How to Do Job Interviews for Your Field Service Business

Linda Formichelli

Last week we dropped the sad news on you that there’s a shortage of skilled engineers, and offered creative tips on how to compete with the bigger field service businesses for the best engineers—even if you can’t pay as much. If you followed our advice, chances are you now have a lovely stack of resumes.

Now what?

We interviewed Nick Ouillette, Service Delivery Manager at the recruiting firm TalentBurst, to share insider details on how to sort through those resumes, what red flags to look for during the job interview, and what to do if you can’t find the perfect engineer among your group of candidates.

Once you have a stack of applications, what’s the nest step? 

Nick Ouillette: You sort through them. We sort resumes using three categories:

  1. Skills. Do they match this role 100%? Are they 80%? Are they 50%? Are they a ‘no’?
  2. Experience level. If you need a technician with five years of experience, how close do they come to that?
  3. Budget. Are you able to get someone who’s only an 80% match, but they're $5 below your budget—or do you have a perfect fit who’s only a couple of dollars above your budget?

There are definitely other factors, like location; for example, maybe the candidate is a perfect fit with skills, experience, and cost, but they need to relocate. Another factor is gaps. Do they have a two-year gap in their experience, and can they explain it? Do they work one month on a contract and then jump to another and another, or are they fulfilling six- and 12-month contracts? These factors tie into how you sort the resumes, along with the three categories.

What are some red flags you see in resumes that mean you should put an application into the ‘no’ pile...or at least be careful if you do interview the candidate?

Nick Ouillette: The gaps are one of my first red flags. If we have a role that's a 12-month contract or a permanent role, how likely is it that they’ll want to stay with our company?

A second, more immediate red flag that you see is flexibility—the applicant’s ability and willingness to interview. If we request a job interview for next week and they say, ‘Well, I'm not available then’ or ‘I'm available to interview, but only from 12-12:30 on Wednesday’, I can take that red flag two different ways: One is that they’re in demand. The other is that they’re pushing us off because they have another offer.

Another red flag is attention to detail—simple things such as spelling errors in their resumes, or disorganised resumes with seven fonts and crazy highlighting. If they're not showing attention to detail with this, how are they going to be on the job site? But if they have the experience—if they fit those three buckets of skills, experience, and budget—it’s not as much of a red flag.

More reading: A good manager is aware of their employees’ strengths and career aspirations, and finds appropriate tasks to delegate to them. Here, we show you how.

Should the hiring manager interview the candidate via phone or Skype before bringing them in to an in-person interview?

Nick Ouillette: Absolutely. It saves time and cost. The way I look at those initial interviews is that it could be just a 10- or 15-minute call, but it gives the hiring manager a chance to go into more depth. A lot of times, you'll see job descriptions on a job board that are very generic. Companies are not going to waste their time rewriting those for every single project. So when they have that quick conversation with the candidate, they can say, ‘This is what I'm looking for with this project, this is where you'll be going, this is how much of a commute you'll have, this is what you'll be doing’. That gives both sides an opportunity to say, ‘Yeah, this is going to be a waste of my time or your time, it's not a good fit’.

The second thing is that it allows you to see their personality: How they interact, how they speak to you, how quick they are to pick up what you're talking about. If they don't understand the basic terminology that you're looking for or are not able to understand where you want this role to go, it's an easy ‘no’, and you're not wasting resources to set up an on-site job interview. It saves time and seems to respect both sides.

[Note from Commusoft: Next week we’ll have a post on the top interview questions to ask—and to not ask.]

Twitter iconPhone interviews let you see a candidate’s personality BEFORE spending time/$ on an in-person. http://bit.ly/2ydOYRW via @Commusoft [Tweet it out!]

Is there ever a reason to skip the phone interview and go straight to the in-person interview?

Nick Ouillette: If it's a role that you need to have filled yesterday, you might skip the phone interview and go right to an in-person interview. I've actually had it go the other way as well—I've had managers hire field techs off of a phone interview.

Once you get to the in-person interview, what information are you looking for that you didn't already ask during the call?

Nick Ouillette: Honestly, regardless of what type of role it is in field tech, appearance can make a difference. If the candidate comes to an interview late, if they come to an interview with rips in their pants and they’re not very organised, that says a lot. The in-person interview lets you get a full understanding of how committed the candidate is to this role.

And you can pick up on little things with an in-person interview. How quick are they on their feet? I had a manager with a technician position role, and he would walk the candidates through certain sites and warehouses. If the candidate couldn't keep up, that was an indication that they have no sense of urgency. The manager thought, ‘If they're not able to just keep up with me as I'm walking through and explaining these different machines, they might not be a good fit’. Those little, subtle things are what you'll gain with an in-person interview.

Screening field service engineers by phone will save you time and hassle.

Once you’ve found somebody, when’s the best time to talk money?

Nick Ouillette: It's not always necessary, because a lot of job postings will mention their rates. They'll be transparent. That means the pay is negotiated ahead of time.

So you should field service businesses put their rates in their job ads?

Nick Ouillette: As a hiring manager, it's a Catch-22. Businesses are trying to save money. If they post in their job posting that they’re paying $25 an hour, what are they going to get? They’re going to get 100% of people asking for $25 an hour. If the pay you’re offering is hidden, you'll get a range of applicants—some need $17 to $20 an hour, and maybe some want $30. If you interview a candidate and they say, ‘I want $40 per hour’, and that doesn't come close to your budget, you’ve wasted everyone's time.

So with these service tech types of roles, more often than not, the pay is transparent—whether it’s in the job description, from us as an agency, or from the hiring manager saying, ‘This is what I'm hiring these roles at. Do you want an interview?’

Once you decide to hire an engineer, should you send a note to the candidates who didn’t make the cut?

Nick Ouillette: Hiring managers don't have the time to respond to every resume. If someone is not a fit, they’re not going to get a response. But it comes down to the company...it really depends on how thinly stretched you are.

It’s always good, if you can, to take 10 seconds to write an email. Just send a quick ‘Thank you, I appreciate your time. I went with a candidate who was a better fit’.

More reading: Here’s how to reduce the risk and impact of high turnover.

Should you explain why they weren’t chosen, at least for those candidates who made it to a phone or in-person interview?

That’s where there are a lot of complaints in the job market: Hiring managers will say simply, ‘Sorry, I'm going with someone else’, and there's not a good explanation why. There's no growth in that. Candidates wonder, ‘What can I do better? What did I do wrong? Is it my experience? Was it my cost?’

This job market is not going away. If you’ve already invested your time in interviews, you're going to want to put something into those candidates to make your job easier down the road for the next role. When you’ve built trust with candidates and you have a new position open, it's quicker—you can go back to them, rather than going back to the candidate pool and searching blindly again off of resumes.

What if you go through all this and you just don't find an engineer you think will be a good match for you? Do you start all over, or go back to your original applicants?

Nick Ouillette: It depends on the project and the need. I've seen managers do both. What’s the urgency of your role? Did you need to hire someone last month? If so, yes, go back and look at your B candidates or your C candidates and interview them quickly. You've already gone through their applications and they've matched 70% or 80% of your requirements.

If you don't have an immediate need, I've had managers put roles on a freeze for two months until the job market opens up.

With field tech roles, I see hiring managers trending towards that first option, where if the first three candidates you interviewed were bumped out or declined the offer, you’ll then go to your next group of candidates. Personally, on my side, we will not fully reject a candidate until we know the role is filled.

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