Hiring to Fit a Maintenance Team

While speaking with a recently hired maintenance supervisor, I was asked an interesting question: How could this man’s current manager hire him after only asking questions such as, “Where do you see yourself in five years, “How do you deal with disagreements,” or, my favorite, “Can you name three things that you are good at and three things that you find challenging?”

This maintenance supervisor’s background was in running the Service Department at a large hotel, and while he managed the maintenance staff, his knowledge of the repairs that were performed was limited. In effect, he was a personnel manager.

He said the technicians that now work for him at the apartment community are great people. However, as time goes by he is realizing that the team is technically challenged, and he admitted that while he’s glad he has the job, the property really needs someone who has more experience and knowledge about electrical repairs.

One of his team members has just turned in a transfer request to move to a different property. Now that this maintenance supervisor has an open position in the maintenance department, he’s looking for the best way to hire someone who will enhance the technical expertise of the onsite maintenance staff.

In need of some better ways to evaluate these candidates, he asked for my advice, which I gave him as follows:

1. Identify certificates or credentials within the trade or specialty that are needed on your property. Some examples could include CAMT, HVAC Excellence, NATE, OSHA, EPA, NEC or a Manufacturer Credential.

2. Provide a common, problematic repair. Give the candidate two three-way switches, wire, tools and a light fixture. Have them wire up the circuit properly so that either of the switches could control the fixture. Making the circuit live is not needed as they can show it works by testing continuity with a meter. This often works because the candidate will relax a little during the “crafting” of the circuit.

3. Using a four-way switch, extension cord, double gang box and a receptacle, test the candidate’s knowledge of using a meter. Wire the switch in the box to the extension cord so that it reverses the “hot” and “neutral” slots on the receptacle. (For extra safety, this “switchbox” can be plugged into a GFCI outlet). The candidate’s job is to tell you when the switch is in the correct position so the socket is wired properly using only a meter. For added complexity, each socket of the receptacle can be wired differently by removing the terminal bridge tabs.

4. Give the candidate a service request and then ask them to pick the required equipment from a picture of tools. Be sure to include a couple of unnecessary pieces in the picture.

5. Have some “what’s wrong with this picture” type of repairs or situations found on the property to test problem identification. By asking open-ended questions, an interviewer can find out quite a bit about a technician’s experiences and background.

6. If time permits, take the candidate to a vacant apartment and have them perform a maintenance inspection. Give them a time limit and a blank piece of paper and you’ll be able to tell whether or not he or she has a good eye for detail. You can also evaluate their time-management expectations by asking them what schedule they would use to turn the apartment.

Matching technical expertise with the needs of an onsite team can be a challenging task. The more we prepare as interviewers, the easier time we’ll have narrowing down the pool of prospective employees to those who would actually be a good fit.