THE INTERVIEW: CLIENT AND ARCHITECT
No, this is not a movie reference. But this is a discussion and even a bit of a dissection of the client:architect interview. As my firm is still in its infancy I rely solely on the success of two project types. The first is the project that has just finished construction. It’s important that my clients have a pleasant and relatively stress free experience during construction and that the finished product at least meets their expectations (I’ve talked about managing those expectations before). The second project type, and just as important, is the project I haven’t gotten yet. And this is where the interview comes in. The factors that determine how likely you as an architect are to be awarded a commission are many and will vary widely based on other factors like project type, location, budget, past successes (and failures), and others. Some of these factors you can control. Others you can’t. The factors out of our control are moot, so lets focus on three factors that we can control during the interview that I think go a long way to tipping the scales in your favor.
This may seem like an odd component to an interview, but I have found it to be essential throughout my career when dealing with everyone involved on a project from my boss to the contractor, the consultants, even the plans examiner. And most especially the client. When you are meeting a potential client for the first time it is important that you quickly make them feel important and appreciated. I don’t think there is any single thing that can accomplish this better than showing a client that you are genuinely excited about their project – no matter how small, large, complex or mundane. This is not a manipulation. You do have to actually BE excited about the prospect of working with your potential client. People respond to genuine enthusiasm and they can easily recognize when you’re trying to blow smoke up their rear end as well. The way I get myself psyched up about a project is to take a few minutes prior to an interview and review the details (this is just good practice anyway). But then I take it a step further and I think about the project in it’s entirety, including how my role will play out in it. I think for just a minute about the planning process and the details that I’ll create and then eventually seeing those details materialize into physical form. If that doesn’t excite you, you’re in the wrong business.
Application of Knowledge
A lot of architects talk about not giving away their design ideas for free. And for the most part I agree, but during an interview process it is important to demonstrate, to a degree, your ability to think critically and apply your expertise to your potential clients project. That’s not to say you should whip out a roll of tracing paper and a survey and start working out intricate design details and schematic planning documents. But you should be open to discuss their project in real terms and offer helpful design suggestions and solutions in a way that they can grab a hold of and understand. This shows your depth of knowledge but also helps to solidify their view of your enthusiasm for their project as well, because you’ve obviously already been thinking about it.
Transparency and Confidence
I put these two pieces together because you have to apply both simultaneously in order to have a chance of winning your new client. By that I mean you need to be both transparent in all of your business practices (contracts, past clients, consultants, successes, failures, etc.) and confident in your past and future track record. If you’re open and honest about the way you do business and confident in your ability as an architect your potential client will see the value of the services you bring to their project and they will feel much more comfortable entrusting their project and their future to you.
In the past several months since I started this business and began relying solely on my ability to win new commissions I have interviewed easily more than 25 or 30 potential clients. Of those less than a handful did not turn in to real projects. Some of them may still and I do my best to stay in touch without coming off like a needy boyfriend. In all of the interviews that I’ve been on that have turned into signed contracts the one critique that I get over and over is this: “We just felt like you were the one who would really take care of us on our project.” Or “You weren’t the cheapest we found, but we think you’re a much better fit for our project.” Comments like this from clients are incredibly important to me both personally and professionally. And it’s because I am excited about working with my clients, I consistently demonstrate competence in my field, I am open and honest about the way I conduct business and I am confident in my ability to deliver real value for my clients. Three very simple but also very difficult things to help ensure your next interview turns into a signed contract. Then all you have to do is deliver.
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