I have been lucky enough to have a great lead installer with me for seven years now. Jason is a one-man show. He can run wire, mount TVs, install speakers, terminate cable, connect up components, and build racks on his own. I can send him out on a job with a description of what needs to be done, and he will execute flawlessly. However, I’ve been through a few other installers as well and they just didn’t cut it. That is probably a bit of a fault on both sides; I pride myself on being a great judge of character, but in this industry we need more than character in our people (although character is critical). We also need great trade skills, solid communication, and a client-first mentality.
There are several keys to finding the right people.
1.Set clear metrics: You need to determine what is most important to you and the success of your business. Is it punctuality? Cleanliness? Professionalism? (How do you define professionalism–dress, attitude, client interaction?) Problem solving skills?
2.Calibrate your metrics: You want to have a tool to measure each candidate up against. How do you measure professionalism? Is it how they come dressed to the interview? Is it what referrals say about them? Is it in the attitude or eye contact they use to talk with you?
3.Develop an interview strategy: You need to now compare each candidate on an even playing field. How do you do that? When it comes to problem solving, you could give them hypothetical scenarios and ask them what they would do. You could mock up a situation in your workshop and ask them to solve it. How about a wall with duct-work behind it and have the run wire and mount a TV.
4.Source Candidates: Although this step can be the most intimidating aspect of hiring, if you’ve really spent time on #1-3, it should be pretty easy. You know what you are looking for and you know how to identify if candidates have the skills you want. With all of the resources to find people today, you have a ton of options:
a.Ask other tradespeople you work with if they have anyone they can recommend. Maybe they met a great person, but just don’t have the work for them right now
b.Use online job boards like Monster.com and Craigslist
c.Post ads or speak with career offices at local vocational schools or technical schools
d.Use CEDIA and Residential Systems’ LinkedIn Group job boards
e.Ask at your local hardware store if they know of anyone with the installation skills you need
f.For more technical positions, speak with your vendors. Maybe your control partner has a list of certified programmers in your area and you can send out an email.
5.Interview, interview, interview: Don’t rely on just the first meeting. If you like someone, bring him back a second or third time. Maybe the first interview is over the phone or is a face-to-face discussion. The second and third interviews can be more hands on with their skills.
6.Set up a ‘trial period’: Treat the position more like an apprenticeship. Bring the person on for a short-term contract to work on a few jobs to see if they will work out with you, both from a skills and personality perspective.
7.Set Expectations: Don’t just set a new employee loose at a client site with limited knowledge of how you do things. Develop a written training guide and spend two or three days in the office going through how you expect things to be done—from always wearing booties upon entering the home, to speaking with clients, to how high a TV should be mounted and how far apart speakers should be placed. Make sure they know how you run your business, what time the workday starts, how long they have for breaks, whether or not they can use a client’s bathroom, and how long do you want speaker wire left at the head end and speaker end during a pre-wire?
8.Train: This includes both “classroom” training for the items in #7 as well as on-the-job training for four to six weeks where they are always paired with a highly performing colleague or directly with you, so that they learn how things are done both from a personal interaction point of view as well as a technical perspective–ie, maybe they’ve rarely worked in apartment buildings, but you do a lot of urban work. They need to know how to deal with aluminum studs or latte and plaster walls when running wire and hanging TVs and installing speakers. They may not know this unless you or one of your trusted team members teaches them.
You will get the best people with full-time work, but you might only need someone two days a week. Maybe you can find another integrator who also needs someone part-time and you can share a FTE (full-time employee). I am looking into this with one of my Home Theater Rebuild partners as they need someone who can do the heavy lifting of an install, but don’t need someone full time, while I have enough work to keep someone busy two or three days a week. This way we hope to get the best of both worlds—a great full-time person, but being able to share in the expense and split the workload.
+Todd Anthony Pumais president of The Source Home Theater Installation in New York City.