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Hiring for Our Industry

Sage advice from an HR professional.

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On Labor Day I called a good friend just to talk. We ended up talking about how hard it is to hire great people in our industry. We talked about how what to look for and what is important — is it passion, experience, technical knowledge, construction skills, people skills? He was on his drive home from the beach with his wife and daughter and had me on speaker phone. I’m so happy I called! His wife is a senior HR professional at a Wall Street investment bank, so she knows something about identifying what to look for in candidates, how to interview for those traits, and hiring the best in the business. Here is what I learned from that call.

It essentially comes down to two key questions: What traits do we want? and How do we identify those traits in candidates?

Related: HR for Integrators

What Traits are Most Important
Mark and I spent some time talking about what we thought were good traits to look for — experience with AV, experience with specific brands (i.e., Control4 or Crestron), good work ethic, construction skills, technical knowledge, and so on. His wife quickly interrupted us and asked us about the best employee we each have and what their knowledge was prior to hiring them. The answer was that they both came from construction/carpentry and had absolutely no knowledge of AV, networking, or the smart home. She also made us realize that our industry is changing so fast that even if someone comes with the technical knowledge, if they are not diligent about keeping that knowledge fresh, then it does us little good in the long run. She talked about how she hires Wall Street salespeople and traders. Granted most of her hires have the skills already, but what makes them really successful is their passion for the work and their ability to fit with the culture of her firm. Someone who is just a mercenary and jumping around for the biggest payday will not fit in and will not last.

We applied that same critical eye to our industry. What we really need are people who are ideally passionate about, but at least interested in, technology. We do not necessarily need people who have done it before. Both of our top performers learned from on-the-job training, manufacturer trainings, and one-on-one time with knowledgeable people in our firms. But they do need to have a real innate interest in what we do. We all feel that passion; that is why we are in the business. Everyone in each of our organizations should have that passion, too. Both of our top people love to take technology home and put it to work in their homes. They both come in asking questions about how to program something or how to make it work better. That’s the passion for the product and technology we all need in our businesses, because those make the best people. Yes, they need to be good in front of client (if that is part of their role), presentable, and reliable. That is similar to the cost of entry for the salespeople and traders in her firm. It is the passion that makes the difference.

Also by Todd Anthony Puma: Getting Excited Again

How do We Interview
Now that we know what we want in a candidate, how do we draw that out of them in an interview? It is actually pretty straightforward. Just ask. Here are some standard questions to put forth that will help you see who is into technology and who isn’t

  • Why do you want to work in this industry? You want them to talk about loving technology, being into TVs, audio, music, car audio, smart home, smart phones, etc. Anything technology related, even if it isn’t exactly what you do.
  • Why do you want to work at this company? You want them to have done some research and talk about some of things on your website or in your marketing. Be sure they are truly interested.
  • What do you have at home for a ______ (music system, TV, network, blue-tooth speaker, etc.)? Why? Listen for talk about adjusting settings, tweaking things, researching product, and so on.
  • What are some of your favorite apps on your phone? See if they are into tech and they use apps for more than games and social media. Do they use a speed test app? Do they have any utilities they use (like levels, measuring, etc.)? What about the tech in the apps they use (even if it is social media) do they like?
  • What podcasts/blogs/facebook groups/Instagram pages do you follow? Listen for anything technology related.

I’m sure you can come up with even more questions to ask, but this is a good start. Get creative. Try to draw out their interest in why they want to be in our industry and your firm. Then you can ask about how they interact with clients in a tough situation or how they decide when to call you vs. handle it on their own. But if they aren’t passionate about the business, they won’t be successful because they won’t have the innate desire to keep up with it all, like we do.

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