Interviewing and hiring: What to look for.

Discussion in 'Lawn Mowing' started by Mark McC, Dec 10, 2004.

  1. Mark McC

    Mark McC LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,565

    Dear Fellow LCOs,

    One of the things I suspect challenges most of us more than any other part of our operations is personnel. The people we hire can be our little visitations from Hades and I know many among us simply operate solo and avoid the situation altogether.

    But some on this bulletin board hire people and do quite well with them. So I want to know how those operators do this.

    For those who have successfully had employees for a few years, the question is: How do you get people in to interview for your company and how do you decide whom to hire?
  2. tonygreek

    tonygreek LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,909

    First, this is a great thread to kick-start...

    Mark, speaking from experience, I do my best to pre-screen people over the phone. I have not had to hire unknown people for my lco, but for my remodeling business I run people through the ringer given that they work in and around people's homes. When placing an ad in the paper, be prepared to get the full range of people calling you. Many tell you they are infinitely more qualified than the reality of their skill-sets. If you want a great litmus test, ask some form of the following question:

    "Would you mind submitting to a criminal background check?"

    You can sound less interrogative by dropping the word "criminal" because inevitably they will ask what that entails. I found this one question to be great for clearing out those that may waste your time when it comes time to the in-person interview, especially something that may preclude them from driving your trucks. I don't have a problem with minor issues, or kids stuff, but you'd be surprised by the people I've had say "Well, I've got a couple of B&Es if that's what you mean." But the usual outcome is that they hang-up or say no and don't offer any detail. Kind of a nice indicator.

    The last ad I ran, of the 25-30 calls I had, I was able to cut out over half the calls just based on the first 10 seconds.

    Anyone have any experience with finding people through your local lco suppliers? I find most of my good help through my building material supplier referrals, although many are my preferred subs and not actual employees.

  3. lennonpaul

    lennonpaul LawnSite Member
    Messages: 28

    Well Mark I cant say my company has been in existance for as much time as some others on this forum, but I have discovered most of the hurdles you have to jump in order to succeed in this business. Here's a few tips from my experience during the past five years for this topic of employment.

    1. Post a add in the newspaper for hard working, experienced individuals and make sure you put in pay scale. Ive always put in $10-12 pr hr. Maybe even higher for foreman but ive gotten three times as many responses when i put in pay scale then when i dont. Dont put in good driving record or no smoking environment etc.. let them apply then eliminate them later if they arent your best applicants. This is a numbers game just like this business, you solicit more you get more jobs, you talk to more applicants and your get better employees.

    2. Interviewing process- meet at a good neutral location, like a coffee shop. Buy them a drink and then talk turkey. It took awhile before i found a foreigner to work for me but once he applied i latched on him like a tick on a dog. He was bilingual and from Guatamela. Now he wasnt cheep, in fact he was given a four dollar raise over the course of two years now he takes home between $550-$600 per week ,but he brings in all the employees i want in fact he had two brothers that started working for me shortly after he started. In my area a majority of the applicants were unexperienced african americans just looking for a job to pay them bills, this is only a good choice if your desperate for a quick employee, bad long term decision. I have also found that caucasian men will have substance abuse or just have alot problems for the most part. Chances are if they dont want much money when they are applying then their work is pretty shotty or their just missing something. I believe that a low paid employee will result in low quality work, and this is of course based on you not supervising him. YOu have to establish a core group of employees that are self-sufficient , if they cant be trusted on their own or supervised by your foreman then you shouldnt hire them.
    3. Dont expect the hiring process ever to be easy unless your paying $50,00 in salary to each employee. Very high employee turnover rate for this line of work. Pay them well dont give them more work then they can handle and try to instill in them a positive vision for the future working for your company.

    4. Make sure your building a good pyramid system. Your first employee needs to be the man you want to see running your crew , otherwise you could just be wasting your time. If your trying to get away from the work in the field make sure your first employee is capable of being a foreman and can drive, fix equipment ie belts, flat tires, etc.. , lead employees, and do quality work. When you come across a man like this, your know it all to well, and he will realize how much you need him, then open up your check book and pay him well so you can start growing the biz.

    Well i think this is a good start to hiring someone let me know how you do in the future
    good luck
  4. txlawnking

    txlawnking LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,905

    Tony and Paul have given some great advice, and I'll throw in my nickel.

    Make sure you have an employee "handbook" that decribes in full, in graphic detail, their duties, and your expectations..

