Search and Selection

A blog on construction hiring. The two parts, finding candidates in a tight market and selection. I  have a client who used to say "it's better to miss a good one than to catch a bad one". Not sure the two ideas are in opposition, but it highlight s the idea of selecting poorly, and hiring a "bad one."

July 2020

Hire same industry experience

I’ve written about which candidates gets hired first. Your best hires are same industry experience, longer is better. Best is if they started in the ditch or with a hammer in late teens. Ideally they’ve moved up in responsibility and project size. But most important that they haven’t jumped around. Now not yet 40, in their prime, two or three employers over 20 yrs, that's you guy.

You have to see the career. How the person clawed their way up the construction food chain. Could be moving up a level, but similar roles also count, they can be larger and more complex companies and projects. No matter, there is growth and ambition.  "B" candidates sometimes suffer from "I don't see a career track in your resume." How else to say it.

There are no “transferable skills.”  Transferable skills assumes same cultures, network, tools, systems across industries. Not true. Construction GC firms move differently than their consulting counterparts. The owner rep the project management firm is a different place to grow up in than the construction side. Suppliers? Steel bridge manufacturing is different than civil bridge GCs. Similar, yes but you’ll hire a learning curve.

The other point is, avoid people who take life breaks. Could be travel, sabbaticals, or opening up a vitamin store with a brother in law. Later returning to construction expecting to pickup where they left off. If construction is not this candidate’s entire world, don’t hire them.



Repeat, my point to candidates about stepping off and taking sabbaticals.
Nobody’s looking for a controller with 18 months hiking in Patagonia.

Travel is good, it tends to make us a bit less presumptive, boring and provincial. But at the same time, no client has ever asked me to find him a controller with exploration and discovery experience. It’s okay to be a lifestyle person. It’s not useful to advertise it on your resume. If you’re using words like “Two years extended travel through Europe, including, blah, blah, . . . . “ You’re in the “B” pile. I had a great controller candidate with two separate lengthy stints into places you should only watch on TV. Ushuaia, and some other place without hot water. If they think you might go on a self discovery journey on their watch, - they won’t hire you. You may not know the meaning of life but for the sake of your career, just pretend you’ve made peace with it.

July 2020

Management Comment

Good morning –

In the last week I’ve encountered a few hiring decisions I don’t completely agree with. I think the VP had a chance to build the company. Instead, he filled the position.


Hiring a replacement or organization building?

Every hire you make is a doorway into another level. You could look for a direct replacement or you could search for a candidate with the capacity to act at a completely different level. Someone who can do the job, but also bootstrap you into another performance level. A capability level that you didn’t have with the incumbent.

Construction companies are limited by many things but current staff project experience, maturity levels and intelligence are big ones.  Your project manager’s work history governs what type of work you bid on. You might not be doing a lot of clinics and hospitals because you don’t enough of that experience on payroll. Clinics are better work than Starbucks. A hospital is better work than modular camp housing. It depends on what your people are good at.

A civil company is battling it out at the municipal improvement level because those people cost less and are more readily available than bridge guys and “that’s what we do anyway.” But it also constrains any future growth. You can’t move into higher margin, more complex, engineered projects with small diameter pipe and backhoe guys.

The take away –

- Do you want to replace the incumbent, straight across?

- Should you hire at another level to bootstrap your business trajectory?

- Who you hire is defined by either your business problem or your business future.  

Organization building could require different people than you may have been thinking of.

May 16, 2019

“Whenever I see a turtle on a fence post, - I know I don’t have the whole story.”

Some candidates reach heights they can’t get to on their own. Maybe like the turtle, they had some help. I’ll have to uncover the rest of the story.

(Old fable, old joke, still true)

Life is unique, different and the surface story is often only part of a candidate's true picture. If the underlying story makes sense, I'm fine with that. Or, maybe it doesn't make sense. Perhaps what's being presented is not true. Either way, it's part of the hiring decision.

August 10, 2018

I get a little tired with the relentless focus on salary.  The long game is not about the size of your salary, - it’s about your net worth, your equity. Salary stops at some point, but your net worth carries you forever.

The irony is, - your salary does not determine your net worth. Your financial IQ does that.

Everybody who earns $100k doesn’t end up in the same financial position. So how well you live can’t have that much to do with salary?

August 9, 2017

How to overcome the problem. Self actualization detours, even with whale pictures, never help a professional resume. What to do. Get strong, solid reference from past managers. If your past boss is still with that company and willing to say good things about you, you will overcome any other weaknesses in your past employment history. I may have questions about a candidate and a resume, but if I can get solid references, - assuming you know what you’re doing, - chances are you’ll get hired.

July 14, 2017

True incident. A Civil estimator 35 yrs old, commands $120k plus salary, showed up at Red Robin for a Saturday interview, - with a hoody on, to meet my client. Oh happy day. He wants to build our highways and bridges.

July 14, 2017

Hoodys belong to the pajama family. Not to be worn in public. Especially never to an interview, even if it's Saturday.

July 14, 2017

If you’re asked to an interview, just go. Don’t qualify the opportunity with salary and working condition requests. Explore it, I always learn something. They’ve read your resume, they have a reason for asking you to a meeting. Take 45 minutes out of your life to meet people in your industry. At worst you make a new contact, at best you accept a new position. Doors open and close. Soon, this door will be closed again.

July 14, 2017

The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. In this instance I’m talking about your current employer’s behavior. Whatever career progress you’ve made with your company in the past five years is exactly what your next five years will look like. Things aren’t going to change much from what they’ve been. If your company won't make your future, then you have to do it. Move.

July 14, 2017

I no longer think there is such thing as "management styles". Business gurus and schools have turned that subject into a reliable revenue stream. Today I know there are screamers and non-screamers. If you employ a screamer, you end up sending people to management seminars, have lots of turnover, sick days and poor productivity. How to not hire screamer managers, - that’s worth studying.

July 14, 2017

Play the interview forward and see where it goes. You never talk about money in your first interview. Since nobody in the history of business ever got hired without somebody mentioning money, you may not have to mention it either. If you don’t like the number, - then you say no.

July 14, 2017

Every company hires within it’s weight class. If you could hire above your weight class and attract people functioning at a higher level, in time your entire team would take the company to a new level. Problem is, “A” talent won’t sign on with “B” companies. Bar power is alive and well in corporate Vancouver.

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