Articles and News

Hire Smarter

Brad Cruickshank, President, Reliant Commercial Construction

As seen in May/June 2009 issue of Professional Retail Store Maintenance magazine.

As owner of a self-performing commercial handyman firm, my company requires experienced and knowledgeable tradesman who can work both independently and accurately complete paperwork. In the past, we'd place an expensive newspaper ad, check a few references, interview applicants, and then I'd make a decision by myself--a fairly typical process for many companies, but one that produced only about 50% of new hires working out in the long term. Given the investment and very significant amount of time required, we had to find a better way.

Over the past decade, we have developed a much more sophisticated hiring and training process that has allowed us to grow with experienced and qualified employees. Here's what we have learned:

Be Smart About Advertising
To avoid excessive spending on advertising, offer employee referral incentives. We offer our employees $500—that's $250 for referring a candidate who is hired, and $250 if the new employee successfully completes training and is made a permanent employee. We have acquired several good workers this way and it supports our existing employees. Besides, $500 is a bargain for a quality employee.

We avoid listing expensive "help wanted" ads in printed editions of the newspaper. Instead, we utilize our local on-line edition which produces hundreds of applicants. Because reviewing the number of initial responses can seem to be an overwhelming task, we use our phone system to minimize the time required and maximize the information gained. We ask applicants to call a particular extension on our phone system. This is also a direction-following test (one of many) and it really helps narrow applicants to those who can follow a procedure.

Narrow the Pool of Candidates
Our message thanks them for their interest, and provides a brief introduction to our company and the position. We then ask callers to email or fax us their resume and to answer the following three questions:

  1. What work they have been doing most recently?
  2. Why are they are looking for work right now?
  3. Why do they think they are the right person for the job?

Listening to phone messages takes less time than a two-sided conversation and allows us to hear responses on our schedule.  It also allows us to assess the applicant’s verbal communication abilities, their thoughtfulness, and their ability to follow directions.

Giving each respondent a numeric ranking based on their phone messages, we then look for faxed or e-mailed resumes of the top ranked candidates. The most qualified, desirable candidates are then called for telephone interviews.  Those who make the cut in this second round are asked for three work-related references.
Checking References
In my experience, applicants rarely give bad references, so it's rare that the information given by a reference is significant. What is significant is the type and quality of the reference, so it’s worth following up. Old jobs, personal friends, or work unrelated to the position that the applicant is applying for is less supportive than a continuous trail of prior employment in the same or similar industry.

Personality Profiling
Applicants who pass the initial telephone screen, the telephone interview and the checking of references are then faxed or e-mailed a personality profile test. This testing may seem excessive to some, but it is now a critical element in our hiring process.

Many different types of personality tests are available--find one that best suits your needs. Myers Briggs and DISC are two popular ones. At Reliant (my company), we use the Personal Interests Attitudes and Values test (PIAV). It's a quick, one page test that is scored over the internet for a modest fee.

A good way of figuring out which test is best for your hiring needs is by having your current and productive employees take the test. How your employees score will provide insight into the areas that are of most importance. When we were testing our existing employees, nearly all scored high the "utilitarian" category. The two who didn't fit the profile either quit or were fired within the next six months. Working through this process has enabled us to establish a profile for a successful Reliant technician – and a way to test for it.

The More Heads, the Better
With the list of candidates further narrowed down, it's time for in-person interviews. Prior to the interview, candidates complete a standard employment application in our office, along with a skills matrix developed for their specific position. In addition to the information provided on the form, this is yet another test of an applicant's ability to follow directions.

For the actual interviews, I suggest subjecting each applicant to at least two sequential, separate interviews by different employees. We use a technician in the position for which the applicant is applying, the division manager; and as the owner, I also participate. This not only allow me to honor my employees by including them in the hiring process, but it also gives the applicant the unique ability to talk to a potential co-worker in the position for which they are interviewing.

While memories are fresh immediately after the interviews, we meet to determine if there is a consensus of which candidate (if any) is worthy of being hired. If there is a consensus, a job offer letter is emailed or faxed the same day. Unsuccessful candidates are called and thanked for their interest.

If none of the candidates seem like a good fit, don’t make the mistake of hiring the one that you dislike the least. Start over with a new pool and find someone you really want to hire. It may take longer, but the alternative is wasting time with the wrong person.

Training and Testing
As is fairly standard in the industry, new hires should be put through a training program of appropriate length for the position. Our training period is 90 days. During the entire period, they are paired with a senior journeyman. A new hire is normally matched with our two most senior techs during the training period. 

Each new hire gets a training log for his position.  This document is a page and a half long with a list of skills routinely required in the position. After a few weeks of training, the new-hire is evaluated on their skill level and progress. Prompt feedback will help the mentor and trainee focus on those areas that need work. Working with the training log helps the mentor ensure that the new hire is capable of performing all job duties by the end of the 90-day training period.

Training for us is as much about the actual work as it is the paperwork. We joke that toward the end of training that the senior techs sit in their trucks while the trainees do the work and complete the documentation. This may seem humorous, but it’s a legitimate form of testing.

At the end of our 90-day training period, either our new employees are ready to work on their own and offered continued employment or they are let go.

Getting It Right the First Time
Since we began devoting more time and resources into finding, hiring and training new technicians, the quality of our new hires has improved dramatically along with employee retention. Not only has this saved the company time, money and hassle, but our employees are happier because they know they are well-suited for their position. Our customers see the results in the quality and consistency of the services we provide.
The quality of a service business is highly people-dependent. Efficient screening of applicants, evaluation by multiple employees and testing helps avoid the "revolving door syndrome."  With a little more effort, you too can find people with the aptitude, ability and experience you need to get the job done and keep your customers satisfied and coming back for more.


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