Recruiting to fill technical roles is one of the largest pain-points in managing a residential service business. It actually makes me sad when I listen to the news, and they say it’s hard to find a job. I’m thinking, “Go be a plumber or an HVAC tech!”
After having great success with hiring for these technical roles over the last several years, I thought it would be helpful to share my methodology. I have used LinkedIn, Craigslist, BirddogHR, Facebook, gone to supply houses, offered recruiting bonuses, and even hired a designated recruiter. After using each avenue to recruit, I have learned there is no “magic bullet.” No one method is superior to another, just different. Please allow me to share my method of success for recruitment and its corresponding pros and cons.
1. LinkedIn. This is great for salespeople and more advanced roles inside your office such as HR or marketing. I have hired all three of these positions using LinkedIn Job Postings.
PRO: This is designed for genre recruiting because it delivers your posting as a recommendation for people who fit that genre. If you are looking for a marketing person, then you’ll be able to attract a chunk of marketing people because that genre fits into the framework.
CON: It doesn’t work for a lot of management roles. I tried to hire a HVAC service manager from here and it’s not really a genre that LinkedIn catches (it was a total waste of money). And it costs upwards of $400 to post a job on LinkedIn.
2.Craigslist. In many ways, this is my secret weapon of choice, but I’ll spill the beans here. Posting is fine and it’ll bring you candidates; however, calling people who are offering plumbing, HVAC or electrical service is where you’ll really excel. I cold-called them all every week. I told them, “I just want to tell you what our company is all about.” More on this in a bit. These people aren’t job hunting, but they do feel alone. They don’t have a network of people who can empathize with their situation. Many of them would actually sit down with me because I was in the industry.
PRO: I hired many people from my cold-calling efforts. Not everyone worked out; sometimes they had a hard time wrapping their mind around the price or the pay structure, but the quantity made it work. I had one major success: he was a million-dollar service plumber and best in the company at sales, work ethic and attitude.
I had many other wins, including earn-out situations for their usually small customer lists and phone numbers. Additionally, posting for an entry-level plumber (or electrician or HVAC technician) was a fantastic way to find drain technicians or apprentices. It’s free to call “competitors” and only $25 for a Craigslist job posting — just make sure you’re posting weekly because your listing gets buried fast.
CON: You have to kiss a few toads here. This is a quantity play, not always quality. Posting here is a good way to fill the pipeline and keep your technicians’ sales engine going.
3. Applicant Tracking System (ATS): This is not a magic bullet either. This is mostly a CRM/pipeline in my mind. It’s a great tool for posting, too. More importantly, it is a great place to track and house all the applicants in your company. The most important part of recruiting and using this tool — Birddog or Bamboo HR are some examples— is making sure you follow up with every single lead. (More on that later.)
PRO: This is such an easy way to post for jobs. It hits Indeed and a few dozen other random sites. You can refresh job postings every 30 days with zero effort and refreshing them is important. You will see huge influxes at the beginning of these refreshes because it pops to the top of all the boards. It is a great way to house all your applicants, easy to search them and organize what you’ve done with each one.
Con: Maybe it works too well as an always running piece of recruiting because I’ve noticed that it almost becomes white noise if you don’t make it a priority. Be deliberate about checking this all the time so you don’t leave any applicant wondering. They almost tote this product as a one-stop shop. I would argue that it might be this way for many businesses, but it’s not for our industry. To hire plumbers, HVAC techs and electricians, you have to do all things.
4. Facebook. Social media is great because you can hit a lot of people quickly. However, it’s very difficult to target a specific kind of person with the technical experience you want. Facebook ads are great for attracting green technicians — that person working in the stockroom at Michael’s, wondering what they’re going to do with their life. Target your post knowing this: If you ask for someone with a lot of experience, you probably won’t find that person.
PRO: Pretty cheap for the amount of impressions you get. You are exposing someone to your ad when their defenses are down (you are more likely to have someone digest it that way). People can share what you post if it’s compelling enough, and then you’ll get real traction.
CON: Probably not going to get you someone who can just start in a truck right away. Use some level of creativity if you want the viral effect.
5. Supply houses. This is super old-school. It’s more of a time suck than anything else if your plan is to hang out and build up your network. The technicians coming and going from the supply house already have a job to go to that day and are making money. What does work with supply houses is posting a flier with your recruitment bonus on it; I even put the little cut pieces of paper at the bottom of the flier for easy “tear-and-call” functionality.
PRO: If you have a contact at a supply house and all the technicians know them, they can be super beneficial to feed you leads. You can always find a cork board next to the front door that you can post information on. Make sure to replenish it because it will be torn down, often.
CON: Good and loyal technicians do not want to be seen talking to their competitors, management or ownership. If someone does come up, it might not be the attitude of the person you want on your team.
