Making the most of interviews

Written by: Pamela Buxton
Published on: 7 Jan 2019

While you will be primarily interested in a candidate’s CV and portfolio, take heed of first impressions at the interview. Do you really want to employ someone who turns up late, without reasonable or even any explanation, for their interview?

As well as punctuality, appearance can be a good indicator of general attitude.

‘It’s amazing how many people turn up looking as scruffy as anything. If they don’t look like they’ve made an effort, you wonder whether they would make the effort if they went for a meeting when they were working for you,’ says Simon Cottingham, director of London practice MEPK Architects.

‘Although we have a relaxed office environment, I'm looking for people at the interview to be demonstrating they can be punctual, smart and professional looking, even if we don’t demand that of them every day,’ says Mark Doohan, director of London and Bedford practice Benchmark Architects.

The interviewer also has a part to play at the start of the interview by putting the candidate at ease.

‘Show them around and make them feel welcome. Always offer candidates tea or coffee and make them feel comfortable,’ says Erika Rudinska, human resources manager and associate in the London office at Perkins + Will.

Be understanding that the interviewee may be nervous.

‘We can normally tell if someone is just shy and intimidated. We try to spend a bit of time welcoming them – a bit of chit-chat, and then you can move on to the interview. It is a stressful situation for candidates,’ says, Ann Lakshmanan, director of Shepheard Epstein Hunter.

She recommends that practices always have the same people interviewing all candidates. Some practices have a scoring system and set questions before seeing the candidate’s portfolio.

‘We have certain a standard questionnaire we ask all candidates to ensure equality. Then we would like them to take us through their CV and present their portfolio,’ says Erika Rudinska of Perkins +Will. ‘We look for knowledge of the industry, software skills and the ability to perform the role.’

Although it seems obvious, it may be a good idea, especially for more inexperienced candidates, to specify exactly what you expect them to bring to the interview.

‘We have had some just bringing in what they sent before, and offering us no engagement. We now say ‘please bring proper explanations and descriptions of your work and your methodology and your skill base,’ says Mike Lawless, director of Brighton-based LA Architects.

Assess not just the quality of work in their portfolio but how they present it. Are they well organised with their work in an easy-to-present format? Are they able to explain their role on a project? Ann Lakshmanan of Shepheard Epstein Hunter likes candidates, for example, to be able to ‘tell a story’ in the way they present their portfolio.

And of course personality is also important – you are looking not only for a combination of hard and soft skills but whether they will fit in well to your practice.

‘I use the interview to firstly check that the information they’ve sent in is true. If their drawing skills are good and they have the right experience, the interview is more about trying to figure out if you will fit into our team, our office culture. It’s more about character and personality,’ says Mark Doohan, director of London practice Benchmark Architects.

Give candidates an opportunity to ask questions and make sure you ask their salary expectations and availability at the end of the interview.

It’s sensible to take notes, not only to help your own assessment but to be able to provide useful feedback.

‘Have a formal way of taking notes. It’s only fair,’ says Mike Lawless of LA Architects.’ These people are coming to the table with their dreams.’