Have you ever observed the research that a college student does when buying a cell phone? They ask all their friends about their handset, plans, costs, & coverage. They do all the online research to ensure that their new phone has the features they want, and that Apple doesn’t have a new model arriving soon to make theirs obsolete. They spend a ton of effort on this decision that will cost them $75/month.
Contrast that effort with how quickly some clients choose their builders. I’m always surprised at the brief effort that some clients spend interviewing or checking the references for a $100,000 or even a $1,000,000+ project.
With that in mind let’s talk about how to interview. I fully believe that past performance dictates future behavior, so I recommend staying away from “what if” questions. Instead use the STAR method. Ask a question that demands an answer with a past Situation/Task, the Action that was taken to resolve this, and the Results of their actions. Always steer the interviewee back to real life past situations or tasks. These past experiences will give you an idea of how they will handle your project.
Here’s my top 11 questions:
- Can you give me an example of when a problem happened on a past project during construction? What was the situation, what action did you take, and what was the result?
- Tell me about a house you worked on that had a difficult client. What was the situation, what actions did you take to keep this client happy, and what was the result?
- Give me a specific example of a time when you used good judgement and logic in solving a problem.
- Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty to get a job done.
- Tell me about a time when you had too many things to do and you were required to prioritize tasks. (Use this question to probe for how they manage their jobs, follow up questions might be: “How do you organize your day? How do you schedule sub-contractors?)
- Tell me about a time when you had to motivate an unwilling sub-contractor or inspector to go your way?
- What’s the worst failure you’ve had of a building after a client moved in? How did you handle it.
- Tell me about a time when you had to fire a sub-contractor. How was the project affected?
- Tell me about a time when you were able to successfully deal with another person even when that individual may not have personally liked you (or vice-versa).
- Tell me about a personal goal you’ve set for yourself that you were able to meet or achieve.
- Tell me about a project that you’ve done where the clients or architect had unrealistic expectations. How did you meet or change those expectations?
You can tell a lot about a builder by asking these questions. These will reveal their problem solving skills, their judgement, their organization, and most of all their integrity when things go wrong. If you spend the time interviewing with this STAR method my guess is that you’ll find one person/company that really stands out as the clear choice for your project.
Matt Risinger – Risinger Homes in Austin, TX
Risinger Homes is a custom builder and whole house remodeling contractor that specializes in Architect driven and fine craftsmanship work. We utilize an in-house carpentry staff and the latest building science research to build dramatically more efficient, healthy and durable homes.
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