At a recent industry event, I was asked, “What are the three most important things clients look for from teams during an interview?” Over the years, we observed what wins over clients and what falls flat.

First, congratulations on making it to the interview. In 2020 the average response count to CMAR and Design RFPs on projects which we are managing has been fourteen.  Standing out and making it to the top of the list is an achievement.  By making it to the interview clearly, your company has demonstrated that they are the right size and are qualified to complete the project.  I suspect, too, that the team proposed has some unique attributes that made them stand out.  So what will the client look for in the interview?

I liken the three most important things to look for in an interview with the three C’s of a diamond.

  1. Capability: In an interview, you have to reinforce why the company and the proposed team are qualified to do the job, this certainly was covered in your submittal packet, but it needs to be presented to put your potential client at ease. Remind them that you have the credentials to reduce their risk and bring knowledge to the project.
  2. Connection: Nothing you can do can prepare your team for this; it can’t be faked. I recall researching a client prior to our interview and concluded what I thought they were looking for; it wasn’t us. I molded our presentation to the point I didn’t recognize myself; it was terrible. Connections are genuine, which means you and your team have to be authentic. Let your team answer the questions as they believe it is right, with guidance from your marketing team. Scripting answers and trying to predict what the owner wants to hear is not the solution.
  3. Candor: “Candor is a compliment; it implies equality. It’s how true friends talk.” ~Peggy Noonan. Candor is a great word for analyzing interviews as it encompasses authenticity, sincerity, directness, honesty, and openness. Patronizing your clients during an interview can win over a committee member, but it rarely wins over the committee.  Clients expect the truth no matter what the question: Can we meet the budget? What concerns do you have about the project? How do we be a better client? Ambiguous answers are forgotten as well as those who lack purpose and conviction. Your team needs to address the questions concisely and honestly to make a real connection. Teams that speak the truth and present solutions always stand out.

While serving as the owner’s representative on the Rocky Mountain Deaf School we lead the CMAR selection process. The selection panel was diverse, including hearies and the deaf community; a translator was provided. The situation was tense due to the cultural gap between the deaf community and construction management teams. One teams’ proposed project manager had a sister that was deaf, and we anticipated this would be a huge advantage.

I’ll cover the two teams that I recall; the first team came in the room with one owner, the project manager, and the superintendent. They placed three posters on easels behind them and sat close together at the table in front of the selection committee.The team was poised and patient waiting for the selection committee to settle in. The interview lacked flash but was very respectful and straightforward. This team respected that communication was going to be different; they slowed the pace, made eye contact with the committee members, followed up if they felt critical information was missed, and remained relaxed in an uncomfortable environment. This team was selected.

The contrasting interview featured a team that brought eight people, a sixty-inch television, and six poster boards.The visual noise and multiple points of communication were too difficult for the selection committee to follow; the staff member who had a deaf sister didn’t know how to sign. Under normal circumstances, the interview would have been impressive; it just wasn’t a match.

This year has brought about a whole new world – virtual interviews. While it has been frustrating for both owners and the interviewees, it has allowed us to reflect on the three Cs from a different perspective. Capability now also means selling yourself and services while being technically savvy. Creating a connection, whether in-person wearing a mask or calling in remotely, is more complicated than ever. Body language and voice inflection are essential to get right. Not much has changed with candor; it the same no matter what the environment – be sincere.

Like no diamond is perfect, no team is perfect, no project is perfect, and no client is perfect.  The best outcomes are the most perfectly matched.

Paul Wember, President