Man, hiring techs can be tough.
You don’t just want to hire anyone with a pulse. Obviously you want someone who can handle the job you’re hiring them for, but you also want someone with a good work ethic, someone who gets along with the rest of your employees, someone who’ll want to stick around for a while.
In other words, it’s not just about skills. Whoever you hire also needs to fit into your existing operation, and that can be a tall order. And yes, you should be thinking about job longevity when you’re hiring—we’ve still got a tech shortage going on, and you do not want to be hiring over and over and over again if you don’t have to.
Okay, Fullbay, you may be saying, how do I prevent that?
Look, we don’t have a surefire way to make sure you hire the perfect technician time and again. But we do believe you can improve your chances of hiring the right folks—and keeping them around—by asking the right questions.
To test this theory, we headed to two people who know a lot about hiring diesel techs: Jimmy Wall, General Manager at Donahue Truck Centers, and Aaron Picozzi, President of American Diesel Training Centers. They graciously sat down and let us pick their brains—here’s what we learned.
SMART HIRING STARTS WITH YOUR AD
Yes, the interview process is critical. But it doesn’t just begin when someone walks through the shop door—it really starts when you place your advertisement.
Your job ad should provide enough information about your shop to give prospective employees a good idea of what it’s like to work there. Think about things like:
- Are you absolutely clear on what the requirements are? (Expected hours, experience level, and so on.)
- Does it look like a good place to work? (PTO, health benefits, bonuses, Friday barbecues, etc.)
Jimmy sums it up like this: “When people apply for a job, I want them to be qualified for the job, understand what the job is, and understand what the company is about.”
Setting and managing expectations, and the reality of what role you’re offering, benefits your shop and the job-seeker, Aaron says. “You need to identify what that job is, and make sure the individual that’s going to fill that role has the want and the ability and the willingness to fill that role.”
START WITH VERY BASIC QUESTIONS
Okay gang, you might be saying, spill the beans! What questions can I ask to make sure I’m hiring the right people?
Here you go:
- Can they pass a drug test?
- Can they pass a physical?
- Do they have a clean driving record?
- Do they have a driver’s license?
- Do they have reliable transportation?
Oh, were those too basic for you?
Believe us, you want to get these starter questions out of the way fast. If your tech doesn’t have a working car and you’re in a region that doesn’t have great public transit, then that person is already facing an uphill battle just trying to get to work every day. And let’s face it—wrenching, despite its evolution, is still incredibly physical work, and if someone can’t pass a physical you might not want them, y’know, lifting heavy equipment or having crawler races after work shuts down.
The clean driving record is a matter of insurance costs. Jimmy isn’t overly concerned with speeding tickets (although if you have a ton of those, maybe take your foot off the gas?). If a person has DUIs, though, his insurance either won’t cover them at all or will be insanely expensive.
“They’ll never be able to test-drive a truck,” Jimmy says.
Now—does that mean a tech with a DUI can never get a job again? No. It’s just going to take a lot of weighing of options.
MORE ADVANCED QUESTIONS
Okay. A potential tech passes the starter questions. What now?
- How do you troubleshoot a malfunctioning printer? This is a very specific question aimed at sussing out techs that are okay with (or at least accepting of) changing technology. No, you probably aren’t going to ask your tech to repair your old LaserJet, but are they at least willing to think about how they’d do it?
- If your shift starts at 8 AM, what time do you arrive for work? There are no wrong answers to this (well…you probably don’t want someone rolling in two hours late every day). But does this potential tech run early? Are they gonna get in at 7:50, at 8 on the dot, at 8:05? Do they arrive at 8 but don’t function until 8:15 when the first cup of coffee hits them (I may be projecting here)? Jimmy also follows up with the tech who shows up at 8 for their 8 AM shift—they just turn up, totally ready for work? Don’t they need time to change into a uniform? Have they mentally prepared for the day en route? How do they approach getting to work on time?
- How do you organize your work station? This is sometimes more appropriate for an office manager, but it applies to techs, too—especially if your shop is busy! A repair shop may seem like organized chaos at times, but being able to find the right tool in the right moment is critical to the workflow. Are tools spread all over the place? Does your toolbox look like a child’s toy chest with piles everywhere? This is another question where there aren’t necessarily wrong answers; there are people who may create a bit of a mess in the moment but who clean up immediately after, for example. What he’s trying to figure out is how this person will operate, and how those operations will fit into the existing flow of the shop.
SELF-ASSESSMENTS CAN BE USEFUL
While some shops are providing the tools a technician needs, most techs are still very much expected to bring their own gear. When techs arrive for interviews, Jimmy hands them the following:
- A list of tools: these are minimum requirements, like socket sets, wrenches, and pliers—and has them circle the tools they already own.
- An experience evaluation sheet: Techs are asked to rate their experience level in common diesel maintenance tasks and repairs. Think things like oil changes, DOT inspections, BIT inspections (for California), as well as tasks like welding, DPF diagnosis, and skills with different engine types.
These documents provide a jumping-off point for the interview. Jimmy encourages techs to be honest while filling it out. “It is OK if you have no experience in these areas,” he says. He uses the documents to help him understand what kind of jobs he can start you on right away. If you say you’re a brake expert, he knows he can give you brake jobs. And if you don’t have experience in certain areas, well, that’s where he gets to invest in some training for you.
Filling out these forms honestly and having frank discussions around them also leads to a layer of accountability. If a tech says they’ve performed a zillion DOT inspections and it turned out they lied…well…that’s asking for employment trouble.
ASK THEM WHAT THEY WANT
Before moving on, let’s think for a moment about how much time and money goes into training a new tech. Even if you pull in a senior tech who can jump onto tough jobs right away, you’ll still have that initial outlay of time and dollars as you familiarize them with the shop and its processes, get them enrolled in benefits, and so on. That cost goes up as you bring on less experienced people who need more training.
Aaron suggests asking people what really matters to them in a job, and what they want from their employer. Find out their thoughts on time off, benefits, career development, more money, flexible hours, and the like. Determining what they want from you will help you see if it’s a fit—and if this person will work as a long-term employee.
He also emphasizes that sometimes you’ve just got to take a chance. “You’re gonna miss on some,” he acknowledges. “But there’s others that you’re gonna take a chance on, and they’ll end up being one of the best decisions you make.”
If you do opt to take a chance on a younger or less developed tech who has a great attitude, build some protection into your contract. “Work is work,” he points out. “You say, ‘Here’s what we need you to do by certain dates; here’s what we’re willing to do to help you get there.’ It gives you a timeline.”
DON’T FORGET TO SELL YOURSELF
Let’s make one thing very clear: Most experienced techs have their pick of shops these days. That can complicate things for the owner who wants to hire someone quickly. Yes, techs are sort of selling themselves to you…but you’re also selling yourself to them!
Don’t believe us? Listen to Jimmy:
“I almost have to sell a mechanic or technician on why they should come work for us. I want to make them excited to work here, but I also want to vet out people I don’t want to work for me.”
Show your applicant exactly what everyday life is like in your shop. Reel off all the benefits you offer. If you like them, give them a tour, so they can see how the bays are laid out, where the break room is, how the place looks.
In the end, the interview process is an exchange of information. If you do it right, both parties have the data they need to make the right choice—whether that’s hiring someone or not (or, conversely, accepting or rejecting an offer). It’s a process that will constantly evolve as new technologies and challenges reach the diesel industry—but you’ll always be asking questions.
Make sure you’re asking the right ones.