"I am experienced in conducting over 250 interviews for CIBSE members" - #IamCIBSE


I am on the CIBSE Membership and Registration Panel


I am experienced in conducting over 250 interviews for CIBSE members


I have designed services for government offices, royal palaces, galleries and museums 


John Forster CEng FCIBSE, has been a member of CIBSE since its inception and was elected as a Fellow in 1994. He also sits on the CIBSE Membership and Registration Panel with the important job of interviewing and assessing membership applicants. Now retired, John spent many years working on Government Buildings for the PSA before leading bid teams at Interserve. We asked John to tell his story and give us his top tips for future membership applicants. 

How did you come to work in the building services industry?

I always had an interest in engineering and on leaving school had a conditional place to study electronic engineering at university. When I did not achieve the required grades, I signed an apprenticeship as a Heating and Ventilation Draughtsman with the Department of the Environment (DOE), later Property Services Agency (PSA). In the same year, I joined the Institute of Heating and Ventilating Engineers (the forerunner of CIBSE) as a Student member.

In 1968, I was sponsored by DOE to take a degree in Mechanical Engineering at City University, London. After graduation and a period researching and writing engineering standards, I went on to take a Postgraduate Diploma at the National College of Heating and Fan Engineering (now Southbank University).

Through my time working for DOE/PSA, I had the privilege of designing the services for some iconic buildings; Whitehall offices, Royal Palaces, National Art Galleries and Museums. I also worked on defence establishments throughout the UK and in Germany.

When PSA was privatised in 1995, I joined Unicorn Consultancy Services as Managing Director later transferring to Interserve where I had a role leading bid teams for major Defence Facilities Management contracts.

Since 2017 I have represented CIBSE on UK Engineering Council’s Quality Assurance Committee where I oversee the continuing registration of two major chartered engineering institutions.

On running the CIBSE Membership Application Workshops…

As part of the membership application, CIBSE requires applicants to write a 4000–5000 word Engineering Practice Report. It requires evidence of the candidate’s competence in seventeen aspects of their work.

The writing of this report is sometimes seen as the obstacle to preparing an application. To assist in this process CIBSE run half-day workshops to help candidates kick start the process. I have run a number of these sessions with a fellow interviewer. The feedback and the quality of EPR’s subsequently written by attendees has shown that candidates have found them useful.

Writing about work of which you are proud of should be enjoyable and is not that difficult when it is divided between the 17 competences - an average of say 250 words each. In the workshop we explain each of the competences and attendees are asked to draft five examples, one from each competence category, which they discuss with the group. In doing so they gain useful ideas for improvement from myself and my colleague based on our experience of reading many EPRs. Additionally, hearing other people’s thoughts on how to express a competence can be very helpful. Attendees are also given tips on how to illustrate their EPR and bring out points to enhance it.

By the end of the course candidate have the framework for the writing of five competences – nearly 30% of their EPR to start them on their way.

On being a CIBSE Interviewer….

I have always thought that members should contribute to the Institution beyond just paying their fee and writing the letters on their business card. I attended my local regional group, before eventually joining the committee and becoming Treasurer. As I had experience of interviewing candidates as part of my job role, I expressed an interest in conducting membership interviews for CIBSE. I undertook the training required and observed a few interviews before becoming an interviewer.

As a CIBSE interviewer, I am allocated a set of applicants and provided with their Engineering Practice Report’s (EPR), before agreeing with my co-interviewer that they can proceed to interview. In preparing for the interview, I re-read the candidates EPR and make a list of issues I would like to discuss with the candidate. The interviews last around 60 minutes, during which I make notes against the 17 competencies. At the end of the interview I complete a report, allocating marks against all the competencies before the next candidate is seen.

I enjoy conducting interviews as I find them interesting, informative and inspiring. It’s always good to learn about the work of the candidates. I am inspired by hearing about innovative solutions and discussing new techniques and systems available in our profession. I have now gained experience in conducting over 250 interviews.

There have been some interviews where the candidate has been able to demonstrate their work on some important national and international projects. Others have described clever innovative solutions to problems encountered on smaller projects. Some candidates stand out in my memory as people who will progress and achieve much in the industry and hopefully contribute much to the Institution.



What advice would you give to someone considering applying for membership and registration with CIBSE? 
  • Make sure that you have a supportive sponsor. They should have experience of your work and be able to help you by identifying examples of how you can demonstrate your 17 competencies.
  • Look at the examples of EPRs on the CIBSE website.
  • Write individual sections to illustrate each of the competencies, clearly responding to the description of each competence described in the CIBSE guidance notes.
  • Use images to illustrate your EPR, photographs, diagrams and charts to support the individual competencies. There are some good examples on the CIBSE website.
  • Take advantage of the application workshops and surgeries offered by CIBSE
  • Once you have a date for your interview get your sponsor, and or colleagues, to give you a practice interview based on your prepared presentation and the CIBSE marking sheets. Get used to answering questions based on your presentation.
  • Prepare for your interview as you would for a meeting with a client and be prepared to answer questions as you discuss each of your competencies in turn.
  • Finally enjoy your interview – it is an opportunity to tell two fellow engineers about the work of which you are proud.

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