Posts filed under ‘Civil Engineering Shortage’
In the game of poker, slow playing is the tactic of not taking aggressive action when you have a strong hand. The goal is to draw the other players at the table in to keep them playing and to keep building the pot, with the intent of beating everyone in the end after luring them in and cashing in on their chips. It’s not a bad strategy…unless you get burned in the end and someone gets “the nuts” on the river, at which point the tables have been turned, you lost a large stack of chips, and now you find yourself fighting to stay in the game.
In a recent LA Times article, “Employers wait longer to hire, waiting for perfect candidate,” it is noted that despite an improving economy, employers are slow-playing their hiring process taking an average of 23 business days to hire someone for a position. In 2009, this process was only 15 business days.
Another article from AOL Jobs, “4 Million Openings: Too Many Employers Await ‘Ideal Candidate’,” reiterates the facts from the LA Times article and goes on to state that employers fear making a bad hire, and that discrimination against the unemployed runs rampant.
In my experience working with civil engineers and civil engineering employers across the country, this concept holds true as well. The economy has crushed the confidence of so many employers over the past five years that they have become very hesitant to “pull the trigger” in hiring new employees…and rightfully so. Slow playing the hiring process when you have a candidate that rates an “8” on a scale of 1-10 while waiting for a “10” to come along will most often result in one of your competitors coming in and swiping your “8” candidate and leaving you with ZERO. You’ve wasted a whole lot of time, you’ve wasted a lot of money (lost productivity, travel, etc), and you’ve still got an empty office or empty cubicle.
A couple of things to keep in mind to help shorten your time-to-hire a civil engineer:
A. If you constantly “slow play” your hiring process waiting for the perfect “10,” your business will never grow. The candidate pool is scattered with some really good, but short of perfect, candidates. Perfect “10’s” are few-and-far between, so if you sit on your hands waiting for that candidate to walk through the doors, well, you’ll likely get pins-and-needles in your hands before too long.
B. A strong manager may be able to turn that “8” into “10”. That said, always be on the look out for mentoring or training opportunities to make your leadership even stronger.
C. Have a hiring process in place, just don’t “wing it.” Have some sort of database that tracks candidates and their skills; allow access to share outlook calendars among employees and keep them up to date so scheduling interviews is a “snap”‘; prepare for the interview with the candidate with the same vigor that the candidate has ideally prepared for you; should the interview go well, be prepared to schedule the 2nd meeting right there on the spot; have an offer letter template that you are able to personalize based upon the candidate and the role you are offering them. Those are just a few ideas.
D. Begin checking references early on in the process if possible. A game of phone tag often persists when checking references, so the earlier you start, the more quickly you can make an offer following the interview. This keeps the momentum of the process going and greatly reduces your chances of the candidate being swiped up by a competitor during the interim that normally exists between the final interview and offer stage.
E. If the candidate has met with more than one person during their interview, be prepared to gather as a group and exchange thoughts with each other within 24 hours. Put it on your schedule. Failing to officially schedule this debrief with the hopes of catching up some time in the near future when everyone just happens to be in the office at the same time is a recipe for disaster. Especially in an environment where everyone is spread so thin…be sure to put the debrief on the calendar.
F. Don’t be so quick to shove aside an unemployed candidate. Some people really do just get the “short end of the stick”…really. If their resume shows progression and stability up until the point they were laid off, you may just have yourself a diamond in the rough!
I’ve slow played in poker before with the allure of building up the stack of chips on the table and cashing in big…what a great feeling! But I can’t play that way all the time. The same holds true with hiring…every once in a while you may slow play the hiring process, buying time until that rainmaker of a candidate appears…and what a great feeling! But that does not happen all the time, so when a good or really good candidate that falls short of “perfect” is within sight, don’t be afraid to go all in!
As I was perusing the different headlines at CNN.com the other today a headline grabbed my attention:
And as I leaned back in my chair for a moment reading this piece, I began to wonder, “is it time for civil engineering firms to adjust the notches on their belt and loosen up a little?”
Take a look at what the commentary’s author, Paul La Monica noted:
“Bob Baur, chief global economist for Principal Global Investors in Des Moines, Iowa, noted that U.S. workers may be reaching the point where they are stretched too thin…at some point, U.S. corporations need to recognize that they can’t keep trying to do more with less…”
The idea of “doing more with less” is nothing new, but if I had a dime for each time I heard this phrase as a result of the recession I could retire…today! The concept is not a bad idea, but at some point you have to draw the line. Seriously. Remember the days when your Land Development or Highway group was made up of a Vice President who was mainly responsible for business development; a Department Head who assisted with business development but also managed the Project Managers and kept their finger on the pulse of all the projects and clients; Project Managers managing projects making sure they got out the door within schedule and within budget; a Project Engineer; a designer and a cad tech? As civil engineering consulting firms have been fighting to stay afloat many of them have slimmed down their business structures where a department now may be made up of a “Seller-Doer” and Project Engineer where the “Seller-Doer” is a Vice President/Department Manager/Project Manager all rolled up into one, and the Project Engineer is the Project Engineer/Designer/Cad Tech all rolled up into one. So now you have two professionals scrambling to handle the responsibilities of what was previously in the laps of six. They are doing more with less. But it may be time to loosen up the purse strings a little and invest in some new help.
