CAD Employee Hiring 101

August 6th, 2012

An organization’s success can be greatly affected by its hiring practices and clarification of the expectations for those new hires. Thinking of all the employees as part of a team is one of the best ways to do that.  Professional sports teams have coaches, assistant coaches, specialty teams, and game plans and is very similar to how successful organizations are structured. Does your organization have a well thought-out game plan for hiring new CAD team members?

If you don't look at your employees as team members, how can they develop a 'Team Player' attitude? While many people are natural team players who will do their best to help whenever needed, many of these people get jaded and lose the team player enthusiasm over time. The loss of enthusiasm sometimes comes from realizing that they appear to be the only ones willing to do “whatever it takes,” or frustration builds when they feel their efforts are unrecognized or they feel under-appreciated by their employer.

There are a few things you need to do in order to build a solid team, and it starts with a game plan. The goal of your game plan should be to hire good people and make it clear what their position and responsibilities are. Any good team needs a solid leader—a coach, not just a team owner. A good coach knows that it takes more than just filling all the positions. Successful teams need solid players who know their position(s) and get continuous training and practice to improve. Even with a good starting lineup, there needs to be solid communication between the coach(s) and the team. Yes, communication—a skill required for success that many managers and business owners (the team leaders/coaches) seem to have lost.

I have been in companies and heard about others where communication between management and employees is limited to letting you know when you're not doing well or when management needs something extra. Below are just a few of the discouraging things I have seen:

  • New CAD tech starts on Monday, and no one knows who they are or even that a new tech was hired. Who is the guy/woman sitting over by Bob? I don’t know…came in this morning, says he/she was hired, but boss isn’t in yet.”
  • New employee shows up at the Monday morning project meeting. The person is not introduced and everyone wonders until someone introduces himself or herself to the new hire and asks who they are. Then the word spreads.
  • New employee starts and the boss is out of office. The new hire is not given any direction as to who to see, what he or she will be doing, or where their workstation is. So the new person sits in the lobby, being asked by multiple people if they have been helped yet.
  • Boss stops by your office Friday afternoon to let you know they noticed you were overloaded so they hired you a new CAD person. The person begins next week, which is the first you’ve heard of it.

The above are just a few examples of poor communication between management and employees and new hires. For a new hire, that lack of communication can be a very uncomfortable start to a new job; if this is how it starts, what is going to be like every day? For seasoned employees it builds a lack of trust and faith in the organization.

When building or adding to an existing team, I believe a lot of issues can be worked out early by following some basic steps. Consider this your hiring game plan.

I could spend a lot of time on each of the steps, but to keep this from getting too long, the steps are summarized as briefly as possible. Links are provided below for additional research. Although this article is mainly about hiring CAD technicians, the process can be used for filling just about any position, with a few tweaks to the steps. New employees can be good-sized expenses and they can and will have either a positive or negative effect on the organization, so, make sure they are the right fit and not just a position filler.

  • Determine your need
  • Create a clear and accurate job description
  • Promote the position
  • Screen your candidates (checklist, reasonable time, multiple interviews by various individuals)
  • Make sure your final candidate is the right fit

Determine Your Need

This is a critical first step and one that requires some thinking and planning. Before you get too far, make sure you really need someone. Huh? Have you really thought through the issues that made you think you needed to hire an additional person? If you are more than a company of one, is it possible to spread the work among the CAD techs that you already have (without overloading them)? Have you evaluated the existing techs to see if they would like to take on more work or responsibility?

CAD technicians have various levels of skill—some are based on their years of experience, some are based on training, and some are not technical at all, such as people skills, for example. If you work with demanding architects or engineers, you can see where people skills can be very important. Maybe you have someone who would be a perfect fit for the position, but they cannot handle the new work along with their old. How about finding a replacement for them and let them move up to that position? Keeping the good people you have and offering possible advancement or challenges to them first can prove to be very important if you want to remain a successful organization.

But let’s say you have decided you need a new CAD employee no matter what, because you know you have too much work for your current staff or you are planning for a bunch of new projects and you’re going to need help getting the additional work done. Before you hire the first energetic, intelligent, or “cheap” person you can find – nail down what you need them to do and determine if they will help your overall personal or company goals or vision. Many people hire new employees or interns because they believe the extra body will help them increase their productivity. This can happen—maybe even more than you imagined—if it is the “right” person. But how do you make sure you are getting the best candidate?

Let's start by determining what you really need the new CAD tech to do. This will help minimize the chance of you regretting your decision later and have to repeat the process again or, worst case, multiple times. So many companies lose money on bad hiring choices when they believe they can hire the energetic young intern that they can train to do anything they need. This often backfires in to a losing proposition for both parties.

So how do you determine what you need? Start by making a list of the tasks or processes that the company needs help with and make sure your existing staff is involved in this process. You need to make sure that the employee you hire will make your firm or department as much or more productive than it currently is, even when bringing on more work. After all, you will now have more expenses to pay, and if you have been a sole proprietor or team of one, you will also have the issues that come along with having an employee.

