Seven core observations: recruiting top talent within the construction sector

By Bobbi Dahlstrom, Gary Kastenbaum
*Thank you to our contributing author: Maria Guido, VP Talent, Matt Construction

Executive talent in the construction sector can be nuanced area. For the recruiter, it’s a thrilling concept –incorporating innovative sourcing strategies and attacking unique challenges and complexities, all in order to understand a leader’s career vision when aligning to meet organizational needs. But what makes it so distinct? After several senior recruitment projects had us immersed in the west coast construction industry, we had the opportunity to examine further. Gathering our observations from countless interactions with candidates and clients, we drew out core themes and identified top recruiting trends within construction, and we pinpointed what it takes to find top talent in the sector. 

Like most of our clients, Matt Construction is passionate about what they build, and that same passion applies to leadership team’s feelings about the industry. As Maria Guido, VP Talent states: “Our experience in bringing Talent to Matt Construction has been an exciting and challenging endeavor. Our hiring criteria is very specific, and what we know from experience is that Cultural and Value fit are critical to candidate success, so there’s little room for error.

Here are our observations, directly from us - the recruiters - and our contributing expert, Matt Construction’s Maria Guido:

Maria Guido, VP Talent, Matt Construction

It’s a Small World After All

The industry, while quite large (construction spending in the United States topped $1.29 trillion in 2018 - [Statista]), can be small from the candidate perspective. They all know the firms that are stellar and doing interesting work. Ask anyone what they think of organization ‘X,’ they will have an opinion. Additionally, when you look around you will find that many candidates know each other, which energizes the referral network.

As noted by Maria, “this represents an opportunity when sourcing candidates. We view each candidate as an individual and value what they can bring to Matt and how they have evolved and continue to evolve with the organization”.

Candidate Motivations are Fluid

Recruiters are plentiful in this space, and they all contend they know the right candidate. There is no substitute for doing the leg work in the construction industry, as candidate’s attitudes and needs change regularly, and the candidate who says “no” one day becomes the candidate who has interest the next. The old “rolodex” is dead, and the new norm is keeping in contact on a personal level, learning and knowing who is where and about their motivations. COVID has surely shifted candidate needs as they have begun to re-evaluate their career and personal goals.

Maria added, “we are certainly able to speak to more candidates as they have begun to rethink exactly who they want to work for and the projects that inspire them, however, our objectives haven’t changed. We are looking to continue to invest in talent with the skill set, strengths, and experience to continue to grow with MATT and to ensure a strong future."

Succession is King

There are observable talent gaps in the industry. The “old-guard” have a great wealth of construction knowledge and know-how, so the industry rests very heavily on these individuals, but, to their credit, they understand that they need to have new talent to whom they can hand the business. This succession planning is a big part of what we are working on these days, because senior leaders realize the need and want to be sure that the future of the company is bright. We see succession becoming a priority more and more across the industry and the country. Clients want to be sure that their legacy is in good hands and that their hard work is carried into the future. Strategic hiring for critical functions of the company, in combination with developing internal successors, is an important component of our succession planning strategy to prepare organizations for the future.

Strategy is Important

The firms with a solid book of varied clients seem to be holding their own during this COVID crisis. Firms with leaders who understand where they have been and where they are going (usually family owned) are better prepared for the future. The larger firms, some of which are downsizing, have determined that employees on the bench or large teams with decreasing projects, require change. When the strategy is not clear, and the resulting projects begin to decrease we see candidate movement. Once candidates begin to think about a move, they begin to evaluate their current situation. We see a number of tenured candidates who have decided they really want to leave their mark and have opted to move to smaller firms where bureaucracy is less prevalent, and the strategy is crystal clear.

Maria states: “We’re proud that Matt Construction is an icon in the industry, and we understand that we are very attractive to candidates because of this. Being part of a legacy is a sought-after situation.

Uniue Candidates

We interview many candidates in different industries, but we find the professionals in the construction industry as being quite unique. Construction candidates, despite their deep construction knowledge, are typically unaware of the job market and how to approach it. They tend to be “internally focused” due to longevity with one employer. That lack of exposure can be challenging, which can at times lead to candidate missteps. Coaching these talented leaders is key to helping them to be seen as “diamonds in the rough.”

According to Maria, “we appreciate the diamonds in the rough as they represent the best of the industry. Curiosity about their craft and how to evolve is key. Our task is to see if and where they can be ‘polished’ and fit for us.

Time to Close

The time from beginning a search to ending one is typically longer in the construction industry. Why is that? Our typical time horizon is 90 days from start to candidate identification. In the construction industry the range is elongated. Often in this industry, the client sees superb candidates, but their specifications change mid-course with the “ask” for someone who has multiple attributes. We are OK with course correction; we see ourselves as educators: we dig in and share details on what the candidate market really looks like. The marketplace serves as an educational tool, as many clients have not seen candidates coming from a wide spectrum of construction companies, and they find the whole process an eye-opening endeavor.

Final Observations

At the end of the day, the construction industry is energized, challenging, evolving, and seeking talent that will allow it to stay current. Each company is looking for the best talent who have the knowledge to bridge requests of demanding clients. Construction companies have a large pool to choose from and they are looking for candidates who are competent, ethical, and passionate about building. This space is quite complex, with multifaceted and fair-minded clients. They are often quite aware of the skills needed to continue to build and expand their businesses: they demand that the best be sourced and vetted for them. Its not an easy task, but we like to say that “finding a needle in a stack of needles” is a challenge on which we thrive. So, build on!

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