Always unpredictable, Q&A can be a minefield or a Golden Land of Opportunity.
Some people do well at question/answer while others get stumped, answer poorly, ramble aimlessly, or provide a “vanilla answer” that misses the opportunity to differentiate and distinguish your team from your competition.
The power of the response lies less in the answer you provide than in the context in which that answer is nestled.
With every question asked, there’s usually something the asker wants, and there’s also something they don’t want. The best answer will speak to both of those things.
For example, if a selection committee member asks, “How do you handle change requests?” the asker wants to believe that their ideas and input will be embraced and addressed, even when something’s already completed. They don’t want to be stuck with something they don’t like, and they don’t want a lot of attitude. More than likely they don’t really care about your process for change requests, except to ascertain whether they can get what they want and avoid what they don’t want.
Look at these two responses to the question, “How do you handle change requests?”
Response 1: “Let me step through the process. If it’s a small request, we just take care of it. If it’s a medium-sized change we’re going to create a punch list and send it to you to prioritize. And if it’s a large-scale request, or it’s a huge volume of requests, we’ll schedule a meeting to talk it through.”
Response 2: “As the customer, you need to feel completely free to share your reactions, because you’re the final say in whether you got what you expected. You can’t feel stuck with something that’s not what you want. Let me step through our process for dealing with change requests. If it’s a small request… “
Both responses talk through the change request process, but the second one emphasizes what the selection committee member wants and doesn’t want, placing context around Response 1. It’s a much more complete experience for your selection committee to hear Response 2. Your competition is likely to just supply Answer 1, which isn’t as good because it doesn’t talk about the owner’s problems and desired outcomes.
Context can also define a “journey” the prospect may be on. If you answer with context, you can demonstrate your awareness of that journey.
Let’s say a University was concerned about the state of their campus in the fall when students start classes. They ask, “How can you guarantee that the schedule will be hit?”
Take a beat and think about the journey they are on. The journey begins with today, with them worried about the risks and repercussions of a schedule overrun. The end of that journey has them feeling confident that the project will end by its deadline. See if you can sense the distance travelled in this response:
“One of the biggest risks this project faces is a missed deadline, because if students return to the campus while construction is still going on, it could disrupt learning, put the students at risk, and generate negative PR. To move forward, you need the confidence that this risk is accounted for, dramatically reduced and closely monitored. That’s why our timeline has us breaking ground three weeks earlier than your current schedule.”
The “journey” from more risk to less risk is more motivating to the prospect than the solution of breaking ground early would be.
Chapter 6 of our Winning AEC Interviews book talks through the process of outperforming your competitors during Q&A. It looks at the structure of an answer, the emotion of powerful answering, the mindset you’ll need to keep your head on straight, and what to do when the question is tough or negative.
The context we’re talking about is their context, and behind every question is something to worry about and something to gain. Start looking for issues and opportunities hidden within every question, and bring context and forward movement to your prospects when you answer their questions.
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