Finding the best candidate in a limited field
The days of easy pickings are over – for those of us in the trades, the usual challenge of finding the right customer has been replaced by the challenge of finding the right employee. As a residential painting company with high customer service standards, we find it very difficult to hire ‘nice’ painters – too many are scruffy, rough around the edges, and in some cases, scary – we would not want them in our house, so we would never think to ask our customers to welcome them into theirs. So what do we do to find, attract and retain top talent?
- We sell our business – we describe the benefits package first – health, dental, vacation, training – we describe the art and skill of painting that is desired and rewarded. We sell our culture too – a nice place to work, a place where we expect to keep people working for decades, not weeks or months. We also aim to hire right the first time because the hiring and onboarding process is not cheap, and the expense of adding the wrong person to a team can be significant in lost productivity, friction and low morale.
- We interview first by phone, then in person, and test painting skills in our shop. We team interview – up to three people may be present for the face to face. We also read body language, facial expression, compare notes afterwards, and specifically include two women at the table to ensure the candidate presents well to them and doesn’t give of any weird ‘vibes’ – most of our clients are women and it is critical that our people feel and look ‘safe’ to all our clients.
- We check references, ask for portfolios of past projects, conduct a background check and drug test – everyone says their history is clean during the phone interview but face to face this question often prompts a more honest answer about past problems. We have a zero tolerance policy so this is information we try to ferret out beforehand.
- We look for aptitude as well as experience and skill – no one wants the world’s best painter on a project if they are unpleasant to be around, or unwilling to receive instruction. Painting can be a high skill trade when performed well – we know we can train up the right person but they need mechanical dexterity too so this is tested in our shop under the watchful eye of one of our foremen.
- We communicate … a lot! Our hiring process is designed to treat a candidate warmly and professionally – we are not simply checking a box. We listen carefully, discuss our core values, seek alignment on these, and invite each candidate to review our employee manual which is mostly federal and state boilerplate language, but also includes training and promotion pathways – this last piece is key because every worthwhile candidate is interested in a career, not just a job.
I guess you could call our process a ‘date’ – we seek to impress while hoping to be impressed. Until someone makes a Tinder app for painters, we’ll keep posting our ads all over the internet, casting our net far and wide.
About the Author
Nigel Costolloe is the president of Catchlight Painting, a full-service residential and commercial painting company serving the Greater Boston Metropolitan Area. He is active regionally and nationally in the Painting and Decorating Contractors of America (PDCA) as a leader, speaker, and mentor.