It can be stressful, and a lot rides on the outcome. It is, of course, the job interview.
Before we get to the 15 possible architecture interview questions you can ask when the interviewer looks you in the eye and says, “What questions do you have for me?” let’s take a look at the role of the job interview and what else you can do to help increase your chances of success.
A key part of the recruitment process, the job interview is “the best opportunity a candidate has to demonstrate their skills, talent, and personality,” says Katharine S. Brooks, co-author of the best-selling job-hunter and career changer’s book What Color Is Your Parachute?. “They can establish a strong relationship with the potential employer and greatly increase their chances of landing the job,” she says.
For Nicolas Roulin, Associate Professor of Industrial/Organizational (I/O) Psychology at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax (Canada) and author of The Psychology of Job Interviews, an interview that is “designed and conducted properly is the very best way to select job applicants for positions,” he says. Interviews that are well-designed are “reliable tools and they are strong predictors of future performance at work,” he says.
By ‘well-designed’, Roulin means that the interview should be ‘structured’. “The questions need to be chosen/created to align with the skills/competencies necessary to perform the job,” he says.
Pre-interview research and preparation
Before the interview, both candidate and interviewer should have done their homework. The interviewer needs to “figure out what are the job requirements,” says Roulin. The requirements being assessed could include things like communication, problem-solving, creativity, and leadership qualities. “In addition, the interview delivery needs to be standardized,” he says. For example, the questions put to candidates should be exactly the same and asked in the same order, and “interviewers need to evaluate each answer using a clear scoring system, again designed to assess job-relevant skills/competencies,” he says.
A candidate’s pre-interview research involves thinking about what kind of questions might be asked. They could be questions about how you handled specific situations in the past, how you would handle a particular workplace situation, or that test your knowledge of specific job-related elements, like BIM, collaborative workflow tools, and real-time visualization and virtual reality software.
You can also “try to identify the ‘selection criteria’,” says Roulin, “that is, what knowledge, skills, abilities, or experiences the company is looking for in a candidate and will likely assess in the interview.”
With this in mind, try to identify potential questions designed to assess specific job-relevant skills and abilities and find “relevant experience that you can match to each selection criteria,” he says.
The importance of architecture interviews
Ryan Loveday, director at Fulton Trotter Architects, which has offices in Brisbane and Sydney, sees the interview as key to filling a position with the right person. “A face-to-face interview with two senior staff is an absolute requirement,” he says. “You can gather a lot from the way a candidate presents themselves on paper, and we use that to filter applicants. However, the interview is where we really test those impressions,” he says.
During the interview, Loveday says that the whole person can be evaluated. What candidates say and how they say it—this includes their “posture, manner of speech, eye contact, reactions, presentation and yes, attire,” he says—can be assessed.
Image credit: Fulton Trotter
Nathan Hildebrandt, director at Brisbane-based architecture and BIM consultancy firm Skewed, thinks the interview is “the second opportunity a candidate has to impress their potential employer,” he says. The first one is the CV/resume and cover letter. An interview enables an employer to “validate a potential employee’s resume,” he says. It also gives the firm “a chance to assess their personality, and how they present themselves,” he says.
Loveday says a candidate’s means of non-verbal communication contributes to “a more complete picture of the person,” he says. “In most cases I think we’re looking to see how accurately the things they say about themselves matches up with their presentation. And naturally they are doing the same with us—any interview is always a two-way street,” he says.
Increasing your chances of success
So, during the interview, what response strategies and influence tactics can you use to increase your chances of success in an interview?
“Interviewees,” says Roulin, “can use many strategies or tactics to create a good impression in the interviewers’ mind.”
A candidate can use what Roulin describes as ‘self-focused’ tactics, which are used for self-promotion. They include “emphasizing their qualities,” he says, “experiences, or past career accomplishments in a positive light. They can also use ‘other-focused’ tactics, for instance praising the interviewer, laughing at their jokes, or trying to highlight how their values align with the values/culture of the company. They can also use defensive tactics to protect their image, for instance trying to explain, justify, or apologize for negative elements in their past/resume, for example, explaining why they were unemployed.”
Brooks points out that candidates should employ story-telling as part of their response strategy. They should “always back up any statements with a story that illustrates what they are saying,” she says. “If they say they are a hard worker, they should have a story ready about a time when they exemplified that trait. If they say they are good at meeting project deadlines, they should tell a story about a successful project they completed.” Don’t ramble on though. The stories should be just long enough to illustrate the point.
Towards the end of an interview, the interviewer usually asks if you have any questions—but it doesn’t have to be at the end. “I’d like to think there is room for a candidate to ask questions throughout the interview,” says Loveday, “not just at the end which assumes the discussion is all one way. An interview should be a conversation and like any conversation needs a bit of back and forth to keep the energy going.”
But if there is the opportunity to ask questions, you should. Brooks believes it’s very important. “Asking questions implies that the candidate is curious and wants to learn more,” she says. “They demonstrate continued interest in the opportunity, and further encourage conversations.”
And all agree that a candidate should research the company before attending the interview, which will inform the type of questions you ask.
Candidates should, however, “avoid asking questions easily answered through the internet or the company's website,” says Brooks. It’s a good idea to focus instead on questions only the employer can answer.
Potential questions to ask during an architecture interview
What type of questions could you ask during an interview with an architectural firm? Let's take a look.
Questions about the company:
1. What is the firm’s management style?
2. Could you tell me about the culture here and the values that are important to [name of company]?
3. What future projects are you planning?/What projects are in the pipeline?
4. What are the downsides to working here? As you’re asking about something negative, make this a follow-up question to a more positive question about working at the company.
Questions about the position:
5. What can I expect to learn in my first month on the job?
6. What would your expectations of me be in the position?
7. Can you tell me about the team I’d be working with?
8. What sort of support can I expect to receive in the role?
9. What are the career and growth opportunities here?
10. What are the hours like each day and on/at the weekend?
11. I’m interested in [the aspect of a role that interests you, like specific projects, team structures, project processes, and delivery methods]. What opportunities would there be for me in relation to that?
12. How do you measure success in this position?
Other questions (these questions focus on the interviewer and can help to create a good impression in the interviewer’s mind, one of Roulin’s ‘other-focused’ tactics):
13. What do you enjoy most about working here?
14. What project have you most enjoyed working on?
15. What building are you most proud of and why?
And remember to congratulate the interviewer if the firm has won an architecture or design award recently, or even if the design of the company’s website impressed you. “Everyone responds to a bit of flattery,” says Loveday, “so it’s nice to hear what a candidate responds to within our marketing and reputation.”
Of course, you don’t need to ask all of these questions. Choose the ones that you think are most relevant to you.
Lastly, if you haven’t done so already (you can check the website during that all-important pre-interview research), do remember to take note of people’s office attire when you go to the interview, if you can, because on the first day of your new job, you’ll definitely want to dress appropriately.