Candidate interviews are the ideal way to determine the best applicant fit for your firm. Getting it wrong at this crucial stage can be costly - in time and money - so that’s why it’s vital you prepare well and carefully craft your interview questions.
The first step in this process requires you to do two key things:
1. Gather your recruitment team & review your PD - All those present at interviews should know your PD inside and out. This way, everyone is on the same page when it comes to spotting applicants with the requisite skills, qualifications and desired attributes.
2. Research each applicant - Delve deeply into each applicant’s resume, portfolio (if they submitted one with their application) and professional profiles such as LinkedIn or websites.
All of these will give you a solid foundation concerning the person you are due to meet. They can also act as a springboard for creating individual questions for particular candidates. An example: an applicant might have experience in a large-scale development situated in a remote location that presented unique Architecture or Interior Design challenges. This piques your interest and warrants further exploration during the interview with some specific questioning.
Once you have completed those steps, you can turn to compiling the questions themselves. The following are a broad selection of some of the best Architecture and Interior Design interview questions. Feel free to select a few from each category that cater to your firm and specific role (ie Graduate, Lead Interior Designer, Studio Manager etc).
There is no need to use the entire list as that would result in excessively lengthy interviews (and overwhelmed candidates!).
Tell us about yourself
This open-ended question is designed to put candidates at ease, establishing the interview as conversation, not an interrogation. As it’s quite a common question, it’s likely the interviewee will have an answer prepared, but this is a good confidence boost when they are nervous.
Why are you interested in this particular role with us?
The way the candidate answers this question will demonstrate whether or not they’ve done their research on your firm. If they haven’t, that doesn’t bode well for their chances at securing the job!
Why are you moving on from your current role?
This is a good way to find out what the interviewee desires from your firm. They will likely frame their answer to speak about what they are looking for now that they don’t get from their current job. Perhaps it might be increased personal and professional development opportunities or better working conditions.
PERSONAL & SKILLS DEVELOPMENT QUESTIONS
Think back to a day when you came home from work very happy or satisfied. What did you do that day to make you feel that way?
Uncovering what drives an employee intrinsically is extremely valuable in determining a culture fit for your firm, but also for long-term retention. Based on their answer, does your firm foster an environment that will make them happy?
Tell us the most recent skill you learnt (can be work-related or not)?
Then follow this up with:
Is there further training you’d like to do to increase your skills and knowledge? If so, what?
Architects and Interior Design professionals must keep up to date to remain relevant. Green design, tech advances and an ever-changing offering of new materials are a few vital areas. Candidates should answer both questions in a way that reflects their desire to continue to learn. Bonus points if they can articulate how they have researched and used a new design methodology in their work.
Can you recall an occasion where you didn’t see eye to eye with a teammate and how you resolved that?
This question speaks directly to their ability to be a team-player and resolve inevitable points of contention in a reasonable and constructive manner. The example they choose is also very telling. Do they pick a conflict that has a sound basis? Or is it something trivial that may reveal a weakness in their judgement?
What do you think you do really well? And not so well?
A variation on ‘what is your greatest strength and weakness?’, this should give you insight into what the applicant values most about themselves work-wise. If they incorporate some of the most important skills needed in your job, all the better.
As for weaknesses, at best, their answer should give you a good indication of their ability to self-reflect and learn. At worst, it may send up a red flag i.e. an Architect candidate who feels they aren’t good at being organised!
Is there a particular Architect or Interior Designer who inspires you? Why?
This question should spark a passionate response. Most Architects or Interior Design professionals can name at least one person who has influenced their work for the better. Look for a candidate that can eloquently offer the ‘who’ and ‘why’ when answering this question.
Which project are you most proud of in your portfolio and why?
The choice of project and the elements that underpin its success should be a very accurate reflection of the interviewee’s values, abilities and strengths. Do they match up with those needed at your firm ie highly organised or collaborative?
Imagine a client shows you a magazine picture and asks you to design their home, room for room. How would you respond?
