Hiring a Service Technician, Step 1: Narrowing the Field

Posting a “help wanted” ad for a technician normally results in a flood of applications to sift through.  Sorting out who’s a possible fit with your company and who isn’t is an important step in the hiring process, unless you enjoy wasting huge amounts of time speaking to strangers.

The process of sorting the applicants into “yes,” “maybe,” and “not in your wildest dreams” piles actually begins before you advertise. Before placing an employment ad for a new technician you need to make a list of the requirements the employee needs to fit. I know, sounds like a no brainer, right? Don’t be so fast to dismiss this seemingly obvious tidbit of advice. Hiring an employee is just like adding any other asset to your business — it has to fill the need.

Let’s use buying a new service van as an analogy. You call the local Ford dealer and tell the salesman, “I need a truck, show me what you have.” Unless you give the person an idea of what you’re looking for (probably a van), you’re going to look at everything from a Ranger to a F-500 rack body and everything in between, eventually honing in on what you need: a van. Could the service tech work out of an F-500 rack body? Sure. Is it the best choice? Probably not. Deciding what you need the employee for is the same thing.

If your answer is “to repair HVAC equipment,” you just told the Ford salesman, “I need a truck,” and you better be prepared to look at a lot of “trucks” before you find the right one. Let’s narrow the search a bit by making a list of the employee’s responsibilities. Check all that apply:

1.      Type of equipment they will be working on.

  • Heavy commercial
  • Residential light commercial
  • Rack-Refrigeration
  • Light Refrigeration
  • Commercial Boilers
  • Residential Boilers
  • Steam
  • Building automation

2.        Type of work.

  • Construction
  • Service
  • Commissioning
  • Sales

3.      Certifications / Licenses

  • OSHA Qualifications
  • EPA Certifications
  • State, County
  • Town Licensing
  • Powered industrial vehicle
  • Tool certifications

4.      Physical requirements

  • Wearing respirators
  • Heavy lifting
  • Working at heights
  • Time requirements
  • Standard work day start and stop times
  • Ability to work overtime
  • “On-Call” for after hours service

If you require an employee to meet ALL of the above criteria, you may want to shine the “Bat Signal” in the sky, because you’re looking for a Superhero.

The lists above are just an example to give you an idea. Make a list that will narrow down the search; you can use it to spot diamonds in the rough, or as a “Fit/No-Fit” gauge for employment eligibility.

The next question: how much time are you willing to invest in the person?  This question is directly related to “time-served” in the field, specifically the time served performing the duties you require of them.

Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers looked at people who were extremely successful in what they do and found that (drum roll, please) practice makes perfect. How much practice? About 10,000 hours (five years) of specific practice is the minimum time required for someone to become competent. Does this mean you ignore anyone with less time? That’s up to you.

Someone with 20 years experience may not be worth a darn because they did the bare minimum required to get by, whereas someone with only four years under his (or her) belt may have taken a true shine to the trade and put 10,000-plus hours into learning it. Dedication and interest will need to be judged by different methods, but as a loose rule you can assume that someone with five years experience can get the job done; they’re still learning, but they can stand on their own most of the time.

More about hiring on The SmartVan

ABOUT Patrick Peterson

Patrick Peterson of ZenHVAC has seen the HVAC industry from all angles, serving as a technician, manufacturer’s tech rep, salesman, technical trainer and business owner.