6. Recruiting bonus. Most of us have built pay-for-performance environments in the residential service industry. It’s natural then that giving them an incentive to recruit goes a long way. I like to encourage retention on this. The referring plumber or tech can get $2,500 after 90 days and then $1,000 for each year their referred plumber or tech stays. I only use this incentive for technical roles.
PRO: People tend to hang out with the people who look and act like them. If you have a performer, then you would do well to hire their friends. Your employees want to work with good people. Very few employees will choose an incentive over poor work relations as a long-term strategy.
CON: You have to make it rewarding to bring people in, meaning: plumbers, electricians and HVAC techs need not worry about having less work by recruiting for you. If they work less as a result, the incentive failed. And make your company an environment they will want to refer into! If everyone is worried about being fired or the next change, they won’t bring their friends into that environment.
7. Designated recruiter. For many of you, I know that hiring a person to only recruit is difficult because of your company size. I would argue, however, that if you have good management, then you can hire someone for around $13/hour. Also, you can look to fill the position on a part-time basis. Maybe someone in school would be a good fit? It’s a hard position to find but will pay off in a big way once you find someone who “gets it.”
PRO: This person can grind for you! Cold calling is not for everyone. If you can find someone who can deliver on par or better than you, then it’s a perfect situation. Managing all the channels above isn’t easy while trying to run a business. A dedicated recruiter will, at the very least, relieve some of the hiring pressure for you. This person can handle the grunt work, leaving you to be the face who meets with prospective people (if that is your desire).
CON: It’s hard to find this person — someone who has the ability to make something from nothing. I have found that people who are good with phone sales have this “something-from-nothing” ability. The cost is not beneficial if it’s not done right. A super-dynamic person or a pretty good person, coupled with super-strong leadership, is the key to success here.
8. ‘Backyard’ Recruiting. I’ve found that many companies have forgotten the big idea with recruiting: in a big way it’s all marketing and advertising. We excel at TV, billboards, truck wraps, and more. But those are only geared to getting customers. It’s important to utilize these same skills in finding our next hire.
PRO: We are already spending the money in most of these areas. So it’s not an additional cost to add a blurb about recruiting on a truck or at the end of a radio commercial. It gets the word out and can snag those that might otherwise not have thought about the trades, to consider that working for you might actually be a fit.
CON: Marketing is an expense and you do not see the direct ROI you might see with a customer. However, consider the math. If your average ticket with a new customer on a large replacement might be $12,000, your annual return for a new technician is likely to be $200,000. So even though there might be less volume in terms of calls or applications, it only takes one to make the payoff pretty great.
I thought of my recruiting efforts as just another sales department in the company. I built up a pipeline of leads and I chased them until I lost them or won an employee. As with all sales departments, you need to constantly be feeding the machine with leads. You need to aggressively do all the things mentioned on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.
I had a revelation one day last year. I heard about a fantastic HVAC salesman from another company and I was told I should go after him. I worked hard and finally got to sit down with him. We talked about the typical sales vetting things and then he dropped a bomb. He disclosed that he already applied for a job my company two months prior. He said he would think about my offer, but he eventually turned it down. He had already given us a chance, but we “wouldn’t interview” him.
The lesson? Never stop reviewing your applicant pool. If you stop talking and reviewing your applicants, this could result in some major misses. From that point forward, I reached out to every single applicant who applied for a technical or specialty role in our company.
If you are swamped and have “no time” or you’re in a seasonal lull and “don’t really need anyone,” you still need to talk to your applicants. Often, you get the best candidates applying in your seasonal lulls because their current company can’t provide them with enough calls.
Often, you get the best candidates applying in your seasonal lulls because their current company can’t provide them with enough calls.
Your recruitment should be thought of as another sales channel in your growing business. Don’t take your foot off the gas — ever. If you stopped taking calls into your company for one day, what would be the impact to your sales? It’s no different for recruiting.
“I just want to tell you what our company is all about.” This is more or less the phrasing I used when asking prospects out to coffee or lunch. I never used the word interview. What comes to mind when people hear the word ‘interview’ is typically an objection, at least in most gainfully employed people’s minds. But having a conversation over a cup of coffee is no big deal. Get the prospect off-site. The best guys are typically already employed and they don’t want their work truck or van seen in their competitor’s parking lot. Having their truck at Panera is not a big deal.
My recruitment goal was to build as much of the pipeline as I could into relationships. I would always gauge the interest of the prospective employee. I would either offer them a job on the spot or often times just leave it at, “Let’s do this again!” or, “If you ever need anything give me a call.” Throughout our meeting, I would ask them about themselves, tell them about the company, and then share personal things about myself. I focused on building the relationship so that the chance of them wanting to meet with me again was greater.
Ultimately, my goal was to be the person they called on the worst day at their current employer, asking if I was still hiring. It happened more often than you think.