Plant seeds to harvest next generation of PMs

I SAW A help-wanted ad in the 1980s that I remember to this day. With precious little exaggeration and a ton of implied irony, this company said it was looking for a young man "under 40 years" of age who had degrees in both architecture and engineering "and preferred (candidates) be licensed in both disciplines" and a licensed general contractor "who would have a minimum of 10 years experience, preferably

I SAW A help-wanted ad in the 1980s that I remember to this day. With precious little exaggeration and a ton of implied irony, this company said it was looking for a young man "under 40 years" of age who had degrees in both architecture and engineering "and preferred (candidates) be licensed in both disciplines" and a licensed general contractor "who would have a minimum of 10 years experience, preferably 20." The company offered for this package, albeit in 1980's dollars, the grand salary of $25,000 per year with no benefits or car allowance.

I wasn't dumbfounded by this ad — you can tell by my remembering it all these years later — I was truly dumbstruck by it and didn't believe it was real, thinking it had to be some sort of prank ad until my curiosity got the better of me. I called the company, which told me not only was the ad for real, but it already had two qualified applicants apply for the job. It wasn't going to hire either, however, because each was pushing for a "competitive salary and benefits package."

Pardon me, but huh?

I hold that ad as an extreme example of how not to search for your first or next project manager. You can wish-list qualifications out the proverbial ying-yang, but the more extensive/expansive/exclusive your list becomes, the smaller your pool of qualified applicants.

Truth is, not one single formula or prescriptive description defines what the "ideal project manager" is or would be. Every company is different with a different corporate personality. Whether a potential candidate would be a good fit in your company is as much a matter of chemistry as it is paper qualifications.

We don't have legal serfdom anymore (though I often think that many general contractors still wish for "the good old days" to return), and everyone is free to hire or be hired by whomever-he wishes (except within the constraints of anti-discrimination laws, of course).

So, in order to hire the best qualified project managers, estimators and other key positions, you're going to have be known as the best company in your local-market to work for or else you'll get the employees you truly deserve.

If you're known as an honest, ethical, hard-working, on-the-level company, then that's the kind of employees you'll attract.

If your company is known for how badly it treats its suppliers, customers and employees, then that's exactly the kind of employee you'll be able to hire — those who don't have a choice other than to work for you because no one else in your local market will touch them with the proverbial 10-ft. crack pipe.

If your company is somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, which most companies are, there is something you can do to enhance your reputation over the longer term and help attract better-, if not best-qualified, employees in the future: Act like you actually give a damn.

In the absence of acts of generosity your company probably can't afford, such as putting in complete plumbing or HVAC systems in Habitat For Humanity houses or working with local charitable organizations to help elderly people on fixed incomes have winter heat or summer cooling, what you can offer to your community is your time.

Make yourself available to service clubs, local colleges and universities or other avenues that get that handsome mug and sexy voice of yours in front of people who aren't part of your usual circle of poker buddies. Present your best face and tell others about how great our industry and your company are. Then guess what will happen?

Other than the occasional hoot or catcall from disbelievers who think all contractors of all stripes are nothing more than a bunch of lyin', cheatin', stealin' SOBs, you'll find opportunities to pass out business cards and generate leads that will translate into some immediate sales. Over time, your ability to take advantage of these opportunities will translate into a more positive reputation for yourself and your company because you'll treat those new customers exactly as you would wish to be treated.

Yes, doing this will take away some precious time from your family and social life, but if you're in this business for the long term, you're going to need to make some of these small sacrifices of your time.

It's not a matter of "giving back" to your local community. It's a matter of giving forward. The past is the past and none of us can go back there. We can only give forward and, in doing so, we'll reap the benefits of being able to hire better-or best-qualified people in the future.

H. Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor and project manager with unlimited Master's licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating and plumbing. He can be reached by calling 919/291-0878, or via e-mail at [email protected]. His Website is hkentcraig.com.