Anything goes at an interview

I’m gainfully employed again. Part-time Girl Friday at one of my former agencies, researching and writing reports based on management requests. And other odd jobs that regular staff don’t have time to do. Some of them are not fun (In fact I’m procrastinating writing a rather overwhelming and dull report by blogging.) But some are pretty interesting. Some are just funny.

A couple of weeks ago, the request for proposals for a updating a bike plan was issued by the City of X. I forwarded it to my friend Carole in case she hadn’t seen it. Carole is also a bike planner, but she’s set up her own one-woman shop. Last year, we teamed up to submit a proposal for a similar project for the City of Y, but didn’t get the gig.

Carole replied with a brief note saying thanks, she’d seen the RFP, and it was an awful lot of work to be completed in 3 months (the City of X was under a deadline). I didn’t think anything else about the matter.

Late last week, my manager asked me to sit on the interview panel for the City of X’s bike plan update. In our field, it’s typical to ask staff from other public agencies to sit on your panel as peer interviewers, in part because they have had experience with the same type of projects (and consultants). I was a last minute substitute, because one potential interviewer worked for a city that had furloughs on Mondays, when the interview was going to take place. (Your tax dollar savings at work . . . )

I reviewed the three proposals: from Carole, and two other local firms. All three were invited to interviews. When Carole walked into the interview room, she was flabbergasted to see me on the interview panel, since I hadn’t emailed or talked to her since forwarding the RFP.

The City of X project manager had prepared the interview questions. Each proposing team is asked the same set of questions, which is fair. So even if there was a question you only wanted to ask one particular proposer, you would have to ask the same question of the others, even if you didn’t care about their answer.

In this case, the question was “What would happen if something happened to your key staff on the team? Who would be the back up?” He asked this of all the firms, but it was geared toward Carole. The two other firms are large enough where they have enough depth on their bike planner benches, so it wasn’t an issue for them.

When the question was asked, it was obvious Carole hadn’t expected it.

She took a deep breath and looks across at me. “Well . . . I could get Celia to take over . . . ?”
We all started laughing, me especially out of awkwardness.
I said, “No way, I’m already sitting on this interview panel, I wouldn’t be able to. Conflict of interest!”

Later the project manager told me, “That was a first. I’ve never seen a proposer try to get one of the interviewers to be on their team at the interview!”


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