An integral component in the tournament judging process, the Design Interview is a great way for teams to grow public speaking skills while discussing robotics in a friendly environment.
There are two main types of interviews, both equally important, that will take place at a competition. The first are pit interviews, where all teams will speak to the judges either in the pits or in a dedicated judging room, where the team will present their robot and overall design process. Additionally, some teams will receive a secondary interview, where judges will ask specific questions pertaining to specific aspects of a team's performance.
Pit interviews are the first type of interview that teams will experience at a competition, with judges usually interviewing every team at a given competition in this format. As a minimum baseline, teams should aim to follow the rubric as closely as possible, in order to gain maximum points on the judging rubric (linked below). In most regions, there will be multiple teams at the same competition that score very high on the rubric, meaning that it will come down to various other factors to differentiate teams when it comes to picking who wins awards. These other factors could include a unique design process; an extremely well designed, programmed, or built robot; unique circumstance to the team; as well as a myriad of other factors that could set teams apart in the interview process.
- Introduce each team member to the judges.
- Aside from being polite, telling the judges a bit about "the team" helps to personalize the interview, and stand out compared to other teams.
- Plan ahead for roles during the interview.
- Every team member should be talking during the interview, in order to show that the whole team is actively involved in the design process.
- Be sure to practice transitioning topics from one team member to the next!
- Use the Engineering Design Process (EDP) to describe the journey to the current robot.
- In addition to scoring points on the rubric, tying the EDP into the progression of your interview helps to establish a flow and logical progression through your interview.
- As an example, starting off the interview with Step 1 of the EDP could elaborate on the specific game challenges a robot could be trying to solve, with Steps 2 and 3 leading into the team's research of which designs could end up being pursued. Step 6 could be used to describe previous iterations of the robot that led up to a current design.
- Plan around being adaptable.
- Not every judging process will be the same - some judges will opt to solely listen to teams, allowing for teams to give a "presentation" of sorts. Other judges, however, will ask specific questions about the team, in order to score and note down any notable responses.
- While it's good to have a plan and practice going into the pit interview at a competition, it's always a bonus to keep flexibility in mind as well. Whether the interview is in a presentation or question and answer format, the team should be ready to adapt their responses to fit any way the judges may require - getting all intended information across regardless.
- Keep the pit interview fairly broad.
- In the pit interview, the most important things are to cover every point on the rubric to the fullest extent and to differentiate oneself from other top contending teams, keeping in mind the relatively limited time limit as well. Because of this, it is important to keep the scope of the interview fairly broad, touching on every important, necessary topic - rather than tunneling in on only one or two aspects of the team.
- In keeping the scope of the interview fairly broad, this allows the judges to ask questions about many different aspects of the team, from which further elaboration can be spawned. This also allows judges to note various topics to return to in the secondary interview, as well!
- Keep in mind, while you want to keep the interview broad enough to cover every important aspect of the team, be sure not to leave out important details to cover too many topics! In practicing the interview, cutting out unnecessary fluff can strengthen the core material of the interview, and allow the team to cover the EDP to the fullest extent.
- At the end of the day, the judges are just people interested in VEX Robotics and the teams behind them!
- Follow the rubric.
- Practice, Practice, Practice!
Top contenders from the pit interviews and Engineering Notebook rubrics, at most competitions, will be granted a secondary interview. The secondary interview is a chance for judges to ask more specific questions about the team, usually pertaining to one of the awards offered at the competition in question. Secondary interviews generally go more in depth on a select few topics, rather than the overall broadness of the pit interview - and there is no specific rubric for the secondary interview outside of specific award criteria.
- Read the award rubrics to know how to best prepare.
- There are many different awards offered in VEX Robotics Competition, for many different aspects of the competition, with most involving the judging and interview process in some way. As such, it is best to read through and understand all of the criteria for each award, in addition to the standard pit interview and Engineering Design Notebook rubrics.
- While a team may wish to target a specific award, the judges may decide to ask your team questions about a different, or even multiple, awards. Therefore, it is always best to have a response prepared for each question, should the need arise.
- Practice with mentors and have them ask questions.
- For the type of in-depth response a good secondary interview will require, it is best to practice what should be said for each topic in advance, or at the very least knowing enough about your robot to improvise an answer. Having a coach or mentor ask specific questions pertaining to each award category can help develop the knowledge and reasoning behind exceptional answers.
- Have visuals, demonstrations, or references to the Engineering Design Notebook if applicable.
- Being able to show off various features of the robot working effectively during an interview is an easy way for the judges to see interesting, unique, or effective parts of the robot that have been called into prominence during the secondary interview.
- For instance, a demonstration relating to the Think Award could be demonstrating a small, point to point movement algorithm that has been used in the larger autonomous code. In addition to receiving a detailed, well thought out answer verbally, the judges are able to see tangible proof of the team's effectiveness in action.
- Referring to specific pages in the Engineering Design Notebook is a good way to call back to more in-depth explanations that have been written in the past. This way, the judges are able to see evidence that the team's answers have been thought through based on true experience, rather than making things up on the spot to seem more knowledgeable.
- Make sure to switch between speaking team members often and act as if it is a conversation over a presentation.
- In addition to covering more in-depth material, secondary interviews are a way for judges to get a better read on the team themselves. It is still good to carry a professional manner, but don't let that get in the way of letting the conversation flow effectively. The judges are there to learn more about the team, and an effective way to accomplish that is for teams to talk with them, rather than "at them."