JCP/JCRESI’s own Susan Vaughan and NAHB on hiring in the industry!

Hiring Again? How to find — and keep — the best employees

An interview with Susan Vaughan, VP of operations at an executive search company for construction industry.

With the recession, nearly every company in the home building industry reduced its staff. In anticipation of a recovery in the market, business owners will likely need to consider hiring again, perhaps for the first time in several years. For answers on how to find and keep the best employees, Building Women turned to the expertise of Susan Vaughan, senior vice president of operations for JCR Executive Search International, a Joseph Chris Partners company. JCR Executive Search International is dedicated to the real estate development, construction, finance, investment, and civil infrastructure industries.

What is the current trend with small businesses and hiring?
Our clients seem to be exhibiting cautious optimism. Some positions that were on hold have opened up, but clients are highly selective regarding candidates. Most will only consider those who are a very close match to their ideal profile and are not inclined to think outside the box, regarding that approach as too risky. The general process for search and hiring is slower to close, and decisions are very carefully analyzed.

Is it picking back up?
There has been a slight uptick, with the indication that the last quarter may improve.

Even in the building industry?
The homebuilding industry showed the highest increase in our firm. This could be indicative of a combination of the tax incentives, lower mortgage rates and the tendency to call us first, given our longevity and recognized position for access to top talent in the industry. Ancillary groups, such as general contracting, design/ build and third-party services, seem to tend toward direct hiring.

How should a small business owner decide when it’s time to hire staff?
There should be two primary considerations. First, have they cut too deep and stretched their current staff (or themselves) beyond reasonable limits, running the risk of low morale, productivity or burnout? Second, are there future projects or growth potential to be achieved by adding personnel? It is generally better to invest in hiring in either of those circumstances.

Is it better to hire a full-time or part-time employee, or even a contractor?
If the need is project driven and the long-term requirement is questionable, it makes perfect sense to bring in a contract employee or utilize a respected third-party provider. Those selections should also be made with extra care in the current economy.

Where are the best places (job search engines) to look for candidates, particularly in the building industry?
Employers may choose particular job boards relative to the level or type of the position to be filled. Mid-level management and construction jobs can be found on popular sites, such as Monster, Career Builder, Indeed, Simply Hired and LinkedIn. Senior level and more specifically targeted sites might include Select Leaders, ICSC, theladders.com, constructionjobs.com or aecjobbank.com, depending on the candidate’s skill set. We recommend that candidates who are actively pursuing employment treat their search as they would any other serious project — plan, strategize, organize, network and use time management.

How do you know you’ve found the best candidate?
If that question is approached being as overly complex as “How do you know you’ve found the perfect mate?” there will likely be eventual dissatisfaction with the hire. The reality is that employment situations should be easier than that, given the employer has a clear understanding of their needs and company culture. There is no way to avoid risk in any serious decision, but the best insurance is to have a clear understanding of your critical needs and look for a person who will fit well in your organization to achieve them, whether through existing skills or training.

How does a small business owner avoid the long process of finding the “perfect” person, only to have that person not perform as expected, or leave after a short time?
“Paralysis by analysis” is a real hazard in this economy. Companies are not willing to take big risks when revenues are low and the future is in such question, but having a recognition that there is no way to avoid risk in any serious decision is important. It is equally important to be transparent with the new hire about your expectations of them and how performance will be measured. Lastly, employee satisfaction is fundamentally grounded in having opportunities to be engaged creatively and feel a valued part of the success of their company. Good assessments of critical skills and emotional intelligence are possible prior to hiring, if the employer takes care to conduct a careful interview and check appropriate references.

Before leaving this question, I’d like to take the opportunity to demonstrate the value of our services. During this economy, most employers have the notion that there are volumes of good talent available without the added expense of utilizing a search firm.

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