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The coach: ‘How do I “wow” people at interviews?’

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Careers expert Matthew Turner advises an architect who is feeling the pressure when pitching for jobs

I recently joined a practice as an associate. At the job interview I mentioned that I had previously won jobs, and their ears pricked up – I’m pretty sure it landed me the position. Now the pressure is on, and I have my first pitch coming up. Do you have any top tips? I would love to ‘wow’.

Matthew turner

Your question comes with great timing, as I have spent a few days solid this month interviewing for design teams, and so interview technique has been on my mind. Here are my suggestions on how to interview well, which are just as relevant to securing a job as pitching for work.

Be aware of social cues during the interview. More often than not, an interview is really a test of how you’ll work in a team, and working well in a team means being aware of others. For me, this is the single most valuable part of a face to face interview, and is especially important to interviewers who are not technically connected with what you are talking about. I cannot count the number of times a fellow panellist picks up on soft skills as a major influence (saying something like ’he didn’t know when to stop talking’, or ’she seemed quite defensive’). Obviously you can’t read someone’s mind, but be super aware of reactions. So if you see the interviewer on the verge of asking you to clarify something, don’t steamroll through what you were going to say regardless – let them in, show you are aware.

Don’t talk about how passionate/committed/flexible you are, show that you are. Give real examples of the projects you’ve built, how you solved specific issues or even the events you organised. Name drop specifics, not aspirations or people, anything that displays evidence. This is the key to winning most jobs, and fortuitously is also the easiest thing to prepare.

Give extra detail without having to be asked. When talking about projects you’ve worked on, focus on what you did beyond meeting the bare requirements, and especially the requirements of the client.

Don’t focus on why the opportunity is perfect for you. I would say the majority of unsuccessful bidders fall into this trap. This is the equivalent to saying in a job interview that you are only there because the agency got in touch, or that you lost your job, or that you were looking for a change. None of this says anything about the client or their issues, and in fact is likely to count against you. Appeal to their needs from the opportunity, not yours.

Don’t mislead about your skills, or authorship. You can’t save yourself after being caught in a lie, but if you’re honest, you can still make a case for being able to learn or adapt. This particularly goes for architects claiming experience in a particular sector, or design team bids where the design attribution is hazy. If the QS has worked on the most amazing project by another architect, make sure it is clear it is the cost control, not the design, that is attributed to your team.

Don’t be negative. If you speak negatively, the people interviewing will think you’re negative, and no one hires negative.

Be realistic about the information the interviewers have about you. Some may be avid followers of your practice’s work and will have read your submission in minute detail. Others may have only skimmed it. For some, your practice is unknown, and the interview is literally an elevator pitch. The skill of a good interviewee is to give enough to satisfy all of these audiences. Good luck!

AJ coach Matthew Turner is an architect and careers consultant who runs the Building on Architecture consultancy. To contact him with your questions, tweet @TheAJcoach or email him in confidence at hello@buildingonarchitecture.com

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