In a brush with déjà vu, the construction industry is once again experiencing a talent crisis. With the lure of enormous signing bonuses and a need for talented managers, supervisors and craftspeople, firms find themselves in the dubious position of gathering resources and precipitously hanging on to the people they have already.
Organizations wrestle with the uncertainty of the future economy and the immediate need to meet client obligations. Throw in a dose of key retirements and succession planning, and construction firms always seem to be playing defense in the talent gambit.
Too often, candidates with skills as specialized as simply “maintaining a pulse” outweigh the more important criteria of “talented, right fit.”
Often deferring to a one-and-done interview tactic, firms barely clip the white caps when it comes to differentiating candidates. How does a firm screen for talent when time is of the essence and there is a deficit in the talent pool? Sticking to a true talent acquisition strategy and vetting process is critical.
There should be someone in your organization that serves as the master gatekeeper for the overarching talent-acquisition process. With one point of contact, there is the establishment of a standard of control that filters the résumés, rather than disparate points within the firm that may have differing lenses through which to view candidates. But this person must avoid love at first sight.
More often than not, a candidate has worked for Brand X (a premier brand in the market), making them appear to be a must-have commodity. While this may make them appealing, there should be a level of objectivity applied to avoid the “must have them at any cost” mentality.
Additionally, firms now routinely employ some sort of screening. ProScan Survey, DiSC Profile, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, etc., offer a cadre of tools to help identify the components of a person’s personality that may influence success or failure in their potential position.
However, the goal of the personality assessment should not be to simply match the right personality with the right position. These assessments are data points and should be taken in totality.
Assuming a person has a strong résumé but a profile that appears to be in question, the screener should use it as a catalyst to ask targeted questions. The following are example questions for specific positions/personalities.
- Project manager that may have a less than dominant profile—Tell me about a time you had to have a difficult conversation with an owner and a trade partner. How did you handle it?
- Salesperson that may have a less than influencing profile—How do you leverage your professional affiliations? When you go to industry organization meetings, what is your approach to meeting new clients?
- Estimator that may have a less than detail-focused profile—Walk me through the last large project you estimated. What was your approach? What was the biggest mistake you made, and what did you learn from it?
Once a candidate reaches the next stage, there should be sieves that provide adequate screening. With only one interview, you once again run the risk of tunnel vision, as it pertains to viable candidates. An initial interview conducted by one interviewer ensures that the right talent is seen by key decision makers. Considered the tip of the spear, that person acts as a check valve.
Following the initial interview, secondary interview groups can place more focus on deciding candidates’ cultural, positional and long-term success in the firm. You may also use varying scenarios, like breakfasts or dinners, to gauge social-setting prowess.
For trade-level positions, interview panels comprised of superintendents and foremen can be utilized. But these panels must come to some level of unanimity to ensure decision-making in a vacuum.
In articles like Wired’s “Here’s Google’s Secret to Hiring the Best People,” readers get a glimpse into some of the questions used in Google’s candidate screening test. While the questions are intended to encourage problem solving, the test provides amazing perspective on evaluating talent at all levels.
For instance, requiring superintendents and managers to take a basic math test isn’t a horrible idea. For estimators, a simple estimating test might provide a view into their technique. A test of financial calculations, like cost to complete or basic change-order summaries, would showcase an individual’s capabilities.
While a financial test would help provide objective scoring for a candidate, it might also be a measure of their subjective skills. For instance, one question that often appears on Google’s screening exam is “How many golf balls would fill Wrigley Field in Chicago?” This is less about how many balls could fit in the iconic stadium and more about the thought process.
In the same vein as testing, a case study—either done during the interview or separately—provides a perspective on how a person thinks. Harkening back to the personality profile, interviewers can ask poignant questions that may validate or contradict the results of those profiles.
For instance, create a scenario that is reminiscent of what a person might see in the firm through questions, such as:
- You have a client that is expecting the price of a tenant improvement to be $45 per square foot, but based on their selections, the actual price is closer to $65 per square foot. Prepare a two-page case summary on how you would convince this customer you are correct, without being judgmental or argumentative.
- Your project is 3 weeks behind schedule because of bad weather; building department challenges; and a delayed, long-lead item. How would you get this project on track? Prepare a complete remediation plan including how would you get buy-in from trade partners and the customer.
In the end, careful vetting helps ensure the right decisions are made by both the firm and the candidate. By being deliberate and disciplined, the candidate gains a deep understanding of the firm and its culture. Careful alignment with the process makes sure the fit is mutual and ultimately creates a successful future for all involved.