Employing the Right Hiring Practices

Common to every engineering, architecture, and design office across the world there is one sore spot. It isn’t office locations, capital investments, or software migration strategies, though those can all be headaches. For the purposes of this article, we are talking about finding and bringing on new CAD drafting talent.

All of us crave success, both for our own careers and, by extension, for those who employ us. Bigger projects and longer backlogs of work equate to more stable employment, pay raises, advancement, and general “hoorahs” for everyone involved. However, there comes a time when we become the victims of our own success, when we determine that the current manpower is inadequate and we need to hire more people. And that is when a journey begins that can either well planned and executed or painful and prolonged.

Let’s hope for the former rather than the latter.

Hiring: How it Should Be

In a perfect world we would all be prepared for an opening that had to be filled. We would have two weeks, or more, advance notice from an outgoing employee or the foresight to see that more help was needed. In either case we would have ample time to put our ducks in a row and be ready to bring on someone new at just the right time.

The integration of this new soul into the office dynamic would be seamless. From the interview and testing process, we would know that the applicant’s skills were exactly what we needed and that he or she would be a good fit with the existing CAD department. We would have already identified some areas of additional training that were required and a fully prepared workstation and desk would be ready for the new hire on day one.

That first day would also go well because our CAD manager, due to proper project planning, would be able to set aside a half or full day to introduce the new employee around, give them the “fifty cent” office tour, and get the person accustomed to the company CAD standards and network. No need to worry about HR paperwork—that was all taken care of before the first day of work!

Then it is off to the races. The new drafter is given enough work to get accustomed to the current project and to flex, but not overwhelm, his or her skills. Production moves on smoothly and no one can ever tell that one person has left and a new one has come in. It all works that well!

Hiring: How it Really Is

The scenario above shows how it would be in a perfect world. But we don’t live in a perfect world; we live in the real world. And the real world can be unpredictable, unaccommodating, and even a little bit cruel.

In the real world people leave with little to no warning. If there is one legacy that the roaring 1980s decade has left us, it is that too many companies have little to no regard for their employees. This is more commonly known as “loyalty.” Or at least it was when there was company loyalty. But now a great many, possibly a majority, of employees feel an utter lack of company loyalty. Some fear that they could be fired at any point, on any day. So they, in turn, have lost company loyalty as well.

If the 1980s showed us that companies can lack loyalty, then it was the late 1990s and early 2000s that showed is that employees have little to no regard for the companies that employ them. Too often people leave a company with little care or thought for the reputation they leave behind. Consequently the days of a guaranteed two-week notice are long gone. Sometimes people leave for the weekend and never come back. Now you have to hire someone. And fast!

Perhaps finding someone to fill a CAD opening wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t have projects with deadlines. More likely, you have jobs that are behind schedule. But never fear, Human Resources is here. That’s right; many companies have seen this problem and have people to help you. People who know nothing about CAD and probably less about your CAD department are going to review, sort, and vet your applicants. When did that become some sort of logic by which to operate a company? It’s like asking your auto mechanic to pick your new doctor.

Still, you have to work with what you have. And that means that you are probably going to hire the first “warm body” that comes through the door and is even remotely suitable. Since time is short you’ll need the person to begin as soon as possible which, incidentally, probably encourages him to leave his current position without giving notice. Then the new hire arrives for the first day of work with your company. Well, sort of.

The first half of that first is spent filling out tax forms, non-disclosure agreements, W-4s, and other HR paperwork. Sounds like fun on a bun, doesn’t it? After lunch you finally get to rip your new CAD drafter from their human resources BFFs and sit him or her in front of a CAD workstation. Too bad it’s the old workstation that was previously in use so it has all of the old settings, customizations, and issues the last user had created. Isn’t that a great place to begin? But we must soldier on and get to some training.

Or not. Since this new person is a CAD professional who was hired to meet the needs of the opening that was just vacated he must be ready for production. Assign a project and let’s get to work! Never mind that the outgoing person probably had years of experience with this company’s clients, projects, and standards. Management thinks “CAD is CAD” so what’s the holdup?

It’s a sad tale that plays out every single day in offices around the world. In fact, it’s a tale that you have probably seen play out in your own office over and over. This is just not how it should be, but it is how it is.

That whole story should leave you remembering how much fun it is not to have to hire new people. It probably even reminds you how little fun it is to be the one hired and rushed through the gears from the front door to production. So, how should this process work?

If we all had our druthers and some input, what would the hire process look like?

Hiring: Let’s Get Fantastic

There is an old saying that opportunity will not come knocking at your door. Much along the same lines, good applicants will usually not come beating a path to your office in search of work. It may happen from time to time, but not usually. No, in order to attract applicants you must advertise an opening. And in order to attract good applicants you have to advertise in the right spot.

Perhaps a classified ad in the newspaper may still be worthwhile, but it’s a big maybe. Instead take time to advertise online and go where the CAD professionals are. Good talent congregates in pools, so find resources in those pools.

Advertising openings on sites such as the AUGI Career Center, Design Engine, and forums are all excellent starts and are almost always free. Beyond that there is LinkedIn, Monster, Dice, and other professional-oriented sites to advertise openings (some for a fee). But don’t stop there. Contact local user groups, resellers, and even industry blogs. One quick email to these often overlooked resources can yield dozens of great leads.