We recently completed a search for a client of ours, a local consulting engineering firm, who was looking for a Project Manager for their Land Development group. The local market was improving and development was beginning to pick up. The President was still struggling with some of the uncertainty in the air and quite frankly, found it difficult to be optimistic after being in the dumps for so long. But he listened to his employees. They were becoming overwhelmed with hours, they were stretched thin, and stress was beginning to set in. The “doing more with less” mentality was beginning to take its toll, but he recognized that and made the decision to bring on another Project Manager…a decision that was welcomed by his staff, in turn easing the burden on them, resulting in a happier group of campers.
So you adjusted to the economy and have implemented the “do-more-with-less” philosophy, but as the economy begins to improve, is that same philosophy beginning to take its toll? Is it now time to re-adjust your philosophy?
If you are a business owner or executive and can relate, or an employee who has been in the trenches with this philosophy in place, please let us know and share your experience with our audience on this topic.
Today’s blog is the second in a series of entries that will help those executives in the AEC community understand why they might be losing out to the competition when competing for great candidates and top talent. Having recruited civil engineering and architectural professionals for over 15 years I have witnessed some fantastic interviewing and hiring processes…and I have witnessed some miserable ones as well. Most processes fall in the middle of that spectrum, so by understanding what you may NOT be doing and making some subtle (or not so subtle, depending how poor your process really may be) changes may help you reel in a higher percentage of those good or great candidates that may have joined the competition in the building down the street or the floor below!
Not maintaining momentum can KILL your chances of hiring that top prospect. The pace of the interview process in a moment of time is crucial. I’m not talking about having an offer sent to a candidate’s blackberry after the first interview before they even leave the building, but by keeping a steady pace of the process from initial inquiry to offer is so important. I cannot stress this enough.
Momentum is important for multiple reasons:
A. It keeps you focused on the candidate and your thoughts and memory of the interview fresh.
B. It keeps the candidate excited and interested.
C. It shows the candidate that you are indeed excited in the prospect of brining them on board. Extensive delays from interview-to-interview with the same candidate is often perceived by the candidate that the client is undecided or not real thrilled about them, and every day that fades to black without contact or scheduling of an interview or feedback takes a little bit more wind out the sails.
D. Delays in follow-up interviews or reference checks allows for an opening for another firm to shimmy their way on to the candidate’s radar screen. If you are taking your good ‘ol time and the other firm understands the concept of momentum, they can make up considerable ground and by the time you finally lay out an offer on the table the other company will be doing the same; this of course decreases the likelihood of acceptance of your offer.
E. It allows you to move on to other candidates that you were interested in more swiftly in the event of a turndown. Let’s say you put all your efforts into candidate A, but you were aware of candidate B as well but chose not to interview them until your learned the fate of candidate A. If you are dragging your feet and candidate A ends up turning down your offer, candidate B may already be off the market. Ideally, you should be interviewing multiple candidates at the same time if possible. The “all your eggs in one basket theory” is not a good idea here.
So How Do You Keep Momentum Going When Everyone is So Busy?
A. Have access to everyone’s calendar and plan the next meeting at the end of the previous meeting (assuming there is a fit).
B. If you need a day to talk amongst the team that interviewed the candidate, that is okay. But don’t wait longer than 24 hours. If the feedback is positive and you want to move forward, then find 6 available options for the next meeting to present to the candidate (3 days/times during business hours, 3 evenings/times for after hours meeting). This will eliminate the constant back-and-forth that would normally occur suggesting one date and time at a time.
C. For employment law reasons, companies are required to track applicants; have the candidate complete the employment application prior to the first interview. This way that part is done and over with. Sometimes these applications are a hassle, and candidates keep delaying this task, so taking care of this sooner than later is recommended. This also gives them a deadline to meet.
D. Your day is likely filled with meetings, site visits, lunch meetings, etc…so task your in house Recruiter (if you have one), your Human Resources Professional, or your Administrative Assistant with following up with the candidate. Of course if you are using a search consultant, this would be part of their duty in servicing you as their client.
E. The same resources mentioned above in “D” should immediately begin checking references as soon as the candidate has provided them. References can take some time, but if you have someone who is easily accessible to stop what they are doing to take / make that call and write up the appropriate report you will keep the momentum.
F. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this: consider hiring an executive search consultant who specializes in the professional skill set that you are looking to hire. Recruiters are notorious for understanding and keeping the momentum and they will be able to handle all of the above.
G. Should you and your team be excited about the candidate, and should their references check out, be immediately prepared to formulate an EXCITING offer letter, and be sure to include a decision deadline.
How does your company keep momentum going with candidates? Or, as a candidate, what are your experiences you have had where a company was pursuing you and they did a great job with keeping momentum? Or, also as a candidate, did an organization lose out on you because they failed to keep the momentum going? Please share your stories!
Next topic in this series: FAILURE TO CONTINUOUSLY CLOSE
Today’s entry is the first in a series that I will be writing aimed at helping those executives in the AEC community understand why they might be losing out to the competition when competing for great candidates and top talent. Having recruited civil engineering and architectural professionals for over 15 years I have witnessed some fantastic interviewing and hiring processes; I have witnessed some miserable ones as well. Most processes fall in the middle of that spectrum, so by understanding what you may NOT be doing and making some subtle (or not so subtle, depending how poor your process really may be) changes may help you reel in a higher percentage of top talent rather than losing them to the competition in the building down the street or the floor below!
The Red Carpet: If you are not rolling it out, candidates will not roll in.
Actually rolling out a red carpet from the reception area to the President’s office and putting up the candidate at the Ritz Carlton and providing limousine service is not necessarily what I am talking about here – and that would actually be quite odd in the civil engineering world. What I am really talking about is having the candidate have an enjoyable and memorable interviewing experience. Here are some ideas as to how your civil engineering consulting firm can “roll out the red carpet” during its interview process:
A. First Impressions. Have a clean and organized office exterior and internal reception / waiting area. We are dealing with engineers and architects here – they design exactly where water and dirt should go and they design beautiful bridges and buildings. They expect a clean cut and organized facility and reception area that is designed and maintained with pride. Unmaintained landscaping and cobwebs in the corners don’t make for great first impressions.
B. Greetings. Have the receptionist make them feel welcome and let it be known that they were expected. Have the receptionist greet him or her with a hand shake and maybe hand them a prepared folder with corporate marketing materials. That way when they leave and are at home they have constant reminder of how great the interview went (hopefully). Also, don’t make them wait more than five minutes. And when you are ready to meet the candidate, don’t have the receptionist bring them back to a meeting room or your office – come out and get them yourself!
C. Level of Comfort. Make them feel comfortable throughout the interview process by introducing them to some other folks that they could be potentially working with, and be sure to show them around. Some companies may have just the hiring manager interview a candidate, and maybe one other person. The truth is, they will feel much more comfortable at least getting to know some of the other folks they will be in the trenches with as well as what the physical work environment is like. This will help them actually envision themselves working with your civil engineering or architectural consulting firm…not to mention that you will get to see them interact and some extra sets of eyes and ears will allow additional perspectives and feedback regarding the candidate from your team.
D. Making Arrangements. If you are bringing someone in from out of town, have a system in place that allows for YOUR company to make all the arrangements rather than having the candidate make those arrangements themselves only to submit their receipts for reimbursement. This includes flight arrangements, shuttle service, car rental if necessary, hotel arrangements, etc.
E. Thank You Letters. Send the candidate a thank you letter; if not first, at least in a detailed response to the thank you letter that the candidate should have sent you. Trust me – this is not done very often at all. Some may think this is an example of a company showing their cards too early and may hurt them should offer negotiations ensue. I disagree. To me, this is an example of “continuously closing” that I will touch on at a later date. Personally speaking, if I was a candidate and I got an email from a prospective employer thanking me for MY time and sharing with me some of their thoughts on our interview, I would be flattered and encouraged, and I would feel great!
How does your company roll out the red carpet? Or, as a candidate, what are some examples where you have been given what you consider to be “red carpet treatment during an interview process that you went through?
Next topic in this series: MOMENTUM
Over the years I have often seen outstanding land development engineers desire to break into a new area of specialization under the civil engineering umbrella, yet they have found the opportunity to do so to be scarce, at best, purely because they have a background in land development. That said, after discussing this topic with numerous land development engineers across the country, I have been so inclined to blog…in defense of land development engineers.
Why do many firms who specialize in areas of water & wastewater, highway engineering, water resources, etc, turn a blind eye, when hiring, to candidates who come from a land development background? The usual response is that they do not have the desired technical experience, and would rather go without having to absorb the cost of training someone. As a recruiter, I completely understand that reasoning. There are some deeper stereotypes though that should be addressed here, so let’s do a little point/counterpoint as we evaluate some of these potential misconceptions…shall we?
