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March 26, 2020

Isolated by coronavirus? Here are 5 tips to master virtual AEC project interviews

  • Interviewing virtually presents special challenges.
    Johnston Training Group


    Conducting interviews via online meeting tools was trending before the current health crisis. Now, with groups avoiding in-person meetings, the ability to do a great interview with tools such as GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams and Zoom has gone from a “nice to have” to a “must have.”

    At JTG, we routinely prepare firms for situations where they need to interact with clients (or potential clients) via conference calls or virtual meetings. Here are five tips to use for your next virtual project interview. Keep in mind that how you apply these tips will vary depending on whether your team is in one room together interviewing virtually with the client or spread out over separate locations.

    Once you have been shortlisted and notified that the interview will be conducted online do this:

    1. TESTING 1-2-3

    Reach out to the client contact and ask whether one person on your team can access the meeting room the client will conduct the interview from in advance. If so, make a test call to your team that is sitting in the room you will use for the interview. How far/close is each person? What can the camera see and not see? How is the audio from the different spots in the room? How big is the screen? Take pictures of the room if the client allows it.


    Conduct a dry run of the interview. This means using others from your firm to play the role of the selection panel. Mimic the interview situation as much as possible. Will your team be together and connecting virtually with a client whose team is also all together? Or will each person in both groups be connecting from their own location? Most online meeting tools have a record option — use it. When the dry run is over, ask the mock panel for specifics on what they felt went well and what didn't. Then watch the playback to see where the interview got bumpy and needs work.


    Gain agreement with the client on guidelines before the interview to keep things running smoothly. Simple requests include allotting time, asking for the number of questions in advance, and stating your name before you speak and asking the panel members to do the same. Assign a team member to be in charge of messaging with a designated contact on the panel during the interview. This will smooth out the interactions and prevent crosstalk.


    Prepare your room or rooms with the goal of keeping eyes on the camera, not looking down at your notes. Build your agenda on a whiteboard and position it at the front of the room under the camera so you can see it but the client can't. Print out pictures of each person on the panel with their name and tape them up to the whiteboard as well. Everything you need should be out of sight of the camera and panel yet visible to you without having to look around. Your camera should enable the panel to see all of you clearly so there are no voices that are not connected to a visible person.


    It's easy to fall back on fancy slides or other dazzling visuals during a virtual meeting. Used properly, they can do a great job of supporting the team's strategy and content. Remember, they are hiring you, not your slide deck. Keeping the visuals to a minimum will maintain the focus where it belongs — on your team.

    Project interviews are about making a connection, and interviewing virtually presents special challenges. However, one tenet still applies: The client is deciding who they want to work with. With the right preparation, your team can bridge the digital divide and be the one that earns the win.

    Scott Johnston is a principal at Johnston Training Group, which offers interview coaching, presentation skills and business development training programs for AEC firms.

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