Attracting a generous number of applicants is essential to avoiding the need to hire “anyone with a pulse.” In order to accomplish this, you must give your prospects time to respond. Hiring is not a “look until you stop” action, it is a set period of time in which you collect applications. Only after a predetermined and reasonable amount of time do you begin to weed through the stack of applicants.

It is a rare, but much desired, situation to have too many great applicants. If you play your cards right, that may be just what you end up with. Wouldn’t it be much better to have to choose between several well-qualified candidates than to “settle” for one unqualified person?

After the chaff is separated from the wheat, it’s time for the first interview. But before you sit down to make those calls, have some courtesy and send emails to the applicants who did not make the cut. No one likes to be left wondering if they are in the running, so show them this courtesy. Then, off to the interviews!

Most often, first interviews are conducted over the phone. While this is entirely suitable, it is also sort of archaic. A interview by telegraph or messenger pigeon would also suffice, but this is the 21st century! Put down the phone and let the pigeon roost on it while you conduct your first interviews online. With services such as Skype, Google+, and dozens more, video conferences between two people are fast, free, and far more informative than a phone call.

The CAD profession is a technical one, so it is not unreasonable to expect your next hire to understand such common technologies as video chat. In addition to being the first “test” of technical know-how, video interviews let you see one another. Facial expressions and body language are so very important in determining whether this person is worth a second, in-person interview. You’ll find that the difference between video and voice is even greater than the difference between an email and a phone call.

The second interview should be less about the interview and more about a CAD test. You do have a standard CAD test that you administer to applicants, don’t you? Of course you do! That test, of course, represents a cross section of the type of work your office produces. For example, if you work for a civil firm using Civil 3D, that test would cover some common workflow topics.

Surfaces, alignments, cross sections, labeling, and volumes are the sorts of topics one would expect to see with a brief (very brief) exercise to determine whether or not your applicant understands and can perform these tasks. Of course, if you applicant comes to you with a current Autodesk Certification, then you can feel sure that person understands general workings and the basic concepts of the software in question with little additional vetting.

By this point you, as the CAD manager, should feel that this person is a viable candidate for your office. So, while you are reviewing the results of the “CAD test” why not have your staff sit down and meet with the potential new hire? Sure, you could call it a group interview, but really it is just a chance for your current staff to meet and chat with this person for a moment. This is an essential step in determining if the new addition will be a good fit with your current staff.

You can find the world’s most talented and capable CAD professional and feel great about it, but if no one in your office will work with that person then you are even worse off than you were with an empty desk! So be certain to take group dynamics into consideration when making those final determinations.

Let your candidate know the date by which they can expect to hear from you and send them on their way. You should never buy the first car you test drive and you should never hire someone before you have interviewed all of your choices. After you say goodbye to your candidate, sit down and have a quick cup of coffee with your staff. A five-minute discussion will go a long way towards determining who is the right fit and also will keep your staff involved and feeling that their opinions matter.

After the hiring is done and the insurance paperwork is all filled out there is the training / normalizing period. Don’t expect your new CAD person to automatically know how things work at your company just because you gave him a cap with the company logo on it. Give the new hire a copy of the CAD standards and put the person in front of a freshly prepared workstation with a default installation of the software your firm uses. Let them customize it, get things in order, and then slowly start blending them into production.

While they are getting settled, take a moment and send thank you emails to the few people who you selected for second interviews. Explain that you have made your choice and appreciate their time. Why? Because it is the polite thing to do, and in this business a little kindness can go a long way.

What We Didn’t Do

Oh, if the world were only perfect. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to conduct every hiring exercise just like this? But we have to do the best we can. Sometimes the steps listed above get combined. Sometimes they get moved around. But, there was one decisive difference between the “reality” and the “dream” that is vital: the new CAD person was hired by a CAD person!

Somewhere along the line it became acceptable to have people in a department who hired people. That was their job and they did a good job of hiring people. A “good” job in the sense that they were “good” at the job of hiring people. That is very different than hiring good people.

It really is not fair to expect someone in HR to hire the perfect CAD professional for a CAD department when that person has no idea what CAD is. Without experience with the software, experience with the production environment, and (most of all) experience with the current CAD staff, how can they possibly be expected to hire THE best candidate? The best they can hope for is to find the first person who checks off the acceptable number of boxes on a list. That is a sad substitution for the finding THE right person with THE right experience who will fit in well with THE current staff.

All of those qualities are essential. For this reason it seems that CAD departments that work the best have at least some input into who is hired and who is not. The absolutely best departments with the best production histories have CAD professionals who are vetted and hired by CAD professionals.

It really is just that simple.

In Conclusion

The world and the workplace are not simple places where answers are easily found. Sometimes we have to make the best of the worst situations. Sometimes we are fortunate and have only to work to improve what is already a fairly workable situation. Either way the onus is on the CAD professional to strive to make those improvements a reality and make these answers more easily available.

The hiring process of CAD professionals affects all CAD professionals. So it is reasonable that it is we who understand the shortcomings of that process. It should also be reasonable, and apparent, that it is we who must take steps to improve this process. With the hiring process left completely to others, we cannot expect, and perhaps do not deserve, any change to better our situation.

Based in Houston, Texas, Curt Moreno is the CAD manager and is the owner and editor of the Kung Fu Drafter blog. He began using AutoCAD with Release 10 and has spent the past 20+ years working with various Autodesk products including AutoCAD, Civil 3D, Map 3D, and SketchBook Designer. Curt is also a freelance content creator, highly rated Autodesk University speaker, and training content developer. In his spare time he writes, games, and spends time with his dog and horses.

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