How to Effectively Interview HVAC-R, Facilities, and Engineering Candidates
As a hiring manager, interviewing talent for your company is an important part of your role and crucial for company growth. In specialized industries like HVAC-R, Facilities Management, and Mechanical Engineering, the hiring process can be tricky. You need to avoid the job hoppers and smooth talkers and focus in on those who will actually care about your customers.
Asking the right questions can help you determine the best fit for the role, and can help weed out the wrong candidates. We all know the time and effort it takes to find the right person for the job, so taking the time to prepare yourself with the right questions to ask your potential new hires can help spare you from wasting resources in the long run. In this post, we’ll help you develop the right set of questions to ask candidates whether you are hiring a Facilities Manager, and HVAC-R field technician or an Engineering Sales Manager to grow your business.
Recruiters Can Help, But Ultimately It’s Your Call
You can benefit from working with a recruiter to source and screen potential candidates. But, it’s ultimately your call to make the final decision for your company. Since this is your only chance to evaluate the candidate before taking the plunge, formulating a set of questions that enables your candidate to open up is imperative to the hiring process. Nerves tend to get the best of a candidate in an interview setting, and you wouldn’t want to pass on a potentially great candidate because of these jitters. In our experience, asking the right questions to candidates helps them let their guard down a bit, revealing to you if they are a good fit for the job and company.
Technical Screening vs Character Assessment
There are basically two types of interviews that your organization needs to do well: technical screening and character assessment. Technical screening interviews are designed to weed out candidates who are not technically competent enough to fill the position. On the other hand, character assessment interviews identify those individuals who will make the biggest positive contribution to the success of your organization.
Your company needs to do both of these, as well. As a hiring professional, you need to competently delegate the technical screening questions to your organization’s experts. On the other hand, the character assessment of candidates is your individual responsibility, along with company executives and the person who will have direct management responsibility for the new hire.
In a highly technical field like HVAC-R, Facilities Management, and Mechanical Engineering, there needs to be a technical screening process. You need to make sure that a candidate knows their stuff and will be able to perform with technical and professional competence. Obviously, the technical screening questions will vary based on the position being filled. The technical screening interview is best conducted by an expert in your company who you trust to set high standards. Ask your experts to develop standard sets of questions for each type of position. This ensures consistency in the technical screening processes. Because you cannot keep going back to the same expert for every interview, without burning them out, you want to capture their best practice so that others can effectively implement the technical screening interview.
As a hiring professional, technical screening is not your direct responsibility, but it is your responsibility to ensure it gets done right. Our advice here is to enlist the help of your trusted experts to set a standard of competence for the organization.
When hiring sales professionals, you need a different set of questions. In a selling role, it is harder to measure technical competence, so your organization needs to focus on past performance. Find out what the candidate has done to generate revenue in the past. Have they made their quota? What ideas did they bring to the table to increase revenue from existing customers? How do they prospect for new customers? Are they familiar with the concept of gross margins and have they worked to increase those margins in the past? Finally, how have they worked to enhance the reputation of previous employers?
When screening salespeople, these are the issues that need to be explored. As with the technical screens, you’ll want to enlist the help of experts. In this case, your experts are the top salespeople in your company. They understand how to be successful and are the best people to screen sales candidates to ensure that they have the right stuff to succeed in sales at your company. Ask your top salespeople to develop a standard set of questions and document how they conduct interviews. As on the technical side, you never want to burn people out by forcing them to handle all the screening interviews. Documented questions and interview techniques help spread the burden.
Operations professionals include employees with job titles like Service Manager and Project Manager. As with salespeople, you need to screen for soft skills and understand whether or not these candidates have gained the relevant skills and demonstrated competency in their previous roles. For example, you should ask for specific examples of what the candidate has done to improve customer satisfaction. Ask them how installation goals were set with the customer and if they were able to meet and exceed those goals.
All employees are encouraged to be good mentors, but mentoring is a particularly important skill for operations professionals. In order for your company to grow, you need to keep increasing the number of experienced technicians you graduate into operations roles. A good operations manager will take employees under their wing, and mentor them to be able to manage clients and projects. Ask for examples of how they mentored other employees and turn around poor performers. Probe for detailed examples of how they improved the performance of teams to achieve on-time delivery, high customer satisfaction, and repeat business.
Again, your top operations professionals will need to lead the way in developing the best screening questions and techniques. As with technical and sales employees, screening operations professionals requires experience and expertise.