The list you create will help you develop a job description for advertising the position, making clear the tasks that the new person will be handling and can be used for a checklist for ongoing training and performance reviews later down the road.

Job Descriptions

Job descriptions provide a guide for what is expected from an employee. Employee job descriptions are written statements or descriptions that cover the employee’s duties and responsibilities as well as any required certifications or qualifications. It also covers the reporting relationships of the particular job. It is important to understand what competencies and skills are required to accomplish the needed tasks or processes. Good job descriptions communicate clearly what is required, where as poor or no job descriptions create confusion, hurt communication, and make people unsure of what is expected from them. An example of an important item that is required for compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), is that you will want to be sure the description of the physical requirements of the job is accurate.

Keep in mind that job descriptions can also serve be a limiting factor. In a customer-driven work environment, and a technically evolving industry, job descriptions can become dated pretty quickly. Review the job description periodically to make sure it accurately reflects what the employee is doing, what software they will be using and your expectations of results from the employee. Be sure that the job description has enough flexibility to allow individuals to “work outside of the box.” Job descriptions must be flexible enough that employees are comfortable with cross-training and helping other team members accomplish their tasks—a “team” mentality rather than a group of individuals who use the “that’s not my job” retort when asked for help.

Normal components of a job description

• Position description with general areas of responsibility
• Essential functions of the job described with a couple of examples of each
• Required knowledge, skills, and abilities
• Required education, certifications, licenses, and/or experience
• Description of the physical demands
• Description of the work environment (indoors, outdoors, warehouse, travel, and so on)

Choosing Candidates

The work of choosing a candidate begins before you start receiving actual resumés. Reviewing a resumé starts with understanding the job description or role so you know broadly what the job entails. In addition to the job description, have a “key qualifications” list. Having a good understanding of the job and specific qualifications helps you screen the applicants intelligently. Understand that hiring the right individual(s) is critical to the success of any organization. If you're not that familiar with the actual duties of the position, which seems surprising but is in reality very common, then ask! Who? The personnel that already fill this or similar roles.

Many managers manage people and not tasks and because of this really don't know the specific tasks of a given position. This is important, because the tasks may require certain software knowledge or license, certification, or even physical demands of which the manager/hiring person may not be fully aware. When reviewing the candidate’s information, consider how the new hire can or may affect or complement the existing team—always keep your existing team members in mind! Thinking through all this will help you with your key qualifications list (i.e., people skills and prior management experience).

Remember that existing employees are also candidates. Giving existing employees opportunities to grow in the organization makes them more loyal, confident, and is less costly to your organization than starting fresh.

Sample Qualifications List

Create a list that spells out your most important candidate selection criteria:

• Key individual characteristics or traits
• Most important skills
• Most relevant experience
• Desired educational level

Determine a Salary Range

Determine the salary range by researching local market pay rates for the open position or similar positions. Experienced candidates will inquire about the pay range before investing a lot of time in researching your company—be ready to respond with a real answer.  If it will vary by experience/skill set and the position has some flexibility, be prepared to give a range.   There are multiple online resources for researching pay scales---your mileage may vary. Make sure you have your job description handy and ensure that it aligns with the salary range you quote. I recommend looking at multiple resources and coming up with an average. Some sites you can check out are: Salary.com, Payscale.com, SalaryExpert.com, and humanresources.about.com. For CAD positions, be sure to check out AUGI's annual salary survey at: http://www.augi.com/surveys/salary-surveys

Set up Your Interviews

You need to prepare for the interviews. Preparation will increase your chances of getting better candidates. ManagerTools.com did a podcast discussing seven steps to prepare for non-industry-specific interview. The following are summaries of the steps in the podcast, some of which enforce earlier steps of the hiring process. A link to the original podcast is included in the additional resources below.

  1. Before reaching out, tap the talent to which you already have access. Include persons in and outside your current working organization. There may be good talent you have met in your travels that you have considered in the past for future employment. Now may be the time to talk to them.
  2. Decide if you really need a new employee.
  3. Define the job. Ask yourself: What would this person do? If you followed this person around with a video camera, what would you see them do and say? Send a form out to your other employees asking what they envision the new person would do in the position. Give them 48 hours to respond and make it mandatory. Once you get the feedback, send out a job description and have your existing staff review and suggest revisions. Ask what type of person needs to fill this position—consider the qualities necessary to fit in and fill the position successfully.
  4. Look at performance reviews of the previous person in the position as well as others in similar positions. This can help highlight the skills required.
  5. Evaluate potential fit issues with the existing team. Will they complement the team? Look for some skill diversity.
  6. Get HR professionals involved to help with pre-screening, but broaden the review process so it isn’t too narrow. Make sure that they understand the role and if they are uncertain about a candidate, have HR send them through.
  7. Review resumés, cover letters, and applications in advance of the interviews. Make notes as you review to help with questions during your interview.
  8. Multiple Interviews

