Are you recruiting the best candidates?

Ask these seven questions to determine if you’re hiring wisely.


Ask these seven questions to determine if you’re hiring wisely.It has been drilled in our head that we have only one opportunity to make a good first impression. As employers, we expect job/intern candidates to follow this rule during the interview process. Remarkably, in a market where the design and construction industry heavily competes for engineers with high-tech, start-up, management consulting, and financial companies, many firms are not putting forward their best effort when it comes to attracting prospective candidates.

There have been an abundance of articles in the press lately on the migration of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduates to the high-tech industry in particular as they seek the glitz and intellectual bubble marketed by such companies. With unemployment numbers for engineers being the lowest of any profession, the competition to attract and retain talent has never been more rigorous. Younger technical graduates are not necessarily looking for a long-term commitment. We know they tend to be idealistic, impatient for advancement, entrepreneurial, and attracted by innovation and change—all characteristics of a good consulting engineer principal, I think you would agree. Yet how do we compete with the glitz of Silicon Valley? Consider using the same sales techniques that you would use to market your firm to a prospective client. 

As you work with your human resource (HR) team or recruiters to attract your new staff, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I have a compelling vision for the company? If an outsider were to review this vision, would it leave that person with the impression that the company is a leader, an innovator, an organization where talented people can do their best work, a custodian of the built environment, an organization that is enhancing the lives and helping to preserve the welfare of the people in our communities? If the answer is no, then consider engaging the marketing team to help you articulate that vision. Your vision may be excellent, but it may need some sizzle.
  2. Do I have a well-written job description for the position for which I’m hiring? Does it paint a picture of how the role contributes to the success of your clients and firm? And does it spell out how for the position can help an individual advance through the firm?  
  3. Are my HR team and recruiter equipped with a well-written history of the company, description of the culture, and profiles of some of the key members of the firm? People do not go to work for companies—they go to work with other people. If your firm participates in the 40 Under 40 recognition program, be sure to use that in your recruiting process. And, definitely involve your 40 Under 40s in your interviewing process. The enthusiasm and passion these individuals have for the profession is infectious!
  4. Do I involve the candidate’s potential peers in the interview process? If not, please do. It starts the team-building between peers early and helps to create rapport. Early in my career, I applied for a position with an engineering firm in Chicago. I interviewed with leadership team members who had considerably more gray hair than I did. However, the partner who took me to lunch invited an employee who was my age to join us, and it made all the difference in my decision. That former colleague/peer and I have been friends for 20 years.
  5. Have I screened the candidate and do I know what that person values in his or her next role? Do those values align with my firms’? If the answer is yes, have you designed the interview process and schedule to reflect those values? Adopt a similar approach to the one you use to prepare for a client proposal.
  6. Do I have a development program for high performers? If so, showcase this program to the candidate. Regular exposure to leaders’ passion for the industry and their knowledge of running a business will appeal to candidates’ entrepreneurial spirits.
  7. Do I understand my competition, and have I done my research? A good recruiter will provide you with the market intelligence your firm needs to be the employer of choice. Make sure your recruiter is earning his or her fee to help you be the employer candidates choose. Most good recruiters want to be your partner and not just a placement agency.

It goes without saying that candidates must do their part and bring their A game to the table during the interview process and after. But as a business leader, you need to be confident that your recruiting program will attract the most talented candidates. If you are at all in doubt about whether your program can deliver, then put your HR, recruiting, marketing, and knowledge leaders in a room and use these questions to help you develop a strong program and recruiting image. 

Jane Sidebottom is the owner of AMK LLC, a management and marketing consulting firm that provides market development and growth expertise to small- and medium-size firms. She has more than 20 years of management and leadership experience in both consulting engineering and Fortune 100 organizations. Sidebottom is a graduate of the University of Maryland. 

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