Though most remodeling company owners focus on skills when hiring field staff, many recognize that attitude is equally or even more important than construction skills. “A lot of this business is about attitude,” says REMODELING contributor and consultant Tim Faller of Field Training Services in Westerly, R.I. “There is a smart shift toward finding out more about the applicant's personality instead of just focusing on their specific skills.” Faller's clients tell him that when a field employee does not work out, it's mostly due to an attitude problem. “You have the most problems with people who have really good skills but terrible attitudes,” Faller notes.

Denise Nott, general manager at DeCiantis Construction in Stonington, Conn., recently joined owner John DeCiantis during interviews. “Our personalities are different,” she says. “John focuses on technical skills. I have different conversations with potential employees that really let me know if they will fit in.”

Remodeler Gary Adam, owner of Pioneer Craftsman in Ontario, Canada, says that if someone has a great personality and a good attitude, they can learn skills on the job. His main concern is professional conduct. “If the client asks that person a question, the communication needs to go smoothly. They need to understand the client's concerns without getting defensive,” he says.

Adam compares interviewing a potential employee to interviewing potential clients: “I used to believe a customer when they said that budget is not a concern. Now I probe deeper when they say that. It's the same with a potential employee — you have to carry the questions further.”

Set the Plan in Motion Faller says that having a written job description is essential. “You can't ask the right questions,” he says, “without knowing what job you are interviewing for.” He suggests making a list of questions based on the job description. “Come up with several questions for each responsibility they will have on the jobsite so that you have enough to go on for an evaluation.”

Owners should pre-qualify the person and check their references before the interview. The first interview should be done by the immediate supervisor for that position. Nott screens potential employees by phone. “If they are trying to rush me off the phone to get to John, that is a strike against them,” she says. Adam first conducts a short, informal interview lasting about 15 minutes. “It's just to see if they show up on time and are neat and personable,” he says. If they are suitable and have good references, then he calls them in for a second interview.

Adam says that having a potential hire interview with several people helps in two ways. First, it makes that person uncomfortable. “You can see how they react under pressure. And pressure is something they will be dealing with on the jobsite,” he points out. Second, having other employees' opinions helps confirm your opinion so you don't second-guess yourself.

However, Erik Cofield of Houston Structural in Hammerly, Texas, says that office interviews provide skewed information about the employee. He prefers to conduct interviews on the jobsite. “That will tell you so much more than an office visit. You see how they walk over debris, walk around the site, and communicate with peers. You can judge the true level of their ability more quickly and accurately,” he says.

You should also explain your hiring process to the applicant. Inform them of any tests or additional interviews and of your timetable for making a decision.