How to Win the Hiring War

Have a strategy in place and utilize the best questions when recruiting and screening in the best candidate

hiring sign freedigitalphotos 562fd2abd8867

Get ready, the competition for hiring the best construction workers is just beginning. The days of simply throwing a Want Ad in your local newspaper are over. As we are beginning to see some improvement in construction opportunities, the competition to begin strengthening our “bench” will intensify.

While many contractors are still careful after our past few years of construction slow down, many contractors cannot find available and skilled employees. As more than a few residential contractors have realized, a house that might have taken four to six months to build might now take nine to 12 months to build. This is because contractors just can’t find enough workers to frame houses or their subcontractors do not have enough plumbers, masons, roofers, etc.

Look, hiring workers has always been a costly enterprise for most contractors. In my years of experience I have found most contractor problems lie in four significant hiring processes: recruiting, screening, interviewing and making the final decision. This article will tackle recruiting and screening to help you develop a process that identifies quality candidates. 

Recruiting candidates

Traditionally, many contractors use some or all of the following techniques to finding construction workers:

  • Place description in the “want ads” of local newspaper
  • Post job opening notice on boards at grocery stores, retail stores, post office, etc.
  • Place a job opening sign in the window of company building
  • Alert local job placement agencies of employee need
  • Involve current workers to refer other potential employees to you

Depending on the position in need, any of the above techniques might be adequate. However, if you are not finding enough good candidates then consider a few creative alternatives.

  • Post your job position needs on the Internet. This is a less-expensive effort and a surprising number of bright applicants may find your posting.
  • Offer a “signing bonus.” Money talks, and people who may be on the fence in a current job might seriously consider your organization if there is an incentive.
  • Contact local schools. Get to know the local high school “shop” teachers and career professionals in vocational schools and colleges or universities with construction management degree programs.
  • Contact local manufacturing and service organizations. Contact the firm’s human resource manager to find out about any soon-to-be-retiring employees.
  • Related to the previous idea, contact HR managers at local military bases if you have any close by. Often the young men and women decide to leave the service and want to stay in the local area because they have met a future spouse or significant other. The HR managers on such military bases are only too happy to connect an exiting service person with a job right away.
  • Create your own “job fair.” Hold the job fair on a Saturday morning or late Saturday afternoon to draw the employed-but-interested candidates. You’ll need to follow-up quickly to secure the serious candidates.
  • Be aware of workers you might observe practicing some good work ethic and behavior at hardware/lumber stores, service centers and supplier locations.

We’ve got to become a bit more creative than we have practiced traditionally. A contractor told me about a foreman he had that he had actually witnessed providing great leadership during a crisis as an assistant store manager for a hamburger franchise. As he described to me, “Brad, I can teach the asphalt and concrete; it’s very hard to teach a guy to be an effective boss. Within six months of hiring this young guy we made him a lead man and in another six months he was running a crew.”

Screening candidates

If your recruiting efforts produce candidates, you must then begin to pursue separating the “chaff from the wheat.”mThe screening process begins when you first lay out what you want in the position you are hiring for, resulting in a job description that outlines the actual work roles, skills and responsibilities.

Once you have formalized your screening needs and requirements you then must learn how to read between the lines of applications and resumes. There are a number of red caution flags you should raise when you see the following items on an application or resume:

  • Missing dates of employment
  • Inconsistent dates of employment
  • Overlapping dates of employment
  • Past salary/hourly rate that is higher than expected
  • Job titles that are bigger sounding than what job really required
  • Lack of consistency in any one industry; hopping around from one industry to another
  • Little growth within job career

Your job is to sniff out such concerns and to confirm the existence of what is right, accurate and can be confirmed when you check references. You should then develop questions or “proof statements” that address any concern from the application or resume that you will use on your interview.

Screening a candidate’s application or resume is an important step that should be followed by screening the candidate over the telephone. You can save yourself a lot of wasted time interviewing in person by first calling the candidate.

When you speak to the candidate on the telephone, ask questions that concern you from the application or resume. If the application or resume looks to be in good order, ask the candidate why they want the job and what proof they have that reaffirms them as the best candidate.

Listen to the response to detect if the candidate is stumbling, timid or confident. Interviewing a candidate first by telephone can often help you focus more on what is said rather than on his appearance. Getting a picture in your mind of the candidate based on his verbal responses may allow you to focus more on his skills and experience.

Candidate interviews

Avoid making hiring decisions based on one interview alone. No matter how busy your construction schedule, do not hire the first “warm body” that applies. This is where many contractors lose their shirts in making poor hiring decisions. Here is a simple three-step interview process that you can use immediately.

Step 1: Review application and resume and call candidate on telephone to conduct first interview focusing on basic information from application and/or resume.

Step 2: Select candidates from Step 1 and schedule in-person interviews with you and others focusing on what the candidate can do and the skills he possesses.

Step 3: Select best candidate from Step 2 and bring in for second live interview, focusing on what you do and why he believes he is capable of doing the job. Use his past job situations to confirm that is the best candidate. Focus less on “what if” situations and more “what did you do…” questions.

There are simply no secrets or shortcuts to screening for the best candidate. Having a strategy in place and utilizing the best questions is important to screening in the best candidate.