In the year that I’ve been working for the state, I’ve been a member of several designer selection committees. Most of the interviews have been for renovation projects such as mechanical system upgrades, elevator modernizations, and roof replacements. The first time I sat in on an interview, the responsibility of deciding who would win the project weighed heavily on me. Being a recent designer myself, I know how important getting the next job can be. I hope the insight I’m about to share will help you on the next interview.
Before I start, one thing that designers should understand about interview committees is that not all committee members are architects or engineers. The interview committee is usually composed of the project manager (like me), a construction manager, and a representative from the school that uses the building such as School of Medicine or the Music Department, so at least one person on the team is not familiar with architectural or engineering terms. The committee is called the CIP (Capital Improvement Project) team.
Show not Tell
While preparing to start this blog I procrastinated (I mean prepared) by taking a fiction-writing course. (As a side note, one of the benefits of my job is one free class a semester). In the writing course, I learned that it is important to show what you mean and not just tell what you mean. In a story, showing is done through dialog and action while telling is a simple recounting of events. As you can guess, showing is more interesting and is more likely to stay with the audience.
One successful way of “showing” during an interview is that the designer shows the committee a picture of the failing equipment and then points to what is wrong with the equipment and then explains their design approach to fix it. When a presentation like this is done well, it is like the designer is a compelling professor and the committee becomes the students. This method of showing, allows the designer to demonstrate their expertise through the act of teaching. A picture of a piece of mechanical equipment is not very sexy, but I’ve noticed that this approach is more effective than “telling” the design firm’s expertise in front of a PowerPoint picture.
I witnessed a second example of “showing” during a recent interview. At the pre-interview walk-thru I made it known that we were concerned about disturbing the occupants of the building during the construction phase. One design team addressed this concern and simply told us that the design documents would phase the construction and that they would require the contractor to have a contingency plan when they shut down power to the building.
The second design team went a step further. They showed us phasing plans from a recent project and talked us through them step-by-step (with anecdotes about the project) and demonstrated how the interruptions to the occupants could be planned out and limited. They then discussed how construction disruptions were communicated to the occupants, and showed us emails that were sent out during the disruption.
After the presentations were over, the committee evaluated the teams based on the State Statutes and all three of them were viable contenders. The team that stood out from the rest was the team that did the best job of showing rather than telling.
So remember, the next time you are interviewed on campus, show not tell. Feel free to send me an email with questions or leave them in the comments section below.