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6 Keys to Hiring A-Player Service Technicians

Originally published: 03.01.13 by Greg McAfee


Equipment, customer expectations, and performance expectations have changed. Has your hiring process kept up?

Twenty-five years ago, the cell phone was a Motorola DynaTac 8500XL. I knew very few people who had one. The cost was around $2,500, which in today’s dollars would be $4,400. I’m sure the XL stood for extra-large, because it was big and bulky. The talk time was only one hour. Today we have “mobile devices” such as the Apple iPhone that costs around $300 and weighs one-fifth of the 8500XL. 

How about Internet access? Your choices were dial up, or dial up, and it cost anywhere from $6 to $40 per hour to surf what there was online. Today we have a variety of high speed, wireless, DSL, or mobile for as low as $9.95 per month.

In communications and computing, what we thought was the best yesterday does not even come into play today. It’s not much different in the HVACR industry. Although we’ve not evolved as quickly, the days of a standing-pilot and single-stage motor are all but over, and being just a “good mechanic” is only part of the modern service technician’s job . I was actually fired from my first HVACR position and

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told I’d never make it as a mechanic, which was right!

Steve Jobs always said, “Make sure you’re hiring only A-players. A small team of A-plus players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players.” Obviously not everyone can afford to hire only A-players, but we can make it a point to hire the very best possible. Here are six ways to make sure you are doing so:

1. Develop a job description. 

It works both ways. The employer does not know what they are looking for until they actually describe it, and the potential employee does not know if they fit the position until they see the description. A job description for a technician’s job should be one to two pages long and have the following: 

Job title, location.

Position summary, which tells what the job is and what the employee is responsible for. This can be one paragraph long.

Essential functions and duties. This lists all the duties of the job.

Qualifications — education, experience, extra certifications, etc.

Traits and characteristics required, i.e., must have good attitude, respect for people, integrity.

Working relations — who they report to and work with.

We have more than one job description per position. For instance, we have five levels of service techs, from trainee to lead technician, and each one carries its own responsibilities. Having a job description will communicate the job expectations to the employee and will help the employer with performance reviews and recruitment efforts.

2. Know what level of technician you want or need to hire. 

Some companies prefer to hire only experienced technicians, while others prefer to hire applicants fresh out of a trade school. They both have their advantages and disadvantages; we hire both. If you hire a trainee, they’ve not yet picked up any bad trade habits, but it may take a year or two to train them your way. If you hire an experienced technician, they may only require a few weeks or so of learning the company paperwork and company culture, but they may bring all of their bad habits that caused them to leave their last job. We choose to bring on more trainees and continue to produce the kind of technician that we can groom our way.

3. Remember that mechanical skills that worked yesterday will not be good enough today. 

A tech not only needs to be mechanically inclined, but he must understand electrical circuits and controls. Every applicant takes a test prior to being hired at McAfee. The test is made up of 20% air conditioning, 20% heat pump, 20% gas furnaces, and 40% electrical. This helps us to see what they know and what they don’t know. An experienced tech is required to know much more than a trainee. Our lead technicians are N.A.T.E. certified, and our trainees are constantly training and learning on the job and in the classroom. If we do hire an experienced tech, he is required to be certified.

4. Assess people skills. 

Professional image is everything today. A tech walking into a home with a dirty t-shirt and blue jeans will convey a poor company image. Clean uniforms, trucks, and tools have become the norm. Imagine a copier or computer technician driving a dirty truck, wearing dirty clothes, and using greasy, worn out tools.  How long would you keep them around? Customer service skills are taught and caught. During our training process, the tech in training sees the lead tech respecting and treating the customer the very best way. Nothing will put a business out of business faster than poor customer service.

5. Offer competitive compensation and benefits. 

Like many of you, we are not the only HVACR company around. We have hundreds of other companies in our same industry (I do not call them competitors because most are not). So how do we attract good prospects? 

Although we pay very well, we’re not out to attract someone with money alone. I’ve found that if people move here for more money, it won’t be long until they move again for more money. However, pay is important. In addition, we offer a great health insurance package, and pay 100% of the employees’ cost of health insurance. We also offer short-term disability, life insurance for the entire family, a matching 401(k) plan, and interest-free tool loans. 

We also offer integrity. We do what we say we’ll do when we say we’ll do it. We don’t mess around and tell a potential applicant what they want to hear. Rather, we tell them that it’s not easy to work here because the bar is high. We work long hours and expect a lot! That comment alone seems to filter out the ones we don’t want. We hire for attitude and train for skills. We look for the right personality that fits our team, and so we give personality tests to each applicant. According to the October 2012 issue of Forbes magazine, the top three personality traits employers say they are looking for in new hires are professionalism (86%), high-energy (78%), and confidence (61%). We look for and seem to attract those kinds of people.

6. Use social media. 

The old “place an ad in the newspaper” might still work in some areas of the country, but for us, it’s no longer enough. Social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are great places to put the word out. We’ve also advertised on certain radio stations that service techs seem to listen to more. Craigslist seems to work for technicians and is much less expensive than the paper—it’s free! In today’s world, we have to find out where the HVACR service technicians are and then reach out and find them there. Although we have had this done to us and some find this morally O.K., we would rather not “steal” a tech from another company. If an employee is easily stolen, then they were probably not a team player, and they will be stolen again and again.

As a business owner and business consultant/coach, I’ve learned that finding good techs can be tough, but applying these six suggestions, you will not only find better quality techs, these techs will typically stay with you longer. If you want to read a book on the subject, I recommend “How to Hire A Players” by Eric Herrenkohl. It is a roadmap for finding the A-player talent you need to create the business you want. No matter the state of the economy, it is never easy to find A-players. You have to know where to look and how to attract them.   ν

Greg McAfee is Owner and Founder of McAfee Heating and Air Conditioning Co., Dayton, OH. Greg is also an author, HVAC business consultant, and coach. www.gregmcafee.com 


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6 Keys to Hiring A-Player Service Technicians

In communications and computing, what we thought was the best yesterday does not even come into play today. It’s not much different in the HVACR industry. Although we’ve not evolved as quickly, the days of a standing-pilot and single-stage motor are all but over, and being just a “good mechanic” is only part of the modern service technician’s job. Here are six ways to hire the best of the bunch.
View article.