presentation by mentioning they wanted to work for the college because they disliked working with an existing client and wanted a change. The feedback from the committee was they simply wanted to hear how the team would provide them with the best solution and value. To add insult to injury, the firm’s principal commented to one of the selection committee members that he hoped they didn't have to make the drive to the College again because it was so far away. Little did he know, his words and attitude just lost them the project.


Insight 2: AEC Presentation Q&A Should Be Short and Concise


The selection committee had a list of 18 questions that were to be answered by each team. That meant there were approximately three minutes to answer each question, which seemed reasonable. The committee was unable to get through all 18 questions because most of the respondents were so long-winded and rambling that sometimes the question didn't even get answered. What was the takeaway for Stephanie? She observed the importance of answering a question concisely and then stopping. The committee is looking for a clear, concise answer, not your entire history.


Two teams did the best job at responding to questions. How? The principals answered very few, if any, of the questions, and instead deferred them to the PMs. The PMs answered the questions and provided proofs from past work experience to support their answers. The PMs conveyed an ease in answering the questions. They were confident in their abilities, yet low-key in their communication style, and came across as both knowledgeable and easy to work with. This gavethe AEC selection committee an opportunity to learn how he or she solved problems and helped a client throughout the life of the project. It also gave the committee a sense of whether or not they could work with the PM. 


Insight 3: The Selection Process: What Happens When You Leave


What impressed Stephanie the most about the selection discussion was that it came down to one simple concept: a group of human beings talking about what they liked or didn't like about the prospect of working with another group of human beings. 


First, they acknowledged all the AEC teams were qualified or they wouldn't have been asked to interview. So, what was the deciding factor? Stephanie observed it was which team gave the committee the feeling they were heard and understood. 


The interviewing firm’s challenge in an interview is to create an emotional connection with the selection committee because when it comes down to it, it is an emotional decision they are making. It is based on their subjective, gut instinct (which gets scored!). Clients want to hire the team that they believe has their best interests at heart—and they must feel that—to be able to offer a winning score.


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