Lessons From Construction Executive Recruiters: The Top Five Things Managers Look For in a New Hire

Feb 19, 2018

“Can I afford not to hire you?” That’s the question most employers will be asking themselves when you interview for a job in the construction industry. The truth is, a construction company is going to employ the person they think will benefit them the most. That often means hiring the person they would least like to see a competitor have on their payroll. So how can you become a “must hire” candidate?

Between the two of us, we have 25 years of experience as construction executive recruiters, and we have had the opportunity to hear countless employers talk candidly about what they are looking for in an employee. We have seen patterns repeat themselves often enough that we can pinpoint qualities that make one individual more hirable than another. Here is our list of the top five qualities that construction industry managers look for in a new hire:

1. Stability

Typically, employers do not want to hire someone they think will leave in less than three years. Construction companies want someone who will become part of their family. There may be an exception for niche construction workers who have a particular skill that requires them to go from big job to big job, or for those who moved to stay employed during the economic downturn, but a provable work history that shows loyalty is a strong mark in a candidate’s favor.

If you do not have a track record that shows consistent runs of stability, many construction hiring managers will dismiss your candidacy in the early stages. Hopping from job to job may indicate that you are easily bored and prone to jumping ship to pursue new challenges. Given the high cost of employee turnover, most companies do not want to invest in a flight risk. Even if you come to an interview with a wealth of industry experience and knowledge, you are at risk of being passed over if you have a work history that shows frequent job changes without valid explanations.

2. Relevant Trade or Project Experience

If a company advertises a position specifically seeking someone with bridge building experience, for example, only apply for the position if you have actually built bridges. This may seem too obvious to include in this list, but you would be surprised by how many candidates try to talk construction industry recruiters and employers into thinking they have relevant experience when the truth is that they don’t. You will raise suspicions if you are asked a direct question about experience and you say, “I’ve been around it.” “Being around” a type of work is no substitute for relevant, hands-on experience.

3. Reputation

Choose the references you put down on your resume or application wisely. When a candidate lists only family members or personal contacts who have no experience in the construction industry, that is a red flag to hiring authorities that you may not have a good reputation or relevant experience. You should also remember that references are only one way in which construction companies and construction recruiters will learn about your professional reputation.

Learning about a candidate’s professional reputation is becoming more and more important to employers. Employers expect construction recruiters to do thorough research into a candidate’s work history. That means recruiters may call people you have worked with but did not list as a reference for their view on your past job performance. Do everything you can to maintain a good reputation in the industry at every job you have.

4. Flexibility

Be prepared to answer questions about your flexibility before approaching an employer. Do you have a willingness to do what it takes to succeed in this position? Are you a team player? Can you demonstrate advancement potential? Are you willing to acquire new skills? Have examples ready that show you are a proactive employee who is dedicated to growing with a company.

Flexibility also means being able to look ahead. Even though you might have been employed at a high level in a previous company, many construction companies want you to prove that you have mastered the basics before you are given more responsibility. Flexibility means that you have the initiative to do what is necessary in any situation. For example, if you are seeking a job as a Superintendent, can you step in and perform the duties of a Foreman or Laborer if the need arises? Are you willing to pick up a broom and sweep the floor today to show that you are committed to doing what it takes to grow into a better position tomorrow?

5. Communication

Be prepared to answer questions about the construction industry and speak well about your relevant work history to demonstrate your communication skills in an interview. How you speak is just as important as what you say. For example, a soft-spoken, introverted person will likely never be hired for a sales role that involves cold calls.

Also remember that you will be conveying information about yourself by the way you act and dress in an interview. Companies will only take a candidate seriously if they give a great first impression. Make sure your presentation matches the expectations of the job you are applying for. Someone wearing ripped jeans and a dirty t-shirt would find it difficult to get hired to represent a company to clients.

The Final Word in Construction Industry Recruitment: Professionalism

All five of these characteristics can be summed up in a single word: professionalism. As construction executive recruiters, we have heard companies ask for that quality above all others. What we have presented here comes directly from what we have seen and heard from countless construction industry executives. Your level of professionalism affects a company’s perception of your value in the marketplace. If you want to be the candidate a company cannot afford to overlook, make every effort to raise your level of professionalism.

About the Author

Justin Wilkins

Justin joined Kimmel & Associates in 2008, first serving in the mechanical and power industries. In December 2017, he was promoted to Vice President, and he now leads the Industrial and Energy Division, where he oversees renewable energy, sustainable infrastructure, high-voltage transmission and distribution, oil and gas, midstream, water and wastewater, and various other industrial niches. Justin works with investment funds, owner/developers, contractors, OEMs, and operations and maintenance providers.

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