What Not to Say in an Interview

By |October 12th, 2016|

As Owner’s Representatives we have participated in hundreds of interviews witnessing some engaging, educational and enlightening presentations from an impressive list of architecture firms and general contractors. That said, every now and then we observe professionals fold under pressure and say things they might regret. Here are a few things we advise not saying during an interview.

“Sweetie” Nothing is as impressive to a woman as using terms of endearment in a professional setting.
“How are we doing?” There is no way an Owner can answer this question honestly when you are halfway through an interview. It’s an obviously awkward question with an even more awkward response, yet we hear it often. We cringe every time.
“Who are you?” Basic rule – know your audience; if you missed a name, fake it.
“Estimate prediction” Be careful on using imaginative terms in your response; it may sound like you answered the question but follow up questions probing for details can get pretty tricky.
“We are the best.” We all appreciate confidence, but generic boasting does nothing to set you apart.  Stick with “We have been established longer,” or “We have completed ___ amount of sf for this project type.”
“When we were putting this together last night…” A statement more common than you think. Nothing says you care like waiting until the last minute to prepare. You are providing a sneak peak of how it will be to work with you. Don’t leave the client wondering how focused you will be on their project.
“Your budget will allow for modest design.” Owners know when the budget is tight, don’t rub it in. It’s the team that communicates they can [...]

Feedback Etiquette

By |June 30th, 2016|

The cursed proposal, and the hopefully-to-follow, nerve-inducing interview, are both part of what the A/E/C industry endures to win work. The process costs teams thousands of dollars in staff resources, printing costs, even on small projects. It is a serious decision and investment to submit.

When working with owners during the procurement process, we advise them to respect the efforts put forth by the submitting firms, particularly those who weren’t awarded the work. We communicate that they prepare detailed feedback to those who inquire. Typically, not all firms will place the call. In our experience, general contractors are more comfortable (1 in 3) than architects (1 in 5) reaching out to us or the Owner.

We provide the following list of dos and don’ts for our clients to consider:


1. Collect relevant documents including notes from the process and the actual proposals during or immediately after the interview.
2. Record comments from the selection committee immediately after the interviews occur. Your opinion is nice, but, remarks like “I had you as number one,” are of little value when trying to improve.
3. Respect that this is a difficult call to make.
4. Express a sincere thank you to those submitting.
5. Be honest—provide specific information on how they can improve. If the person on the other end of the phone becomes hostile, simply and professionally, end the call.

Do Not

1. Feel threatened. The caller is looking on how to win future work, not burn bridges or overturn the committee’s decision.
2. Retrieve a voicemail and respond with a two-line text.
3. Ask, “Did you submit?”
4. Say, “I recycled your proposal, so I don’t have any feedback.”
5. Issue the scorecard by email as sufficient feedback. Getting a [...]

Here’s Your Fee

By |June 23rd, 2016|

In speaking with a Principal of an established architectural firm that recently entered the Front Range market, I came to find out he and his colleagues were perplexed by firms’ common practice of sometimes using professional fees as a differentiator when submitting on projects. “What’s the deal with professional architectural fees in this market?“ he asked.

Not sure where he was going, I replied, “How do you mean?”

He went on to explain that his firm, established in other geographic markets, is not accustomed to deviations in fees between firms. It appears that in the Front Range market, fees carry weight in owners’ hiring decisions and teams are willing to set their fees to differentiate themselves. While our market has a common industry fee (by project type) and although the standard fee has never been corroborated, it is known by all.

My new colleague was clearly frustrated as he worked to adjust to his new region’s pricing culture. Was he implying fees should be established by region and project type? Should owners dictate what the fee is, or should firms, be it owner’s representatives, architecture firms or general contractors, have an understanding through professional organizations, albeit non-union, to advise on how to establish fees? It seems to me, free market tendencies apply the same to the A/E/C industry as they do any other industry; should that change?

In the recession of 2008, fee adjustment was common as firms worked to survive. It was also common to see — and exciting to witness — younger, independent architects striking out on their own, setting fees they could make a living off and hiring help or forming consortiums if and when needed. This set of professionals (myself and Class of ‘95 [...]

Liar, Liar

By |April 27th, 2016|

So, the dilemma unfolded, a crossroads of sorts. What to do? I am sure that most A/E/C professionals have been faced with a situation where they had to decide between telling a client what they would like to hear versus the painful truth.