- POINT: Land Development Engineers are the “General Practitioners” of the civil engineering industry. They are jacks-of-all-trades-and-masters-of-none.
- COUNTERPOINT: Land Development Engineers are indeed jacks of all trades, but they are often masters of those trades as well. When pulling together a land development project you are dealing with roadway, traffic, hydrology & hydraulics, utilities, etc. With a good 7-10 years of experience a talented engineer can fully master these concepts. This shows a high level of intelligence and a desire to learn.
- POINT: If our highways and treatment plants and bridges were designed as poorly as some of the subdivisions then we would have an enormous problem.
- COUNTERPOINT: Though you many not always like what you see, often times it is the land development engineer who is at the mercy of their client- the developer. Some developers have the goal of fitting as many lots as possible within a parcel of land for the least amount of money. This is unfortunate as many land development engineers are very creative. It’s not always about what it looks like, but rather the money – and at the mercy of the client their hands are often tied. Many firms would walk away from this type of client because they do not share the same philosophy…but many do not walk away.
- POINT: Dealing with governmental clients is much more complicated than dealing with a developer.
- COUNTERPOINT: Have you ever dealt with a developer? Enormous amounts of pressure, often times ridiculous deadlines with ridiculous expectations, and then there is the collections process. Also, land development engineers deal with MANY different personalities -not only their clients, but attorneys, municipal engineers and other governmental agencies, designers, surveyors, planners and landscape architects, builders, home buyers, angry citizens at public meetings, etc. I would tend to say, that more often than not, an experienced land development engineer could handle dealing with governmental engineers.
In the end, it may not be so much the technical skill set as it is the mentality. I believe that there are many talented land development engineers out there that could pick up pretty quickly on how to design a highway, a dam or a bridge with a little mentoring and some additional studying/training after hours. Land development engineers are used to spinning many plates at once in a fast paced environment, and are not often the analytical number crunchers that you so desire when designing a treatment plant.
So, when a sound land development engineering resume does surface, don’t be so quick to rule them out. What if they are indeed a number cruncher? Imagine a number cruncher then that has acquired great communication and team building skills as a result of being in a land development environment and what that could bring to the table for your firm’s bridge or water resources group. Would you be better off hiring this engineer and taking the time to catch him or her up to speed in a specific specialty rather than searching for the perfect candidate for two years with nothing to show?
During the current recession that we are entrenched in this may not be too much of an issue for you with the surplus of candidates “out on the street.” But during improved times and boom times, is this mentality really too “out of the box” for the civil engineering industry?
Prior to this current economic downturn a MAJOR topic of discussion was the lack of civil engineers in the marketplace. It did not matter if I was executing a search for a Project Engineer who was an expert in hydrology & hydraulics and flood control, a Project Manager who understood advanced water treatment, a National Program Manager with P3 or Design Build experience as it related to toll roads or a Land Development Department Head; no matter how you sliced it, the pool of civil engineers was shallow. Engineers at all levels throughout the civil engineering community struggled with same dilemma. They were working ridiculous amounts of hours, weekends included; their employers became stagnant in their plans to diversify into other civil engineering disciplines; and principal level engineers were rolling up their sleeves and cranking out construction plans themselves. When the economy eventually picks up, the civil engineering community will be treading in that shallow pool again wondering ‘where are we going to find the right engineer with the right experience?’
The other evening I was at home watching the NCAA Tournament and a commercial came across the television screen that caught my attention. It was all about traffic and transportation and the technology that is being utilized to help ease traffic congestion, which would help cut down on fuel costs as well as free up more time for people all over the country. The average commute time in most major cities across the United States, according to a Time Magazine report in 2007 is +/- 30 minutes. Many folks I know spend at least 45 minutes each way on their commute. And if there happens to be an accident on the LBJ Freeway in Dallas or the Schuylkill Expressway in Philadelphia, well then you can just forget about getting to work on time or home for dinner. Thank goodness for the hard working civil engineering consultants and DOT engineers who are putting in countless hours and lending their skills to help make the necessary improvements to our transportation infrastructure that will help cut down our commute times and allow for us to do fun things like play with our children, spend time with our friends and families or be able to get to our softball game before the 4th inning…right? But wait…this commercial I saw was not for a consulting engineering firm or a PSA type commercial from ASCE…it was is an IBM commercial.
So, if I am a college student pursuing a degree in civil engineering and I want to specialize in transportation, you can be darn sure I am going to check out IBM. To answer the question as to ‘where are all the civil engineers?,’ maybe they are all working at IBM. Is it even possible to fathom the AECOM’s and URS’ and CH2M Hill’s of the world to advertise in this manner? Are there opportunities for ASCE to advertise like this? Or are those avenues of advertising just a pipe dream for the traditional civil engineering community at large?
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