The answer to this question should clearly demonstrate how well the applicant can negotiate, persuade and dissuade – all essential elements when dealing with clients!
If you need to complete an Architecture or Interior Design job and you lack experience in that area, what would you do?
Most of us have come up against problems when coordinating different parties during a construction project. What did you do to overcome yours?
Can you provide an example of a creative idea you had that resulted in an improvement?
All of these questions are aimed at uncovering an interviewee’s organisational, conflict-resolution and time-management skills – all crucial attributes. As they are all example-based responses, you should receive a wide-range of answers and hopefully, hear some innovative ideas.
Talk us through the steps you take when you are first given a project
Project planning is an essential tool in any Architect or Interior Designer’s toolbox. Those candidates that can clearly explain a logical project planning sequence - and properly identify priorities - are the ones you want for your firm.
For Architects and Interior Designers, there is often a struggle to balance function with aesthetic appeal. How do you do that?
This can be a tricky question to answer so let applicants know they can have some thinking time to formulate their response. When they do, what they say should first obviously illustrate they understand what you mean by the terms ‘function’ and ‘aesthetics’. Next, consider what value their place on their ideas versus the clients’, and whether this will work for your firm.
Do you have a solid understanding of the Building Code of Australia (BCA)?
Can you rate your Revit/AutoCAD/Sketchup skills on a scale of 1-10?
The answers given here are purely to enable you to ‘tick the boxes’ to ensure applicants have the required technical skills for your role.
GOALS & CONCLUDING QUESTIONS
Let’s fast-forward 5 years – what would you like to be doing?
Knowing where your potential employee wants to go in the future is vital, particularly in determining if your firm can support them in this growth. Is there alignment between your future goals and theirs?
Do you have any questions for us?
Journalists always leave this question for last as it has the potential to be the most revealing. Allowing the interview subject free rein to explore issues that are most important to them can offer up some interesting insights into their core personality and future aspirations. It’s then up to you to decide if they are a good fit for your role.
EXTRA TIPS FOR CONDUCTING INTERVIEWS
Now that you’re armed with some great questions, it’s worth spending some time honing your interview skills. The most important skill to develop – and the one that will increase your chances of finding the best candidate – is that of active listening.
Active listening involves displaying characteristics, both verbal and non-verbal, that show the interviewee you aren’t just passively taking in what they are saying. Rather, you are absorbing and seeking to understand more. An example:
“Yes, I hear what you are saying but I’m not really engaging with you. I’m just waiting for my turn to talk.”
“My body language and words tell you I’m right there with you, fully focused on what you are trying to tell me.” Here are seven tips to help you develop your active listening skills:
1. Set up the interview room to make it conducive to active listening:
It’s imperative you give the interviewee your undivided attention. It’s very easy to get distracted by a text message or email notification so switch your phone to silent, and shut down your email and messaging systems on your computer. If you need to keep in contact with the firm, check and respond to urgent queries between interviews. It’s also a good idea to choose an interview room with good sound proofing, or one that is least likely to suffer from staff interruptions.
2. Engage with your eyes AND body:
What you say non-verbally holds just as much weight as the words you speak. A slight frown, the set of your mouth or a slump in your shoulders may make the interviewee feel you’re bored, frustrated or irritated.
Non-verbal signals are also a way to feed back to the interviewee that you understand what they are trying to convey. Back up what you are saying with natural eye contact and positive body language such as nodding, angling your body in their direction and smiling.
3. Talk less:
It can be very easy to over-talk - rather than actively listen - about the role you have on offer. You love your firm and the work you do so that’s only natural. But knowing when to talk and when to listen is a crucial component of active listening. After all, the more you talk, the less you learn. The whole point of an interview is discovery, so it makes sense you will achieve this if you talk less.
Developing the skill of effectively silencing yourself takes just as much practice as that of becoming a great speaker. Striking the balance between giving the candidate enough prompts to talk freely, and coming across as abrupt, is difficult. But with time, you can improve this skill and put it to good use during the interview process.