We received a RFP calling for a combined design and construction schedule of six months. Upon analyzing the project details, it was clear that an eleven-month schedule was required. This left us with the option of proposing a schedule and fee that matched the client’s delusions, or present the reality. Do we tell the truth and risk losing the project? Do we tell the client what they want to hear? Should we lie?

The answer was obvious – present the truth. As an owner’s representative, it is counterintuitive to mislead the owner. We are, after all, supposed to watch out for their best interests. We secured an interview and although we had an opportunity to interview and present our position, we were denied the project. Another team did indeed demonstrate their ability to meet the abbreviated schedule.

We lost the project, but did we really lose? What if we went along with the unrealistic-schedule charade and were awarded the project? We would likely have had to begin playing a game of chess to protect ourselves. Some strategies might have included:

 Build a schedule that allots one day for the client to review and approve the drawings.
 Schedule 2 or 3 days for the design team to return comments to the building department. Or, better yet, have perfect drawings with no comments.
 Have a multi-phased project and a RFP that would require overtime work. Sure it would increase the owner’s overall costs, but we [...]

Trick or Treat?

By |September 24th, 2015|

Recently, we were interviewing for a project and upon entering the room, I was perplexed to see a table full of treats that would rival a school bake sale. Turns out, our competition thought the client was diabetic and brought them the fuel to get through the day. We didn’t bring anything; should we have followed up with tea, perhaps? The experience heightened my awareness of the give-em-treats approach. It has been interesting to observe our clients’ reactions. Let me share a few stories that come to mind.

A team came into an interview and gave a solid presentation. Everyone in the room felt positive about the possible fit between the firm and client. Upon their departure, the firm’s Principal handed out a custom branded box with the potential client’s logo along with theirs. Inside the box were branded items and snacks that totaled approximately $25. The client took the items, unaware of its contents. After the firm left, the conversation was not about how the firm interviewed and their experience, but instead, it was focused on whether the gift was appropriate and should be kept. This is not what you want your selection committee talking about when you depart. Consider bringing food–at least eat the evidence.
At an interview to select a general contractor, the client was very pleased. All of the teams seemed suited for the job. The last contractor closed by saying that we had a few hours of debate ahead of us, and thought they would provide us with a pick-me-up. They pulled out a cooler and presented ice cream sundaes. The problem was, they purchased the ice cream about three hours earlier (pick-up treats + arrive at the [...]

What Makes An Interview Memorable?

By |September 17th, 2015|

As an Owner’s Representative, we have participated in many architect and general contractor interviews and have witnessed all kinds of wins and fails. At an event recently, we were discussing the best ways to approach interviews. Some of the questions raised included:

What are some winning interview strategies?
What do people like to see in interviews?
Does a PowerPoint presentation typically help or hurt?

We have blogged in the past about our insight on interviews and proposals and over time, it seems not much has changed. Our recurring advice remains simple: be memorable. Imagine yourself on the selection committee. Think about reading eight proposals or sitting through five interviews. As someone who has, I can tell you, I have observed how hard it can be for the selection committee to keep track of who did which projects and which team each person is on; it can get blurry. Then, you come across the team that does something memorable. It may be cliché, but selection committees will often boil your presentation down to a label.  You may be referred to as:

The Funny team
The Revit team
The Fast team
The Boring team

To illustrate this phenomenon, I’ll share a couple memorable interviews that come to mind…

Architect.  When interviewing, one firm brought some simple tools including clay, blocks and, yes, even trace paper. The team introduced themselves stating their role on the project, per the usual. But as they continued it became memorable; they began leading what felt more like a design meeting rather than an interview. The Project Manager set the stage for what was happening, gave clear goals, and ran the meeting in the allotted timeframe. The Lead Designer worked [...]

My Super Model Is Hotter Than Yours

By |August 27th, 2014|

It’s long been debated who is the most beautiful person.  Be it Maxim’s Hot 100 or People’s Sexiest Man Alive, there is a lot of room for debate.  If you look at my wife you would know that I prefer tall blondes, my brother-in-law short brunettes. We could debate forever on what is better, but in the end there truly is no better, just what we prefer. When making your personal ranking would you create your shortlist by selecting someone who has done the most photo shoots, won the most awards or is the highest paid?  No, but sometimes we do.

Stop playing the better game, it doesn’t work. You can’t convince anyone that your design is superior any more than you can convince them you should be on the Hot 100 list. When you look at the Hot 100 list you may see the typical definition of the classic American beauty, that won’t change, but you will also find some that leave you scratching your head as they don’t seem to fit anyone’s definition of beauty. How did they get in the Top 10? What did the people see? The answer is they saw something unique, something different.  This should be your focus when generating a proposal.

