025 The Designer Interview: Bond Project Post #4

post-25The night before the designer interviews I couldn’t sleep. I had put myself in the designer’s shoes and couldn’t shake them off. Years ago, when I was a structural engineer on the design team, I remember the desperate feeling of “we’ve got to win.” The reason was pretty simple; we needed the revenue.

At some point, I was able to take the designer’s shoes off and envision the next day. Tomorrow I would spend the day being part traffic cop, part mom, and part detective. Acting as a traffic cop, I would welcome teams to the interview room and then politely kick them out at the end of their allotted time. During the interview I would focus on the presenter, silently encouraging them to do their best, and listen for clues as to why their team is the right team for the job while writing down constructive criticism for their debrief.  At the same time, I’d glance at the key client stakeholders to see if they were connecting with the presenter. It made me tired thinking about it. I would have to be “on” all day; right now I needed to get some rest.

Pre- Interview

A half an hour before the interviews, the selection committee meets and introduce themselves to each other. The purpose of the pre-interview meeting is to review the day ahead with committee members who have not gone through the interview process before. I start the meeting by reading an official recusal statement and ask if the members think they need to excuse themselves due to a conflict of interest. I review the interview process with them and we decide on what questions that we will ask each team.


The first team is in the interview room and ready to go when the committee arrives. I start the interview with an explanation to the team of how the next fifty minutes will go and then we go around the room and identify ourselves.

The first team had a similar approach to the presentation as the rest of the teams: team intro and firm history, subject matter expert, architectural design, and finally the project manager. Each team had the difficult task of establishing their expertise in medical education programming, showcasing their design skills, and connecting with the stakeholders, all within thirty minutes.

Establishing and authenticating their programming experience was accomplished by the better teams by comparing and contrasting our program with peer institutions and offering advice on how to make it better and stay within our budget. The best teams engaged and connected with the stakeholders in the conversation by subtly soliciting feedback or information on their assumptions.

All teams showcased their design skills by creating a scale model to inform us of site issues and opportunities. Each team presented at least three different design solutions. One team stood out to me because rather then three design solutions, they used this part of the presentation, to show us not “what” they can design but “how” they would engage us in the process. Their model was at least twice the scale of the other models and had removable parts that could be configured in different ways. The designer talked us through his initial design and then engaged us in the different ways to configure the space. Unfortunately we ran out of time and I (acting as traffic cop) had to stop him mid-way through the presentation, but this presentation really gave me a feel for their communication style and what it would be like to work with this team (see suggestions below).

After the interviews were complete, I knew we were going to have a difficult decision ahead of us. Typically, for a project this large a team may spend ten thousand dollars on their initial submittal, and then another five thousand on the model, and ten thousand for an interview coach and then another ten thousand for staff time, knowing this didn’t make the decision any easier. Four teams would walk away from here with a negative balance, so at the end of the day, all participates must feel like they were treated fairly and equally.

The Decision

It started with a list of the team names on the white board followed by tick marks. After we came to a consensus on which teams did not make the top three slots, we moved away from the white board and sat around the table to discuss the remaining teams. Two of us had contacted references and we shared that information with the committee. Campus stakeholders shared past experience with the various team members.   Eventually we narrowed it down to two teams. If only we could have a couple parts of this team and a couple parts of the other team, we’d have a dream team.

About an hour into the deliberations, we were at an impasse, and then fire alarm sounded and forced us outside into the heat. With the help of the weather and our five o’clock deadline, we quickly decided on the order of the teams. I passed around a piece of paper for signatures to solidify our decision. Two weeks later, we requested approval from the Chancellor’s Buildings and Grounds committee. Two weeks after that, the Associate Vice Chancellor for facilities recommended the top three firms to the Board of Trustees, and they approved our recommendation. A few weeks after that, we had our first kick off meeting.

Interview Suggestions

If you submit for projects at the university, consider some of the suggestions below when you are putting together your presentation:

  • Validate your experience. People tell owners information about themselves all day long and some of us are a little jaded because sometimes the information turns out to not be true. Show us that you know what you’re doing.
  • Be yourself and show us what it would be like to work with you. How will you engage us? Do you listen? We want to know what it will be like to spend many hours of our life with you.
  • Everyone one in attendance should have a speaking part (yes this means your engineering consultants).
  • Be Concise.

I hope the information above offered insight on the interviewing process. Let me know if you have any questions in the comment section or send me an email. Be sure to follow my blog or follow me on LinkedIn to see my latest posts.

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