A few suggestions:
- Employ the 80/20 rule. Let the candidate speak 80% of the time, you the remaining 20%.
- Use open-ended questions. For example, the question “Do you consider yourself a leader?” will likely elicit a short reply. But “Tell me about a time when you had to lead your team in a different direction” should get the candidate talking in more detail, allowing you to remain quiet and actively listen.
- Practise. Find opportunities to enhance your listening abilities. Employing it around the dinner table may be an interesting - and valuable - place to start!
4. Activate your listening time:
When the candidate is talking, you must listen and absorb. But it’s all too easy to get distracted by what you want to say next.
Persistently doing this means you may miss golden opportunities to ask follow-up questions. You may even miss crucial information that results in a misunderstanding about what an interviewee is trying to convey. Both of these outcomes are dire in this pivotal stage of hiring.
It takes an ordinate amount of concentration and discipline to actively listen to someone. To illustrate this, the next time you’re in a meeting listening to someone speak, pay attention to how much effort it takes to continue to attend to what they are saying. Take particular note when you find your mind drifting, or you begin fidgeting, discreetly checking your email or phone, or mentally rehearsing what you want to say next. It will likely happen much faster than you might think!
5. Don’t interrupt or ‘sentence-steal’:
When an interviewee is responding to a question, avoid jumping in and interrupting or ‘sentence stealing’ (where you finish the interviewee’s sentence for them).
Interrupting or ‘sentence-stealing’ conveys a number of negative messages to the potential recruit, such as:
“I’m more important than you are”
“What I have to say is more interesting or relevant”
“I don’t have time for your opinion”
It’s easy to fall into this habit for a few reasons - perhaps you want talk as you don’t want to risk losing your train of thought while waiting for the other person to finish. Or you may be conscious of staying on time, particularly as you will likely have many more interviews to get through.
If you’re worried about forgetting, keep a notepad handy and jot down any follow-up questions that come to mind so you can let them finish their answer without cutting them off.
Should you run over time, let the candidate know in-between questions. Be honest with them about needing to wrap up soon.
6. Ensure you fully understand the interviewee’s answer:
It’s very easy to make snap judgments about a person based on what they are saying. Our personal belief system will often cloud our judgement and misinterpret the meaning behind what is being said.
This is why clarifying questions are an important active listening technique. If the candidate says something that seems odd or unexpected, ask them to elaborate on their answer to ensure you are clear on what they are saying.
For example, “Can we go back to what you said about XXX for minute. Can you tell me again what you meant?”
Another technique is to paraphrase their answer by saying “So I think this is what you’re saying …. Am I correct?” This gives them ample opportunity to restate to ensure their meaning gets across.
7. Summarise and reflect back:
Another important way to show the listener you have been active listening is to summarise their point and repeat it back to them. It also gives them the chance to correct you if you got it wrong, or perhaps add another little nugget of information they may have forgotten.
There’s no need to do this after every question, just the most important ones. Or you might like to sum up the main points at the end of the interview. Ensure you ask the interviewee if you got it right, or if there is anything else they may wish to add.
8. Follow-up after applications and interviews:
So you’ve managed to get through the interviews with your very successful set of bespoke questions and your active listening skills. Your recruitment team has taken some time to review all candidates and you’re ready for the next steps.
Before you take those, consider this: the recruitment process is tough on candidates. They put a lot of time and effort into crafting their applicants and portfolios and it’s extremely disheartening if they don’t hear back from a potential employer. Worse yet, they secure an interview and then it takes forever for the employer to advise whether they were successful for the next stage.
As the Architecture and Interior Design industry is relatively small in Australia, the way you treat potential employees during recruitment may impact your reputation. The potential employee you fail to get back to could very well rise to be the head of your competition somewhere down the track. Or they could score a job at a rival firm and bad mouth you to other industry professionals or clients (you would hope they wouldn’t, but it does happen).
This is why it’s important to remember that while you are judging during recruitment, you are being judged too. Treat candidates the way you would like to be treated. This means getting back to them in timely manner during the application and interview stage, whether they were successful or not.