To Make the Best Hire, Look for the “X Factor”

Dec 11, 2017

In almost two decades as a recruiter, I have learned that one of the most common mistakes employers make during the hiring process is clinging too tightly to a preconceived notion of what “the right candidate” will be like. While it’s true that any potential new hire needs to be able to do the job you are hiring them for, in today’s candidate-short construction market, it is important to think outside the box when it comes to finding talent for your company.

Look Beyond the Resume

Recently, a client of mine was looking for an Assistant Project Manager with multifamily experience on $40 million projects. I had been working with a candidate in the same market, and on paper, he did not fit all of the requirements the client had -- he was working on much smaller projects, and he had no multifamily experience. However, his resume showed that he had worked his way through college in a variety of sales and construction jobs, and he was a sharp candidate with a lot of potential. I spoke to my client about his work ethic and potential, and I encouraged them to give this guy a chance. My client took my advice, and several months later, the candidate is working hard and performing at an extremely high level. My client is thrilled with the quality of his work, and the candidate is grateful to be working for a company that noticed his potential and invested in his career.

You Can’t Train a Good Work Ethic

If my client had stuck to his original checklist and refused to consider an “out-of-the-box” candidate, he would have missed out on hiring an A-player. The reality is that you can train someone on the technical side of a job -- you can teach them computer programs and familiarize them with construction processes. But there are certain qualities you can’t train: a good work ethic, strong morals and integrity, and an eagerness to learn are some of the most important qualities an employee can have, but they are hard to quantify on a resume. Find ways to assess those character traits for yourself, whether it’s by asking directly during reference checks or presenting candidates with hypothetical scenarios in an interview to gauge their responses.

Keep an Open Mind

As the labor shortage in the construction industry continues, it is important to realize that some of the best workers on the market may have come from a variety of backgrounds. In the case of the candidate from my previous example, his background included some construction, but he also had auto sales positions on his resume. While you may prefer the idea of a Project Manager who came up through the trades, someone with a sales background might be perfect for negotiating deals with subcontractors or giving presentations to owners. That polish may not be natural to those with a background in the field, but it is a strong part of salesmanship. Other candidates may have left the industry during the recession and worked elsewhere to make ends meet, but they may now be ready to jump back into construction. Obviously, a candidate must have some relevant experience and skills, but a diverse work history may just be the “X factor” that will make your new hire stand out.

Finding and hiring top talent in the construction industry requires a lot more than an extensive checklist of requirements. You may be surprised by the “X factor” qualities that impress you and make a difference in your company. Keep an open mind and trust your instincts, and your company will reap the benefits of a wider pool of exceptional candidates.

About the Author

Guy Ross

Guy began his career at Kimmel & Associates in 1998, after working in the EAP (Employee Assistance Program) profession for nine years. There, he worked with company leaders to enhance and resolve job performance issues of underperforming employees.

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