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Recruiting Process: Candidate Sourcing and Selection for building a deck

Posted by Kathi Chenoweth on April 18, 2008

Now that we’ve had one 70 degree day, my husband and I are interviewing contractors to build us a deck. We started off by searching for a pool of candidates. We had no idea how to approach this.

My husband asked all his buddies what to do and they had no ideas. Most forgot which contractor they used themselves. Finally one friend said to go to the local home improvement store and ask for recommendations.

So, he got a list of three names and called the first one. That would be Candidate #1, Harry who agreed to come to our house the next business day at 5pm. He arrived on time. He showed us a book of sample decks. He gave us a rundown of his experience. He measured; he talked to us about what we wanted. He drew a rough sketch and promised that he’d hand-deliver an estimate the day after tomorrow. He did so, and he phoned to let us know he’d left it in our mailbox. His estimate and design were professional except that we kept saying we wanted either cedar or composite and his estimate was for pine. (Candidate Tip: Listen to your interviewers –don’t just talk)

Meanwhile, we decided we needed some more candidates.

My husband searched online (that’s how he found me…which worked out pretty well). Nothing ‘local’ came up. Hard to believe all these business don’t have websites in this day and age, but we are in Indiana, not exactly the leading edge of technology. Anyway, a few were listed within about 50 miles, across the Illinois state line, and seemed kind of far. Still, one of them had a map showing their service area. The map wasn’t the greatest but some of those blue dots looked like they were in or near our town so I called them and set up an appointment. (Candidate tip: make sure you know where the recruiters are looking for you. Be there.)

None of the other Illinois websites gave any indication of their service area so we skipped them. I imagine Recruiters may sometimes pass over a candidate for a job if they think the candidate lives ‘too far’ away. (Recruiter tip: Don’t eliminate someone because you assume they aren’t interested. Let them tell you.)

So I called this far-away-in-Illinois contractor, candidate #2, Lenny. He came out a few days later, at lunch time. Lenny listened to what we wanted, took some measurements, showed us his book, showed us sample materials. Lenny has a PASSION for deck building. He told us the story of how he got into the business, his love of architecture. He talked us out of some goofy ideas we had about the deck and gave us some better ideas. (Candidate tip: Sometimes it pays not to blindly nod and agree with everything the interviewer says). He talked to us about cedar versus composite and told us about how cellular vinyl is actually the latest ‘fake’ material used in deck building. He helped us decide on material. He didn’t try to sell us; it truly felt like a conversation. He left us with a drawing, an estimate and a business card. He promised my husband he’d get real professional drawings with bill of materials if we select him. This caused my engineer husband to salivate.

The next day we decided we needed more names. Meanwhile I had pulled out the phone book to find the location of health food store to buy a remedy that was recommended to make my cat stop her nocturnal meowing (long story) when it hit me. Hmmmm…I bet there is a Deck section in here! Yes, there was! How old-fashioned is that? My husband kept marveling that “all the people I asked how to find a contractor and no one told me to use the phone book” (Recruiter tip: Don’t overlook ‘old-fashioned’ methods of sourcing candidates). Sure enough we saw ads for Harry and Lenny. And we also found two different Dwaynes. Were it my own choice, I probably wouldn’t have picked a second Dwayne but the same-name thing didn’t seem to bother my husband like it did me. (Recruiter tip: It’s OK to have two Dwaynes).

