The short list

Mar 27, 2017

If you make it that far in the interview process, don’t forget to show the potential client your best asset – your ability to make a human connection.

A few weeks ago, your A/E team submitted a proposal to provide design and construction phase services for a major public project – a local transit agency’s new park-and-ride facility covering approximately 12 acres and including multiple bus lanes with covered platforms, parking for personal vehicles, drop-off and pick-up areas, landscaping, and an air-conditioned building for public and driver restrooms, a snack shop, storage space for maintenance equipment and supplies, and fencing around the site.

It is a significant project with a significant budget.

This afternoon, the short list was announced and your team is on it, along with three other teams. And your team has the first interview spot.

Now you have to figure out what will ace the interview and win the project for your team – what will answer all the owner’s probable questions and set the bar so high that none of the other three teams can get over it.

It is a reasonable assumption that all four short-listed teams are technically qualified to do the work. So your technical credentials are not the main focus of the presentation. Instead, there are two things you must accomplish. The first is to answer three questions about your approach to the project. The second is to convince the owner your team is the one with which he/she will most enjoy working.

The three questions you must answer to the owner’s satisfaction are:

  1. How will you do my project?
  2. Why will you do it that way?
  3. What benefit comes to me from your team and your approach?

These three questions are your technical approach. This discussion will probably require graphics and/or photographs to help the owner’s representatives visualize your approach.

The second thing – convincing the owner your team is the one to select – is more about style, about demonstrating your team’s ability to make a connection. Again, there are three questions, but this time they must be answered before you put your presentation together.

  1. Choosing the presentation team. Obviously, the principal and project manager go. Should you include leaders of the most important technical disciplines? Should you include subconsultants? For some public sector short-list interviews, it is wise to “show the rainbow.”
  2. Choosing structure. How formal or informal do you want to make the session? A formal, stand-up presentation looks more “businesslike” but doesn’t help foster connections. A more informal structure might keep the session on a person-to-person basis and help forge connections.
  3. Choosing media. Obviously, you need some visuals. But a lot of people think slideshows and/or videos get in the way of making connections between people. Once you have made your choice of formal or informal structure, the choice of media should be an easy one. In the last few years, I have often said that the next big presentation “thing” will be humans – sitting down, having a conversation, demonstrating your ability to connect in a way that ends in a successful project.

When an A/E team takes the time to design a slideshow, especially when that slide show also includes video, there is a strong tendency for the slideshow to become the star of the presentation. And more than that, technical firms have a strong tendency to gravitate toward the newest technology and look for opportunities to show it off.

You must remember that this is a short-list interview, and an interview is – by its very definition – a question and answer session. Therefore, you do well to make sure that nothing interferes with the interaction of your humans and those of the owner.

Bernie Siben, CPSM, is owner and principal consultant with The Siben Consult, LLC, an independent A/E marketing and strategic consultant located in Austin, Texas. He can be reached at

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