In construction – as with Architecture, Engineering and other professional service interviews pivotal to new business – some interviews pop up with no lead time to prepare.
You pull the team together and suddenly it’s pizza dinner the night before and the team’s coming together for the first time to figure out how to look prepared.
How can you bring strategy to a situation like that? Here are 4 tips to prepare quickly:
1) Stay Calm
The first thing to do is realize that you and your competitors are all in the same boat. You might imagine that the bigger, more resourceful company will have an unfair advantage, but it’s not true, because this choice is not going to come down to who has the better looking PowerPoint or the coolest take aways. It always comes down to the team that the selection committee wants to work with the most — The team that understands them, and is the most appealing to work with.
2) Ask Questions to Select a Strategy
Strategy is your answer to the question, “How will we win?” This is better phrased, “How will they decide?” Many factors can impact this question:
- What drives the prospect’s business? (What are their goals as a company right now, and what is in their way?)
- What is the relationship between this project we’re interviewing for and their business goals?
- What factors determine success or failure on the project?
- How can we address this project to ensure that it creates the success they want for their business?
- How does each member of the selection committee view the issues above, and how can we serve those differences positively?
Collectively discuss these questions to determine how to approach your interview. Based on what you just discussed, decide:
- What your main points should be about this project.
- Who to focus on the most.
- How to approach those individuals.
3) Design Content Based on the Strategy
Even a feeble strategy is better than the ideal strategy you haven’t got (and your competition probably doesn’t have the ideal strategy either).
Strategy informs your approach, becoming your primary tool for weeding out and prioritizing the countless ideas and angles you could take, while aligning messages to make points that build off each other from multiple angles.
If you have a “most bang for your buck” strategy then the message in your budget section will be about cutting cost, and your preconstruction planning message can speak to efficiency planning. Your value engineering message can focus on harvesting cost-neutral improvements. And your safety message might emphasize reducing costly lost-time incidents.
If your strategy hinges on increasing your client’s market visibility, then our budget message would emphasize spending toward aspects of the project that enhance image and brand. The preconstruction conversation might be about prioritizing based on customer input, and the safety dialogue would focus on avoiding bad press.
When your team has a strategy, you can design interconnected messages that make points add value to each other.
4) Consider Leading a Discussion Instead of Delivering a Presentation
The goal of formal presenting and PowerPoints are to show preparedness, which is not a luxury you have. With limited prep time, you’ll end up with a rushed PowerPoint that you don’t have the time to rehearse well enough to do smoothly.
Last minute interviews are great opportunities to choose improvisational or interactive presentation formats over the formal presentation, and to favor boards and flip-charts over slides (or very limited slides that serve as chapter markers).
Instead of the polished speech, bring your questions, discuss as a team, and approach it like you would a working session.
Invite them to explore with you and discuss the project together with them, instead of “performing” for them. Ask questions of your own, while capturing their input on a flip chart and drawing diagrams while marking up site plans to show what you’re like to work with.
Letting them see you work can say as much or more than the well-rehearsed formal presentation (that you don’t have time to perfect anyway). Your job across the two-way dialogue is to build a story instead of telling one, and taking your prospect from the challenges they face to the better place they want to be.
It’s easy to panic when you get invited to pitch your team with only a tiny window of time to prepare. Just recognize that these circumstances can call for a different approach. You don’t need to bend over backwards to create all the visuals, figure everything out to the nth degree, and come up with a perfect answer for every possible question. Instead, keep your wits about you. Look at the project from the perspective of your prospect, and design your thoughts around their needs and interests. Then, when you get in the room, lead the conversation like it’s all about them and you are simply there to discuss with them.
When push comes to shove, preparedness doesn’t necessarily win the day, being in the moment with your selection committee does.
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