Editorial: Finding good people

Apr 16, 2014

Give recruiting the attention it deserves. Create a recruiting budget and follow these three tips from Mark Zweig.

I have always wondered why recruiting is not a more prominent function in the majority of A/E/P and environmental firms. It seems obvious that if all a firm sells is the individual and collective talents of its people that acquiring those talents would be an important priority. It isn’t. The majority of firms in this business (68 percent, according to ZweigWhite’s 2013-2014 Operating Expenses Survey) don’t even budget for recruiting! Even fewer have a designated individual in charge of the function. And when they do, more often than not it is a gatekeeper whose role is to keep bad apples out rather than a salesperson whose job is to reel good people in (an important distinction as far as I am concerned!). If you look at any sports team, recruiting is an important job – one they have someone capable of doing – and an area they’re willing to spend money on. So what’s wrong with A/E/P and environmental firms? Why don’t they get it? I am fairly certain that one reason is that many firm owners still believe “low overhead” is the way to be successful in this business. Sure, it’s nice to have a low break even point or income threshold you have to hit every month. But rarely is a low cost/high volume strategy the way to succeed in this business, or any small business. More often than not, a higher-priced, lower volume strategy has a greater chance of success. You can see it in A/E firms. Higher profit firms tend to have higher multipliers and higher overhead. In any case, if you’re serious about finding good people today, you’ve got to get creative. Here are some places you should be looking:
  1. Current employees. Have you really given serious consideration to moving someone who’s already in the firm to the role you need to fill now? Yes, it may cause some problems for you in one area if you transfer or promote, but it could also help you keep someone good who will feel the company really does give opportunities to its people. Look down the ranks. The next tier below where your need is may not be the place to find what you need. Be willing to consider younger/less experienced internal candidates IF they have the attitude, character, and work ethic it takes to overcome a lack of years.
  2. Former employees. Who used to work there that you’d like to have back? Many times people leave a company for greener pastures only to find out they weren’t as green as they hoped they’d be. Call these people! They may be thrilled to come back. Plus, having someone leave and come back may provide a valuable lesson to the rest of your staff.
  3. People working for competitors. They clearly know something AND they may be able to bring along some clients and/or other employees. That helps you and deals a blow to your competition at the same time. Good stuff! Meet them at professional society events. Talk to manufacturers who are trying to get you to spec their products. Talk to contractors. Talk to clients. All of these people, working in other firms, are potential lead sources for good talent. Get on your competitor’s websites and you’ll often find all their people listed there. Or just call your competitors and ask, “Who is your _______?, or who are your ______s?” You may be surprised what they’ll tell you.
You want growth? You want happy clients? Then you need a better-than-good staff. Give recruiting the attention it deserves. Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of ZweigWhite. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweigwhite.com. This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1052, originally published 4/21/2014. Copyright© 2014, ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.