Each firm has a culture, individuals, and prior experiences that make them unique.  Spend time determining what your firm’s are and promote on them, shout it out.  Is your team small? Are you fun? Do you have horsepower/can you work faster? Do you have a specialty department? Faster is not better, faster is faster; therefore, the more you focus on projects that need fast, the more you will win.

Recently we received 20 requests for a request for proposal [...]

Interview No-Show

By |July 3rd, 2014|

As a small business of eight, I, as the owner, have never had to miss an interview in person; until today.  This raised the question of what do you do if you, or one of your team members is a no-show due to a conflict.  Let’s start with what we have seen as options:

The cardboard cutout.  Albeit cute, the cardboard cutout lacks any sense of personal connection.  You might as well bring a cutout of a supermodel or sports star, it will be more interesting to look at.
The substitute.  More personal than the cardboard cutout, but imagine going on a date with the person’s friend as opposed to your future wife, it just doesn’t feel the same.
Send in the sales team.  Sending in the sales team can be effective as presentation skills and talking points are dialed in but this is risky and can fall apart if the team asks questions about their specific role on the project.  Don’t get fancy and make up new titles to mask the person’s true role within the company, misleading the future client never bodes well in the end.
Phone a friend.  This system can work and owners have most certainly been on a conference call so their comfort level is higher with the approach.  The challenge is making sure your team member is comfortable with this too; when you are not in the room you miss out on body language of the panel and other team members which is critical.
Meet early.  Making a request beyond the normal interview process is not ideal but we advise that you try.  Having a one-on-one connection with the interview panel is always a great thing; sometimes you have [...]

Charrette Syndrome

By |April 14th, 2014|

Do you suffer from Charrette Syndrome?  You can determine the degree of your ailment simply by counting the number of times you use the word “charrette” in an interview.

1-2 times – Early onset and you should be monitored
3-6 times – You have the syndrome and you should seek therapy
6 or more times – You should be institutionalized and no longer attend interviews

After interviewing architects with clients, they often ask, “what is a charrette and why do I need one?”  We don’t give them the institutional answer, but for this blog, we will provide some detailed information. The word charrette refers to any collaborative session in which a group of designers drafts a solution to a design problem; it is born out of working up to the last minute of the deadline.  According to Wikipedia, the word charrette is French for “cart” or “chariot”. In the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 19th century Paris, it was not unusual for student architects to continue team collaboration at the end of the allotted term, up until a deadline, when a “cart” would be wheeled among the students to pick up their work for review.

Charrette is a great strategy when marketing to a new client as it fits the bill of collaborative design.  The problem is most of our clients have never been through the design process; they are often intimidated by the time commitment of a three-day charrette and how they can contribute.  When using this tact in an interview consider a few strategies.

Explain what it is and how it adds value
Show the client samples of successful charrettes
Tell them how you operate; drawing, models, clay, silly putty. Is it fun or serious problem solving?
Don’t scare them with the time commitment. [...]

Setting the Mood

By |September 1st, 2011|

So you have settled into the interview and your carefully crafted PowerPoint presentation is ready to go. The audience is waiting to hear what you have to say. Your heart rate is up and you are wide awake and full of anticipation. The committee members are sipping coffee and trying to sort through all the data; they are exhausted from cramming in the re-review of five proposals.  You are interview number three, it’s 1:30 p.m., they just had lunch and are ready for a siesta….and then, off go the lights.

People often say using PowerPoint in the interview process are always a bad idea, but is it really the PowerPoint that’s the problem? I can tell you, as someone sitting across from presenters, it’s not the PowerPoint, it’s the mood. I personally have been in an interview where the team closed every blind, stood in the corner of the room, and turned off every light. It felt like we were watching an IMAX with a narrator. The problem wasn’t the PowerPoint but the lack of connection between the audience and presenters.

The challenge with projected presentations can sometimes be with the room itself–you may not be able to set up the projector in the spot you want and you may not be able to control the daylight or lighting system to your liking. Here are a couple suggestions:

 Try to keep as many lights on as possible.
 Control the natural light if electric light controls are not an option.
 Set the level so we can see the team member’s faces clearly; it’s more important than the slide of your latest achievement.
 If the room has limitations forcing you to go dark, then keep [...]