Hiring Smart to Support Your Field Managers Who Directly Manage Working Foremen and Trades

This past year, more than years past, we’ve had more superintendents and field managers want to leave self-performing contracting firms for roles where the contractor subcontracts the trade labor. They state there is a shortage of qualified tradesmen and also a more defiant attitude from those they manage in the workforce. We all know without the laborers, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, ironworkers, technicians, and installers of every division in our industry, our projects do not get built. How your company supports your managers with hiring, motivating, and keeping staff who hands-on build the projects is critical to retaining both the manager and the trades they manage while working for you.

Hiring Smart

As much as you need manpower, hiring anyone and everyone who says they want and will do the job—from entry to senior level—is detrimental to your company. “Talk is Cheap” is our motto in the career matchmaking business. Something is better than nothing for all employees when it comes to prescreening for the right fit, so you can determine if they are consistent with their answers and can walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

Yes, it is a pain to have to prequalify. It takes time, and many candidates might go somewhere else; in this tight market, it is understandable how disappointing it is when they do. It is also human nature to think everyone wants to work for you and your company. The truth is there are many not meant to work for your company, now or in the future, because you are building a team, and that team needs to work together and respect one another regardless of how they feel about the company and ownership itself.

You take time to prescreen to prevent other employees, especially managers, from going elsewhere because their employer doesn’t support their needs by hiring the right staff under them.

The candidates who value your hiring process are the ones you should consider because they already recognize that the opportunity to work for you is earned, not a given. And you are showing them the importance to you of drafting the next team member. Many companies now pay a training wage to laborers and tradesmen for the day to complete the pre-employment process. That one day can reveal a lot as they will show their emotional side (or lack of one) and ability to commit. The people evaluating look for “red flags,” which are not easily seen until the damage is done once they are part of the crew in the field (see pyramid below). Without knowing their attitudes and personal characteristics, regardless of skill, they can cause turmoil in the field.

Pyramid of Competency


What can you include in the prescreening process to help make better hiring choices?

1. References

No matter what level of employee you are hiring, whenever they can provide references (whether you check them or not), the fact they can produce them is important. It is also important to see who they provide as references. Entry level should be character or schooling references and entry-level job references, other than friends or family. Once they have some workplace experience, we like to ask for three to five references of people they have worked directly for or with in construction. How they provide those references also provides insight. Things to observe include:

  • Do they have the contact’s phone number in their phone for easy access?
  • Do they have the first and last name of the person?
  • Do they know the person’s position at the company?
  • Can they provide any detail of the project or experience that references can verify about them?

Specific questions to ask for labor and trade roles may include questions such as:

  • Do they inform their supervisor of their coming and going, even for breaks?
  • Do they clean up after themselves?

2. Behavioral Interview Questions

Asking simple behavioral questions in writing when possible and verbally in discussion is the best option to help rate a candidate. The Department of Labor offers an Apprentice Interview Rating Form that is easy to adapt to your company when interviewing for labor and general trade roles.

3. Office and Jobsite Combo Interview

When interviewing all level personnel, from labor to management, it is recommended you conduct the interview process both in the office and at a jobsite. Informing the candidate ahead of time that you will be visiting a jobsite allows you to see if they come prepared. If they do not, and you have the equipment in a room for them to choose from before the visit, you can see if they wait to follow your lead or grab the equipment themselves. The jobsite visit allows you to comment on having the proper dress, and so forth, and ask questions about what they observe. You can see how they observe others and the work going on around them. In addition, it allows the candidate the opportunity to see their potential work environment and co-workers, giving them a visual into a day in the life if they are offered and accept the job.

Additional things you are listening for specific to the job are:

  • Proper terminology
  • Recognition of the type of tools they will use and what for
  • Your and other’s ability to understand them in English and if you require or use another language on the jobsite, such as Spanish
  • Attitudes that could be perceived unfavorably by others working with them

Last, make sure anyone who has supervisory authority over the person you are hiring meets them and asks their own questions. This will help them obtain buy-in and help you get to know by their questions, reactions, and feedback what qualities are important to them for their teammates.

When looking for labor and entry-level staff, don’t overlook college-age students going to school for engineering or construction management. Getting a formal education does not mean they won’t work a trade job just to be on a jobsite and gain experience. These young men and women might be your future managers and can help your current managers with their reporting and the direction of others in the field.

Your managers count on you to hire smart so they can get the job done. Your help with finding the right help will keep them working for you.

To Hiring Smart from the Start,

Suzanne Breistol


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