As seen in the February 2008 edition of HVACR Business magazine.

Contrary to the opinion of most people in our industry, I maintain that you can staff your company with competent co-workers — and I have plenty of experience doing it both for my own contracting companies and my consulting clients.

I have been traveling around the country for many years visiting hvacr contractors, and I find it interesting that, no matter where I am, contractors complain about the same two problems: “prices are lower here than anywhere else in the country,” and “you just can’t find good workers here.” I disagree with both statements.

Properly staffing a company requires that you individually address six key elements: recruiting, hiring (recruiting and hiring are totally different), orientation, training, motivation, and retention. If you correctly handle each of the six, your staffing problem for now and the future will be solved. Is it easy? No. If it were, everyone would be doing it. But is it worth the effort? Yes! Once the six elements are in place, maintaining them is relatively easy.

In this two-part series (the second will be in February’s issue), I’ll address recruiting, which I define simply as getting people interested in working at your company. Specifically, I’ll describe 15 commonly used methods of effective recruiting, some with a new twist, and some that you may not have thought about or used.

To ensure the success of the recruiting strategies, however, you must first remember three very important points:

1. When should you look for an experienced, highly capable service technician, installer, comfort consultant, or other co worker? Your answer should be always! Most companies think about recruiting only when they have positions to fill. Because the need to hire in our industry is influenced by the weather, this causes a problem: Most companies are looking for certain types of new co-workers at the same time of the year. Therefore, you must adopt an every-day-of-the-year recruiting mentality. If you do, your company will be an exception to the normal practice, which will increase your odds of hiring a top performing co-worker — even if that means upgrading a position by replacing a mediocre co-worker.

At first, it’s not easy to remember to have an every-day-of-the-year recruiting mentality; this is a discipline, and you must work at it. You are out in the community every day “selling” your company to customers and prospective customers. You also should be “selling” your company to prospective co-workers.

2. In most companies, it is too easy to get hired. If you will slow down on your hiring decisions by being more selective, you will experience fewer de-hiring decisions. “Quick to hire, slow to de-hire” does not work! This principle of being more diligent in the hiring practice makes recruiting even more critical.

3. Recruit the very best person available if hiring for a specific position. Why hire a mediocre service technician if you can — through consistent, deliberate, and creative methods of attracting candidates — recruit a top performer? Remember, if you recruit mediocre people, you can expect mediocre results.

Here is another example: Why hire a mediocre bookkeeper who gives you the previous month’s financial statements on the 15th day of the following month and then waits for you to analyze and question the results? Instead, by practicing good recruiting, you can hire a bookkeeper who will deliver the financial statements on the 5th day of the following month, along with a report about the patterns or trends found in the data. This person is not only accurately and punctually telling you about past results, but is also telling you where the company is going.

The following are the first two of the 15 methods of recruiting, along with proven strategies to improve their effectiveness:

Newspaper classified ads. This is the most commonly used recruiting method and, for many companies, it is the only one. Often, the results are disappointing. However, this traditional method still works if you make your ad stand out from the columns of black and white that characterize the “want ads” in most newspapers. To give your ad a more unique style, you must be willing to pay for extra white space in your ad and include a bold opening statement.

When I began featuring training in my company’s ads, I significantly improved the response rate, and the inquiries often came from more qualified candidates. (This is further proof that better co-workers are interested in training.) The phrase I used was: “Over 100 hours of company-paid training provided annually.” Obviously, you cannot include the training statement if you are not providing training. Still, your statement should be as positive as possible.

When designing the ad, be sure to mix some bold print with regular print and to include some white space at the top and bottom and on the sides. Also, include a sentence that states that all inquiries will be kept confidential.

Also, you must make it easy for the prospect to respond. Nothing is easier than having them call or come by the office to talk with a designated person. Stating the name of the designated person is very important. Don’t ask the candidate to send in a resume; you have not earned the right at this point to ask for one. Remember: A recruiting ad is used only to spur a qualified candidate’s interest in your company.
Look for top candidates year-round, and don’t rush to hire!
Newspaper display ads. This method has often worked well for me and several of my consulting clients. Few companies use it, so if you do, it will provide an advantage over the competition. People who have good jobs normally are not reading the classified ads, but they might notice a display ad and decide your company offers a better career path, benefits, etc., than their current companies. The copy for a display ad can be essentially the same as your classified ad, but format it differently to take advantage of its larger size. I normally run two-newspaper-column-by-three-inch ads. Often, when I’m advertising for installers and service technicians, I place the ad in the sports section, preferably on Saturday.

Next month, I’ll discuss the other 13 methods of recruiting co-workers.