The Cost Of Hiring The Wrong Person

I enjoyed John R. Hall’s article on squeaky-clean techs [“Finding The Squeaky-Clean Technician,” Jan. 21].

I own an hvacr service/contracting company. We’re in our 20th year in Alaska. As you might figure, it is extremely difficult to find and get qualified service techs up here to the cold country.

I’ve tried everything imaginable. I have, however, through making some costly mistakes in the hiring process, made myself some rules that I can never break. I understand that people can change, but that will not happen without a cataclysmic event happening in their lives.

People do not just decide to change on their own. That is a fact of life. Just ask your nearest minister or priest. My list is as follows:

1. I call all references. I call information and get the phone numbers of every company this person ever worked for, and call and ask my one-page list of questions.

At the top of my list is, “Can I trust this guy?” Also, “Does he have integrity?” And, of course, “Would you hire him back?” If I get only one negative of any kind, I put his resume in the “round file” and spend my time on another applicant.

2. If I find that the guy has ever had his own business, I don’t waste my time talking with him or check his references. Twice I have hired this type of guy, only to have him quit my company after learning the town and my customers. You can figure out what happened next.

3. I get a copy of his driving record. If he has had a DWI in the past five years, I don’t waste my time. I hired a very good sheet metal/hvac tech who did a good job for us — when he was sober! I gave him more than enough chances. He finally rolled one of our newer service vans and got a DWI from the trooper. I needed him, but had to fire him anyway.

4. Drug testing is a must nowadays. It shouldn’t have to be, but it is. These techs are out there representing you, your company, and everything you have worked so hard to build.

5. Ask about honesty when talking with references. I had a good tech steal a pistol from a customer’s garage once, while getting the heating back on! If that had gotten in the papers, it would have hurt my company.

6. I give the prospective tech a test. This lets me know where his knowledge level is. I’ve had guys that said they had been in the refrigeration and a/c business 10 or 15 years that could not tell me what superheat was, or how to check it.

7. I have the prospective tech fill out a “profile” that is geared toward the type of job he is applying for. These profiles tell volumes about a person. This is very important.

If there is any hesitation on the part of the reference to talk to you, there is a reason. I had one employer say, “If he came back here looking for a job, he would probably get shot!” I’ve learned that no matter how much work you have, and no matter how desperate you are for help, you can’t afford to hire someone that will cause you grief in the future. You’re better off paying your existing techs overtime than hiring the wrong person.

The costs for this mistake are great:

1. Cost of insurance.

2. Cost of training the wrong person. It costs a lot to have this guy ride with an experienced tech for a period of time, not to mention the paid time during training sessions.

3. Cost of loss of customers and revenue due to having the wrong person representing you. And sometimes it takes quite a while for you to figure out that this guy isn’t working out. And by this time, how many customers have you lost on his account?

4. Cost of company information that this person will take to your competition. I’ve found out that my competition was using material that I developed over years of trial and error.

I fired a tech once, and the Rolodex from the service manager’s desk disappeared. Next thing I knew, I get a call from some customers saying that this guy was calling them and saying that I was going bankrupt, and that they should let him do their work. Then I discovered that quite a bit of tools and equipment came up missing soon after. This guy had stocked himself up with our stuff to start his business.

It hurts when this happens, but we must focus on business, not bitter-ness. This type of thing will take care of itself eventually. It may take years, but it will happen. I tell my people that “What goes around comes around” is very true. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!

So we go on about our daily business, and we constantly look for people with honesty, integrity, and character, knowing that we can’t be too careful about who we hire to represent our company. Because if we do what’s right, we will be rewarded with a great team of people who will represent our company well. Just don’t make too many mistakes in hiring, and be patient.

I want other contractors to know that there are good people out there; you have to be patient and not hire the wrong ones out of desperation. The right one might be just around the corner. And also, that you can’t spend too much time and effort checking out thoroughly the prospective employee. It’s better to not hire, than to hire the wrong one. It costs much less in every way.

I have a wonderful crew of people: Seven service techs, two install guys, one shop and parts runner, a great service manager, a great bookkeeper, a great estimator/project manager, a great customer service rep, and little ol’ me. But it took years to develop the “right team.” You can’t just settle for second or third best.

David Bridges, President, Altrol Heating & Cooling Inc., Fairbanks, AK

The Great Coil Debate

The last paragraph of the article on aluminum coils [“The Aluminum Side Of The Great Coil Debate,” March 11] quoted Loran Daily saying, “They’re very easily cleaned.” Daily obviously has never has to clean a spine fin condenser that has trapped several seasons’ worth of cottonwood. The fins act like Velcro. To do a good job cleaning them, you have to remove all the sheet metal protection from around the coil (This sheet metal is very much needed to protect the fins!) and then wash it from the inside out. Next, you must wash down the coil at a near parallel angle. Finally, you must reassemble the unit.

The sight of the spine fin coil in the front page raised the hairs on the back of my neck and, after all of the hoopla quoted, raised my blood pressure!

Chris Hammond, Hvac Service Tech, Geneseo, IL

Publication date: 04/08/2002