Candidate #3, Dwayne-the-first, came out another day at lunch time. One of the first things he said “Oh….I probably should have brought my book” (Candidate Tip/ Boy Scout moto: Be prepared). Dwayne did a quick sketch of what I now realize is a weird deck but at the time I liked it. I think because he and I realized we went to the same high school and grew up a few blocks from each other. (Candidate tip: If you aren’t good at your job you might get away with it by schmoozing. For awhile.) Anyway he made a drawing of ‘weird-deck’ but then took it with him so he could remember it (and we couldn’t). He left us with an immediate estimate which was an exact round number, yet no details with that number. (Candidate tip: Give your salary preference in non-round numbers. It appears to have some logic and thought behind it. 😉)

Which brings me to Candidate #4, Dwayne-the-second. He was supposed to come yesterday at 5pm. He called that morning. “I just was informed that I have to attend a function at my daughter’s school” (translation: my wife just reminded me about my daughter’s thing and even though she told me about it weeks ago, I totally forgot and there’s NO WAY I can get out of it).

Dwayne-the-second asked to reschedule for a week out. I said sure. I informed him he is our last guy, so he should come sooner or not at all. (Candidate tip: If you must reschedule, you maintain the appearance that the interview is a priority for you) Dwayne-the-second hasn’t even given me an estimate or drawn a deck (weird or otherwise) yet I already have a negative impression of him. Not good.

Those are all our candidates.

I’ve drawn some conclusions on this process and how it relates to candidate selection. The candidate you select should meet the basic requirements, which of course should be stated in your job posting. We didn’t have a job posting. We didn’t sit down and agree on any criteria ahead of time. We didn’t really have any screening questions. Well, we had a few but we kept forgetting them and didn’t always ask all of them consistently. Our interview usually started with us flailing our arms in the backyard giving our vision of the deck (which probably varied from candidate to candidate depending on whether it was cold outside that day).

We didn’t even have a well thought out plan about how to find our candidates, we just searched willy nilly. Because of our poor Deck-Builder Recruiting Practices we are in danger of making a decision based on subjective versus objective job-related criteria. Namely:

1) We like Harry because he was punctual, polite and professional (how is this related to building a deck?) OK this one is marginal – sometimes those soft skills matter. It feels like it could correlate to getting the job done on time.

2) I spent too much time in the ‘interview’ talking to Dwayne-the-first about people we knew in high school. I like him because he’s ‘like me’. I should have kept the interview more focused.

3) We don’t like Dwayne-the-second because he seems like a flake. He did not make a good first impression.

For these reasons, we chose…….Lenny.

4 Responses to “Recruiting Process: Candidate Sourcing and Selection for building a deck”

  1. Gretchen said

    Kathi – What a great example of the trials of being a hiring manager. You know just what you want, but don’t exactly know how to articulate it, or how to screen for it. But you’ll know it when you see it, right? Can we get an update later on how the performance management process applies to your contractor? I’m having a “difficult conversation” with mine this afternoon!

  2. Nancy said

    Wow can I relate to this story. We are in the process of replacing some windows in our home. We did our research by looking at Consumer Reports online and Angie’s List (= Career Builders.com??). I also compiled a long list of (interviewing) questions that I would pull out whenever our ‘candidates’ would come to the house. I think I as the Recruiter intimidated them when they saw the length of my list of questions. (Think old school interviewing techniques) 😉 The other Recruiter (my husband) rolled his eyes each time I pulled out that list.
    Side note: Knowing you Kathi, I can’t believe you didn’t have a list of questions/requirements prepared!)

    I was a bit irritated when none of the candidates followed up with us to see if we had reached a decision or had any additional questions. I know many Recruiters don’t like to be bothered by candidates calling to find out the status of their application, but to me it seemed as if they weren’t interested in the job. OK, I put my hurt feelings aside and eventually picked the candidate we felt had the best product, uh qualifications.

    Now let’s hope the onboarding goes smoothly!

  3. Narendra said

    Candidate tip: If you aren’t good at your job you might get away with it by schmoozing. For awhile

    Kathy, are you sure schmoozing works only for a while ?…:)
    Unfortunately, nowadays, I am noticing shmoozing to be more effective than actual job skills.:(

  4. […] by Kathi Chenoweth on June 11, 2008 I recently posted about my deck building recruiting process.  Well, we signed on the dotted line, got the building permit and homeowner’s association […]

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