Character Assessment and Company Fit
With respect to screening, your job is to enlist the help of your company’s experts and institutionalize best practice so that candidates without the right experience and expertise get weeded out of the hiring process. But, when it comes to assessing a candidate’s character and how well they will fit in with your company, you need to take a direct role and conduct face-to-face interviews.
Many people wonder what are the most important questions to ask, and what should we be listening for in the candidate’s answers. In our experience, the top three questions that you need to ask are:
- Why are you leaving your current employer?
- What excites you most about this position?
- What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
Why are you leaving your current employer?
This is perhaps the most important question to ask during an interview. Asking this question allows you to examine the candidate’s relationship with their current company. Based on how your candidate answers the question, you can gain insight into the fit within your own firm. Say they answer by saying, “I don’t get along with my direct boss,” you can then ask the question “What have you done to remedy this?” If the answer is “look for a new job” or something similar, this may be a red flag for you.
Most of the time, as an experienced interviewer, you can spot the canned responses. Honest answers and informative dialog indicate that your firm can expect transparency moving forward. In our experience, it is wise to give an edge to candidates that demonstrate honesty and openness. This question can also help you gain some insight into what motivates the candidate in the workplace. If they answer with something along the lines of “I am someone that gets bored easily and need to be in a company where I can change roles frequently,” well then you know that this is someone who may not be a fit in a bureaucratic organization. Similarly, if your company values longevity in management roles, then this person is not going to be a great fit.
Now, of course, this question isn’t applicable to someone who is looking for a position while unemployed for various reasons. But, it can help your interview process by asking a variation of this question, like: “Why did you leave your last position?” If they’ve been let go or fired, ask polite follow-up questions to understand the circumstances. Sometimes situations are out of the candidate’s control and being laid off from a job may have been the result of a downsizing or office closing. Be sensitive in your questions and try to get the candidate to open up about their experience. If they are evasive, that is not a good sign. But, if they answer honestly and are able to have a candidate conversation about their termination, that bodes well.
What excites you most about this position?
This question helps you understand the candidate’s personality type — an important part of company culture and overall team fit. Here is where you can begin to gauge the excitement and enthusiasm they would bring to the role. Take note of the aspects of the position that the candidate is eager to learn or get started with immediately. For example, if your candidate is interviewing for a sales manager role, and they answer “I can’t wait to help this team beat their quota!,” you learn two things. First, the candidate is competitive – a big plus in a sales role. Secondly, they are team-oriented.
Similarly, if you’re hiring for an HVAC Mechanical Engineer, and the candidate answers “learning the newest VRF systems for high-rise buildings,” you’ll note that this is someone who is willing to learn new technology and stay ahead of the curve in the mechanical services industry. Some technicians get stuck in their comfort zones, always working with the same types of equipment. So, when a candidate expresses genuine excitement about mastering new technology, that is a big plus.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
When you work every day with someone, it can be an added bonus to find a personal connection with them, as well. In 2017, Inc magazine reported that having a friendship with your co-workers can help increase your job satisfaction by almost 25%! We’ve observed that teams where coworkers become friends have higher job satisfaction, but also are more productive and achieve higher client satisfaction ratings.
As a hiring manager, it’s your job to cultivate a company culture where your team feels comfortable enough to develop friendships and comradery. By asking this question, you can get a glimpse into your candidates lives outside of work, looking for clues that their interests may help them find common ground among your current employees. Even more important, look for evidence that they enjoy collaborative efforts. Whether it’s belonging to a bowling league, or leading a girl scout troop, look for evidence that the candidate enjoys teamwork.
Take this opportunity to delve a bit deeper into the actual person you are hiring. You want the person you hire to have fun at work and be fun to work with. When you’re spending an average of 40+ plus hours a week with someone, having a personal connection can be an added bonus — it can even make you healthier! Add this question to your interview and you’ll be happy to learn more about your candidate and how they can help build a healthy, collaborative company culture.
You may have noticed that these top 3 questions focus more on the person than the role. At HVACExec.com, we’ve conducted hundreds of interviews and find that getting the candidate to open up and show their personality is just as important as evaluating their skill set. Ideally, working day in and day out with your next hire will improve the morale of the team they join – and bring energy to client projects. While there are no crystal balls, and each new hire is a gamble, asking the right questions during the interview helps reduce the risk of a bad hire. Always be armed with a well-curated list of questions to ask in an interview. Even more important, listen closely to the answers and ask good follow-up questions that offer the candidate a chance to open up and reveal their personality.