Chapter Corner

Three Key Essentials to Management Level Hiring

Posted in: Features, April 2017

It’s a cliché to say that “our people are our greatest asset.” Calling it overused would be an understatement. The funny thing is, it is quite a true statement. Your people are your greatest asset and give your firm a brand identity, a reputation in the marketplace, and a certain feeling that emanates from your offices.

The problem with the statement is that it is not just your people by themselves that make the difference. It is the team that your people form and how they collectively serve the needs of your clients, carrying out an intentional corporate culture and strategy consistently over time. This is what makes the difference and separates one company from another, with no two being alike.

When to Hire: Chicken or the Egg?

There are two primary reasons why managers are hired for construction. The driving reason is because the firm is going after work and there are no existing leaders who are ready to perform it. In this case, it is the potential project driving the hiring bus.

The second reason is for strategic growth’s sake. In this case, a firm may decide to open an office in a city and needs someone from there to manage it who knows their way around. Perhaps the firm’s strategic plan calls for a few managers to be hired to accomplish the anticipated growth over the next 12-24 months. The first year can be a steep learning curve to master the company and their approach to projects or work acquisition (which some call business development).

My clear preference is the second reason. Hire when you are not desperate. Hire for growth. Do not just hire because you have the need to fill a warm body into a new project. That can be very risky all the way around.

Owners are not naïve, nor are they stupid. If they find out that your project team was hired to cover your needed résumé on the project, your firm will get a black mark against it.

The exception would be if they know the person and like their work. That is acceptable. However, you will probably have to pay top dollar and a premium bump to acquire said individual. This can upset the pay scale in your firm and cause division and dissension in the ranks.

If you pursue management talent on a more relaxed time frame, you can hire excellent executives for an attractive package without having to give the farm away and perhaps, in the process, select a keeper who will stay long term.

Three Hiring Essentials

My overview of hiring top talent to help your firm grow lies in three essential keys for you to consider as you move forward:

ESSENTIAL #1: The Executive Must Be a Good Cultural Fit

I believe that this first key essential should be the biggest deal breaker of them all. The following is a strong statement, but my experience and many others have proven it to be true. If you hire someone who does not fit your corporate culture, you are making a hiring mistake that will cost you significantly in time and money over the long term. Don’t do it.

This is presuming that you understand and realize what your corporate culture is. Every firm has one, but not every firm has their culture clearly spelled out. I think it is wise to be clear what your organizational DNA is and do a good job of communicating it (first) internally and (second) externally. This approach will save your human resource (HR) effort so much time and money that there is no way to calculate it.

For example, let’s say you are a small, privately held contractor that focuses on design-build negotiated projects, and you value teamwork, excellent communicators, and those who appreciate various sports. There is a certain mindset and person who fits into this set of values. You can consider each of these cultural elements when hiring.

Make sure moving forward that your culture is clear to your employees and to the marketplace. People are attracted to certain things. If they like what they see in your firm, they may be willing to consider employment when a recruiter calls them unexpectedly. But if they are turned off or not attracted to the culture you portray, you will filter them out because of it.

ESSENTIAL #2: Employ an Attractive and Streamlined Process

Hiring is a process that takes time. Learning how to go about this process in a streamlined way is imperative, and it could make the difference between getting someone or losing them.

I have found that using a scoring matrix is a safe and superior approach in that you score candidates to discern whether they are worthy of hire or not. A scoring matrix also enables you to compare one candidate with another interviewing for the same position.

The example matrix shown (below) is for a Business Development Manager position. Your firm can change the criteria and the weighted averages for each interview performed. I recommend using a team approach and averaging the scores over the group. This keeps the score more accurate and takes the blind spots and the more subjective aspects out of the equation.

GENERAL CATEGORIES #/100              Candidate #1       Candidate #2      Candidate #3
Appearance 7      
Self-Motivated/Aggressive/Tenacious               10      
People Person/Friendly 10      
Construction Experience 8      
Presentation/Listen/Communication 10      
Sales Ability/Close Deals 15      
Culture Fit/Team Player/Teach. 20      
Honest/Integrity 8      
Network of Existing Contacts 7      
Interest Level/Retention? 5      
Total 100      


Remember that the interview is not a chemistry test to see whether you like one person over another. That is not the purpose of the interview. It is to find the best talent for a given position within your firm. A candidate who scores a 70 or above is worthy of hire. Below a 70, do not hire the individual. You are determining the hiring criteria using the matrix as your gauge. This is intentional, planned, and systematic. It works well if you use it as it was meant to be used.

Do not violate the matrix, even if the entire candidate pool scores below a 70. For those who do score above a 70, the scoring should make it clear who is the best hire and fit for your firm. Begin by attempting to negotiate with the best first and then work your way down the list if you are unsuccessful.

Remember that interviewing is a mutual, two-way activity. It is not just you as the employer interviewing the candidate. It is also them interviewing you. Remember this principle. If someone asked me why I would want to go to work for them, I might say “I am unsure that I want to yet; perhaps this interview will give me some solid reasons to encourage me.”

I’m being a bit sarcastic, but you get the gist of what I am saying. Put your best foot forward in every interview. Leave every person on a positive note. You may end up doing business in one way or another with this individual, so be careful to show professionalism and respect in this process.

You are revealing your uniqueness as a company as you go through this process. For higher level positions, have multiple interviews. Compare notes to others who have interviewed the same candidates. As the matrix reveals your best choices, move quickly to bring them into your fold. I have lost many candidates because my client was moving so slowly in the process that either the candidate lost interest or was snagged by another firm who did not drag their feet.

ESSENTIAL #3: Hire With Clear Mutual Expectations and a Monitored Career Path

Now that you have gained the ultimate goal of this hiring process, a new executive to represent your firm, let’s get started on the right foot to minimize any anxiety or remorse for their decision. Like any sale, you must reinforce that they made a good decision to join your firm.

Reaffirm your culture and their fit into it. Communicate in superior fashion by writing down mutual expectations for the position. It is one thing to have a written job description and another to write down clear expectations for both sides.

Job descriptions are a dime a dozen. Have you ever seen one that gets you excited? I have not. They are boring and serve a purpose I suppose, but they say nothing about the day to day responsibilities you will be doing from a management standpoint.

I have discovered that the exercise of writing down your mutual expectations and then reviewing that progress over periodic intervals is a great way to bring an executive on board and help them speak up if there is any deviation. If the new hire runs into trouble and has no way to seek help or reach out regarding the expectations communicated, then they often suffer remorse and can possibly leave in the first year as a result, regardless of making more money. Making good money is important, but enjoyment, expressed appreciation, and solid achievement are real pluses for a new hire to deposit in the HR bank.

Time to Use a Recruiter?

Most construction management and upper level positions today are better served by using a recruiter. Why do I say that? Lower level positions can be advertised and sorted out by mid-level managers looking for unskilled folks.

But executives require special attention and treatment to win them over. If an executive responds to your ad, why are they responding? Most are not seeking to find new employment. An accomplished executive typically likes where they are at.

You can dangle money, but for most that is not enough to bring them to the table. If an executive responds to an ad, there is something not right. The best talent – the ones you are seeking – need to be reached out to and engaged before they become open.

The recruiter needs to know what your corporate culture is and not waste time by throwing résumés in your inbox. They should have a sense what you are seeking and focus their efforts on firms and individuals that fit the profile that makes sense for your position.

Larry Silver is President of Contractor Marketing Inc., a National Consulting and Recruiting firm specializing in the AEC industry. He can be reached at or (937) 776-7170.