Interviewing with the APWA Top 10 Leader team

by Jenna Cerutti, Account Supervisor

Our team has been very busy this term creating a nomination packet for the American Public Works Association’s (APWA) Top 10 Leader Award. The APWA is an international organization that provides a forum for public works professionals around the world to exchange ideas so that members can stay on top of the most innovative and efficient public works processes. The Top 10 Leader Award recognizes those professionals who have made achievements in engineering, excelled in the industry and serviced the community. APWA’s Oregon Chapter has nominated Tillamook County Public Works Director Liane Welch.

Our fantastic team, Jesse Davis, Paris Isaacs and Nicole Kramer, is busy interviewing the candidate’s co-workers, old bosses, community members and family to get the inside scoop on how Welch operates.

First, we dived into research. I knew little about public works, let alone the technicalities of planning, implementing and assessing public facilities. Turns out, public works professionals have their hands full in Tillamook County. Did you know that Tillamook County has experienced more federally declared storms than any other West coast jurisdiction in North America? This requires emergency response and crisis management from the public works team, hardly a nine-to-five job.

Once our team digested the material, we set off to interview. As upper-division students on the verge of graduation, we have been interviewed a lot – we perfect our resumes, attend cover letter writing workshops and practice answering interview questions with mentors. It has been a while since I had been on the other side conducting interviews, and these require our team to be on top of our games. For this nomination, we need to flesh out all the confusing content and maximize our 20 minutes on the phone with interviewees. Here are a few things I learned along the way:

  • Research, research, research: The only way to learn about anyone is through research. For this project, I asked each interviewee how he or she knew the candidate. I received responses telling me about the public works projects or initiatives they worked on with Welch, some of which were: bioengineering erosion control, full-depth reclamation and slough consolidation conduit utilities…definitely a mouthful. In order to develop thoughtful questions, we spent time reading up on these processes and Tillamook County’s involvement with them.
  • Stay casual: Interviewing is simply facilitating a conversation. Focusing too much on the question may lead you to neglect what the interviewee is saying to pry out an answer you want. Listen to interviewees and ask follow-up questions based on what they are saying – if they’re excited about it, you’ll get more details.
  • Turn off phone notifications: During a phone interview, it’s easier to write notes without a phone in your hand. Speakerphone is a great option, but turn off those loud beeps that alert you of new texts, e-mail and Twitter mentions.

Our interviews have offered our team great insight into Welch’s achievements. The feedback we have received has been extremely positive. Welch is constantly praised as a collaborative communicator and leader, encouraging her employees to engage with other professionals in the industry and educate themselves on current trends. She has created relationships with all these people we interview, and those relationships have propelled her forward, positioning her as one of the top 10 public works leaders in the nation.

Writing a nomination for such a praised professional inspires the work we do in Allen Hall Public Relations. As aspiring young professionals, we are learning to become transparent communicators, inspirational leaders and relationship-builders.

 

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