When I said interviews (plural) above, it was not intended to mean interviews for multiple candidates; rather, multiple interviews of a single candidate. Hopefully you will get multiple candidates, and with the current economy being what it is, that’s highly likely.  You’re looking to build a solid team, and in doing so you want to make sure you have chosen the right candidate(s). Multiple interviews allow you to thin the candidate list, do your testing, and allow various personnel to interview the candidate. Personnel you may want to do interviews includes:

  • Owner: For vision and cultural fit
  • Department manager: People skills and future growth potential
  • CAD manager: Technical skills and team fit

When more individuals interview the candidate, you get more than one person’s perspective. If you get a positive consensus from all interviewers, you’re probably making a very good choice.  Since CAD positions are technical, testing should be one of your first interview steps.  With the unemployment rate in our industry being what it is, there is a huge amount of available and varied talent, so you are likely to get a broad range of candidates with an equally broad range of skill sets.   It would not be surprising to get recent tech school graduates and veteran architects and engineers applying for the same job.

This is where an accurate job description and key qualifications list comes in handy.  You may find a 15-year veteran architect willing to accept a CAD position at the salary range you offer who has been primarily a paper designer and whose experience has been limited to AutoCAD 2009 adding and removing notes occasionally in CAD.  This person may not work out if you’re using the latest Architectural Desktop, MEP, or Revit in any fashion.   Some may even exaggerate their experience in order to get an opportunity—this is where your CAD test will come in handy.  Some candidates may do very well on your test and some may fail miserably and you will have many between these two extremes. But you at least have an idea of what you are up against before it is too late.  If you find some compelling characteristics about a candidate that elevate them to the finalist category and you are willing to spend the time and money to train them, they may still turn out to be a good choice. The key is knowing what you want and what you need.

Make Your Choice

Once you have reviewed all of your data for the final candidates, including test scores, and interview results from all interviewers, which should include the key qualifications comments, you can send an offer to your finalist.  If you had a couple close candidates, keep your #2 choice in mind just in case your #1 declines your offer. Once you have your answer, send thank you letters to those who applied letting them know that you have selected another candidate but that you appreciate their interest in your company.  You may have had some very good candidates that would not work for the open position, but may be great fit for future positions.  By leaving them with a positive experience, you may have better luck if you choose to call them back in the future.

Clear Expectations

From day one, your new employees need to know your vision and their role in it. Each company has systems that will determine the success or failure of the employees and potentially the company. Use the job description section above to create an actual responsibilities list for any new hires you bring on or for personnel that transfer within the company—and remember to keep this list up to date!  After all, I am not sure what value you would get by placing an ad for someone proficient in AutoCAD R13!

One final step I recommend is to create a welcome packet for all new hires.  This packet needs to have more than the company's insurance and 401k plan details.  A good packet should include some of these items:

  • The job roles and responsibilities
  • CADD standards
  • Employee handbook, discussing dress code and company policies (candidates may want to see this prior to accepting a position)
  • Company contact list
  • Company events and holiday calendar
  • In large buildings, maybe a building plan with key locations called out
  • A drive list for the network with a brief description of what is stored on each drive
  • As a bonus, since many new hires may be also be new to your business's neighborhood, how about throwing in a $20 gift card for a local food establishment that current employees often visit?

On the new hire’s first day, make sure you are ready for him or her. This includes organization the work area, desk, cubicle, and so on. Have the email and network login already set up and tested. Have the welcome packet ready and give them a tour of the facility (if you did not already do that during one of your interviews) and walk the new hire to their work area. Be sure to introduce them to key personnel and possibly even introduce them in your morning staff/project meeting so that everyone gets to meet the new employee.

You would be amazed at how much impact you can have on new and even existing hires if you just put forth a little extra effort and show that you understand and appreciate the value they bring to the team.

In a future article, I will cover ongoing steps to do once you have a candidate on board.

Additional Resources:

Why Don’t Employees Do What They’re Supposed to Do and What To Do About:
http://www.amazon.com/Employees-Dont-Theyre-Supposed-About/dp/0071342559

Manager Tools Podcast:
http://www.manager-tools.com/audio-player/?podcast=http://podcasts.manager-tools.com/manager-tools-2005-10-03.mp3

Human Resources information at About.com:
http://humanresources.about.com/

Salary Sites:

http://www.augi.com/surveys/salary-surveys/

www.Salary.com

www.Payscale.com

www.SalaryExpert.com

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About the Authors

Walt Sparling

Walt Sparling

Walt has worked in the building design industry for 25+ years, starting as a hand drafter. He moved on to CADD in the late 80s and then into CADD and networking training and consulting.  Walt has served as project manager and designer in the mechanical and architectural realms and currently works with an electrical engineering firm in Tampa, Florida.  In his “spare” time, he maintains a couple of blogs and a personal website: FunctionSense.com, Leadersandmanagers.com and WaltSparling.com

 

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