Bill Watts of building services engineer Max Fordham tells Matthew Richards why it takes more than just an engineering degree to impress his firm
What kind of people does Max Fordham want to recruit?
We're looking for anybody who is interested in buildings and has an inquisitive mind.

Building services engineering is a pretty unknown profession, so the trick is to pick up people who have come out of university with a technical degree and are wondering what to do next. We look at people from a pretty eclectic science background – about half of our recruits did engineering at university, the rest did science subjects like physics, chemistry and biology.

Why don't you just recruit people with vocational degrees?
We sell high-level advice for building services. We try to take into account the elegance of engineering and architecture. If people have been badly taught in building service engineering degrees, they come out with a linear approach, a very clear view of what the job involves but one that we think is misguided. They know how to use a computer to size a pipe, but they don't ask, "why are we sizing this pipe?"

It takes four years to do an engineering degree these days because you spend three years doing the traditional course and one year learning to use software. But the software changes, so I think it's better to learn it on the job.

What do you like about science graduates?
People with a physics background are very

good because they are inquisitive – they want to get to the bottom of things. I did biology myself, and I think it's an excellent subject.

If people have been badly taught in building service engineering degrees, they come out with a linear approach

What we do is similar to biology in many ways – we deal with the physiology of buildings. For example, pushing fluids around the body is comparable to supplying a building with water.

How does your recruitment process work?
We advertise in a career magazine called Prospects and have about 400 to 500 applicants a year. We look for academic strength on the applicants' CVs, including at A level stage. We ask them to submit a chatty letter, and we assess communication skills from that point on.

In interviews, we ask people to talk about projects they've worked on, to see how they can present a subject they know about.

We ask them questions about things they've never thought about, simple questions that you could put to any eight-year-old.

We do this to try and test their understanding of the world around them.