Interview Like There is No Tomorrow

March 10, 2018

Public speaking is the number one fear of most people. You’ve heard that before. Well, project interviews are one in the same. As architects, engineers, and construction professionals, interviewing for a project may seem daunting, overwhelming, and out of your skill set. But you can capitalize on those emotions and use them to deliver an outstanding presentation. Your prospects and clients know you aren’t a public speaker, but they want to get to know your team and who they will be interacting with every day during their project. They must feel comfortable with your project team. They don’t expect a professional speaker, but they do expect your team to communicate with them.

Ideally, the prospect or client should already know one or two employees of your firm. You should have started building the relationship long before you ever received the RFP. During the interview, talk about the client’s project. You have already been shortlisted to the interview, so they know you’re capable of completing the project. Really, any of the firms being interviewed is qualified to complete the project. So how do you set your firm apart?

The interview should be more conversational rather than lecture-style. Your client wants to know how you are going to help them. They are there for themselves, not for you. Remember this during the interview, because they are thinking about their project — not critiquing your presentation skills.

During the presentation, you should:

  • Connect with your audience.
  • Smile!
  • Make eye contact.
  • Show your passion
  • Stand up straight with confidence.
  • Keep your hands out of your pockets.
  • Focus on the content and conversation.

Your audience is cheering you on during your presentation. They don’t want you to fail; they want you to succeed. Connect with them in conversation. Talk with them, not at them. When you are presenting, you should make eye contact with one person as you say 1-2 sentences, then move to the next person. Focus on each person in the room. Body language is also important during the presentation. Be confident! Use large gestures to communicate your message. This shows your passion for THEIR project.

Visual aids can enhance or distract from your presentation. You need to be strategic with displays. Your PowerPoint/Keynote/poster boards/etc. should communicate your message VISUALLY and not just serve as your note cards. Place the computer screen where you can see the screen, so you don’t have to continually turn around to make sure your presentation is moving to the next slide. (If this isn’t possible, then occasionally look back to ensure the correct slide is showing.) Make eye contact with your audience and engage in conversation.

Your leave-behind should be helpful and memorable. Simply printing off a copy of your presentation is not helpful, but you can create a handout with 3-5 hot buttons and pictures of your team with names and contact information. This should be something they can take notes on regarding the presentation. Customize the handout to the client!

Practice! Your project team needs to practice the presentation a minimum of five times. The first couple can be more off-the-cuff, but the last two or three need to be more structured. Find two or three employees (or even industry partners) to be your “clients” for your practice runs. This will allow your team to have an audience, garner feedback, and address those issues important to your client. (Mock interviews are a great way to prepare, especially if your team doesn’t consistently interview.) The more practice and the more presentations you and your staff complete, the more natural it will come.

A contractor won a project for a minor detail discussed during their interview. They were interviewing for a children’s garden project and part of the garden would be shut down during construction. The owner was concerned with its patrons not being able to “see” progress of the project (a wooden fence was going to be constructed around the jobsite to ensure safety). The contractor proposed cutting out “peep” holes, so people could look through at the construction site to see its progress. This unique idea that didn’t cost any money (except a couple hours and a saw) won them the project!

Here are some tips and tricks to delivering an effective presentation:

  • Be creative.
  • Put yourself in the owner’s shoes. What do they care about?
  • Practice!
  • On your way to the interview, listen to some “pump you up” music. (Whatever gets your blood flowing and excites you!)
  • Before you go into the presentation room, go into the bathroom and do some jumping jacks (it helps relieve the tension)! Sounds crazy but it works.
  • Take 3 DEEP breaths right before you enter the presentation room.
  • Shake hands and introduce yourself as you walk into the presentation room.
  • Smile!

Interviews are going to continue being competitive, but it’s about connecting and engaging with your audience. If you can make them feel comfortable with your team, then you are one step closer to getting the job. The interview is the last and final step to winning a project. Fostering the relationships with the client should come long before the RFP and interview process even begin.

Interviews can set you apart from your competition. Make your audience feel comfortable and have a conversation with them. Practice! The more you do it, the easier it will become. Interview for every job like it’s the last one to WIN!