    I could go into graphic detail as to what I mean, but I think you can dig what I'm sugesting here.. Basically, CYA, and do it bilingualy if you intend to have Non- english speaking employees. My uncle runs a Large general landscape/hardscape outfit in Houston. He currently has no employee's, theyare all subcontractors ( masons, etc. ) But he used to. He stressed the importance of this to me.

    I'd also like to reiterate something I said before here on LS, develop an employee skills test, and that will eliminate a lot of head aches and hassles in the future as well...
  5. rodfather

    rodfather LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 9,501

    Here's a new one for ya Mark. :)

    ALL my employees through out the last 11 years are referrals from present employees (or people who were working for me) at the time. It has worked out extremely well because the new people know 99% of what I expect of them through conversations they have prior to meeting with me by the person referring them. In a way, they have already been screened and pre-approved.

    IMO, either through networking with others or having your present employees refer someone, you can't go wrong the majority of the time. BTW, I have never had a probelm with anyone that was referred to me.

    Hope that adds something for ya...
  6. Mark McC

    Mark McC LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,565

    Great stuff so far. I think this will end up being the most helpful discussion on all of this site for me.

    Here in northern Virginia, most of the available help is Latino, so I need to brush up on some of the basics. Interviews will be odd for guys whose English is as spotty as my Spanish.

    I think I'll require that my first employee speak English fairly well. In the long run, I can hire someone who's not so good at English, but will encourage anyone in that situation to take a class.

    What recruiting technique, other than referral recruiting, is most helpful in avoiding turnover?
  7. lqmustang

    lqmustang LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 620

    While I work solo now, I have worked in hiring positions for many years until going into lawn care. I've hired anywhere from part time pump jockeys, up to store managers responsible for c-stores with multi-million dollar revenues. As much as I hate to say it, no matter what all you do to screen potential employees, I am convinced you will never know what you have until you actually hire them and see them in action. With that said, here are some of the things I looked for that can be used in any hiring process.

    First, the ad. I would always include a wage of some sort, but you can generate more calls by using the phrase "up to $xx" to start. Then you can put in a higher rate that you may generally start someone at, and it leaves you room to offer less if you think you have found a gem, but with little or no experience.

    I assume most LCO's probably do not use an application, so most of the info you learn about the applicants will come from interviewing. Some of the application type material to look for would include if they made it thru high school or not. That was my first 'sort' so to speak. Then I would look at employment history. How often do they change jobs? You probably don't want someone that changes jobs every couple months.

    Interview information that was key for me included questions about past employment such as likes and dislikes. What they fell their former employers would say about them if called for a reference. Ask about adverse situations they've been in, and how they handled them. Be sure to ask open ended questions that make them think a bit. Yes/no questions should be kept to a minimum.

    Finally, be sure to call any references provided. Most of the time here you will only be able to verify that they did or did not work for the company. But an important question to ask the reference is if they would rehire the applicant. The criminal background check I did last, as if the applicant has been truthful, I should know that it is clean, or at least the circumstances behind any black marks.
  8. Albemarle Lawn

    Albemarle Lawn LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,544

    Ask for employment start and stop dates for previous employers. When you check references, if the previous employer is not allowed to say anything, they usually will confirm empoyment dates.

    One problem I have had has been amnesia or dishonesty about how long someone worked, and have exposed gaps of between 3 months to 2 years between actual employment dates and what was stated on an application. Big red flag, don't need any story tellers on the crew.
  9. Kelly's Landscaping

    Kelly's Landscaping LawnSite Platinum Member
    Messages: 4,725

    The referral idea is great but my luck with it has been less then desirable. If you have hard working men with good attitudes and a desire to grow with the company then their friends will likely be of that caliber. On the other hand as I have found drug addicts recommend more drug addicts. I am starting fresh next year I am hiring 5 employees and one of the things that will be in my ad is drug users need not apply we test for illegal drugs. Now weather I do or not won't really matter what will matter is screening out all the losers that apply for these types of jobs. I know this I need a key man this spring I cannot afford another lost year. True I have trained my no experience partner into a lawn god in 2 seasons to the point were I trust all his decisions in the field. But a lot of that was his age he’s now 36 and already was responsible when we started. What I need now is someone I can trust with a lawn crew so I can add a 3rd and 4th crew in the near future.
  10. mtdman

    mtdman LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,143

    If not in this thread, then maybe elsewhere, I would appreciate seeing some sample employee handbooks, maybe some sample applications, interview questions. Aren't there some questions you CAN'T ask them about backgrounds, criminal records, etc? Also, how exactly do you go about doing a background check? And, how do you do a driving record check?



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