Running a Shop Hiring Columnists

Interviewing and Catching the Big Fish

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I had a client ask me recently about how to lure in a dealer master tech that had expressed interest in his shop. His shop has a great reputation, great team, and it’s clean and organized. He had done a couple interviews but hadn’t sealed the deal yet. It occurred to me that it’s not unlike asking someone out on a date. It helps if you’re cleaned up, smiling, and say the right things! We talk often about the shortage of great people in our industry, especially technicians. So we can’t afford to miss out on these limited opportunities. Let’s dig into this a little more.

When you’re looking to hire a top-level person, your interview process needs to be fairly formal. Too many independent shops take an informal approach and it can leave potential employees feeling ambivalent about the shop being run in an organized fashion. Many A-level techs are disenchanted with corporate culture but that doesn’t mean that they don’t want structure and organization. Having a voice in a shop (regular staff meetings and reviews) and being treated like an individual instead of a number goes a long way. Your interview process should reflect the great reputation your shop has from its customers.

Assuming you have a shop with a great reputation, team, and facility, the interview process can help you seal the deal and catch that big fish. First things first: make it easy for them to contact you. Give out your phone number. If it’s on Craigslist, use a burner phone number app or use words to disguise your number in the ad. I always start with a phone interview first. Years of wasting mine and other people’s time in person has taught me that. I ask any lead if there is a good time we can have a brief 10-15 minute conversation. I start that initial phone interview with the story of my business, what we’ve accomplished, and where we’re headed in the future. I describe how important technology is in our shop, how everyone has a voice, and that we value training among other things. I want to paint a picture in their mind before they’ve even set foot in the shop. Even if this person isn’t right for the job, people talk to each other and I want as many people in the industry to know how my shops are run. Word gets around, right? After that, I cover basic questions to determine if they are a career technician, how long they’ve worked with previous employers, what their experience level is like, what their certifications and tools are, and how many hours a week they can turn. I usually know pretty quickly if a candidate has potential. If not, I always let them know that I intend to keep their resume on file in case I have any future opening. Always end on a positive note.

I bet many of you have some great in-person interview stories, I know I do. Showing up late, not showing up, showing up intoxicated, can’t stop talking, smell awful, you name it. I’ll only follow up to schedule an in-person second interview if the initial phone interview goes well and I think a candidate has a real chance of working at my shop. When they arrive, I often start with a tour of the facility and introduce them to some of the team members.  If we’re lucky, some casual conversation happens and the interviewee becomes a little more relaxed, which is a good thing. I want them to know we’re professionals but also normal people who like to have a good time when we can. A typical in-person technician interview might include an owner, service manager, and/or the shop foreman. I always start by asking them what they’ve heard about our shop and why they want to work for us. Any hesitation or if they haven’t even Googled us, that’s a big red flag. Being a career technician is a big plus so I try to get a picture of all of their work experience including any gaps or non-automotive jobs and why. Most great techs will have attended school, have certifications, and will have worked at a few places for a few years at each. Too many jobs for a year or less is a red flag as is all experience at only one job, there needs to be some drive to excel and move up. It’s usually enlightening to ask why previous positions were left. If a candidate says that the service advisors at the last 5 jobs have screwed them, well… it might not be an advisor issue. We revisit the basics like experience, tools, hours flagged, and their driving record. Then we move on to some higher-level concepts.

Do not underestimate the value of a candidate’s personality and intelligence over experience. I will ask a technician interviewee why a vehicle inspection is important to them. I’m looking for an understanding of how it benefits them, the customer, and the shop. I’ll ask them what they like best about their job and the worst mistake they’ve ever made. Make sure to indicate that you mean a mistake at work. I had one guy tell me about how he cheated on his wife and I had to clarify that I meant a mistake on a car. Awkward! Lastly, I want to know more about them personally. What are their hobbies? What kind of car do they drive and why? What are their goals and where do they see themselves in the next 3-5 years? At this point, I’ve always had a clear gut impression if this is a person I would hire. I let them know that we’re interviewing several people and will be in touch very soon.

When it comes time for you to make an offer, it’s not hard to stand out in our industry. Most employers will simply call or email a candidate. When I make an offer, I typically ask if the candidate is available for dinner (with their spouse if possible). A job change is a big deal for a family and if there is another person involved in the decision, I want them to meet me and have the opportunity to ask questions as well. If there are any lingering questions on either side of the table, now is the time to address them. I always have a formal written offer on company letterhead in a sealed envelope ready to go. Formality, again. If I’ve listened carefully to everything that was said in the interview, I should have a clear idea of what this person is looking for and if my shop can provide that. Even then, not everyone will say yes. If being a shop owner were easy, everyone would do it.

People always want to move up and I’m especially cautious if I think a move to my shop would in any way be a step down. Of course if you’re doing things right, a move to your shop should always be a move up, right?! It can be a process, growing your shop, and attracting better talent. Building your reputation, your team, and creating a place where you’d be happy to work if you were a technician, all takes time. The rewards are well worth it though. Long-term customer loyalty, less staff turnover, and less stress just to name a few. Put on your shops “best clothes,” nail the interview, and you might just find yourself with a “big fish” to add to your team.

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