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The Hiring Blues

choosing staff

A heating contractor friend sent me this text exchange between himself and a potential employee:

Potential employee: “Did you receive my application?”

My friend: “Yes.”

Potential employee: “OK, thanks.”

My friend: “You have eight points on your license.”

Potential employee: “My identification was lost, stolen and used about a year ago and someone got tickets on it, which I ended up paying for and dealing with the issue. I haven’t went to classes to drop the points yet. It was not me that got those points on my license.”

My friend: “Wow.”

Potential employee: “Yes, that’s what happened, unfortunately.”

My friend: “I don’t have a job for you. I’m sorry. Good luck in your search.”

There’s never a need to make this stuff up. Nowadays, it seems to be everywhere as employers search for good help among the endless parade of knuckleheads who show up for interviews. Is it any wonder employers have the hiring blues?

Another friend had what seemed like a great candidate. The guy took a skills test and passed with high marks. He really knew his stuff. He had a clean driver’s license and no facial tattoos! He also knew how to look a potential employer in the eye and answer questions with intelligence. Well, up to a point anyway. I say that because the interview ended with this knuckleheaded exchange:

My friend: “I’d like to offer you a job, but you understand that you’ll first have to pass a drug test. That’s not a problem for you, is it?”

Potential employee: “No, that’s not a problem at all.”

My friend: “Great. When are you available to take the test?”

Potential employee: “Um, can you give me like six weeks?”

The same plumber told me another guy applied for a job wearing very tight athletic shorts. “He sat down across from my desk and crossed his legs, ankle to knee,” my friend said. “I could see his pulse beating through his shorts.” Let’s just say that was, well, a short interview.

Or how about this one? Right in the middle of the interview, another potential employee gets a call on his cell. He takes out his phone while his potential boss is talking. The boss stops talking. The potential employee says to the boss, “Hey, hang on. I gotta take this.” The boss sits back. “Huh? Yeah,” the potential employee says. “I’m gonna get there around eight or so. I’ll bring the beers. Yeah, it’s gonna be great. Yeah, no worries. I’ll bring enough beers. Hey, look, I gotta go. I’m in the middle of something here. Yeah, later, bro.”

He clicks off and says to the boss, “So where were we?”

“You were just leaving,” the boss says.


The thing that always strikes me about this trade is that if no one does it, people will die. I know this for certain because I am a student of heating history. There was a time when winter was inside as well as outside and people died because of that. Summer was also inside and it bred disease and killed with its brutal heat. This trade saves lives. We need good people in every level of this industry, but for some reason, we seem to be attracting mostly knuckleheads.

A boss told me a kid approached him and said he wasn’t doing well in school and wanted to try the trades. “I hired him and put him with my main mechanic,” he said. “I showed up on the second day to see how the job was progressing. I asked my mechanic how the kid was doing. He rolled his eyes and said, ‘He may be OK if he ever gets off the phone.’ That’s when the kid walked up to us and asked where the bathroom was. We pointed him toward the portable toilet, which was in plain sight. He was in there for a half-hour. Seriously, a half-hour. I stood there and waited. I heard him talking and laughing on the phone. When he finally came out, he asked my mechanic what he wanted him to do next. My mechanic told him to go home,” he told me.

Another contractor told me he interviewed a guy and things went very well. “After the interview, I took him out to lunch,” he told me. “I just wanted to get to know him a little better before I offered him the job. So the food arrives and that’s when the guy decides to dive into a stinking pile of racists jokes that he thinks will amuse me. I called for the check and left him sitting there with his sandwich,” he said.

Sometimes, even if the applicant turns out not to know much, he gets hired anyway. Here, listen to this story:

“I was the most experienced service technician and had been with the company longer than any other person, except for the owner, so he asked me to evaluate a potential new hire. The owner wouldn’t allow me to ask him any questions about this person, or to know any of the information he had written on his application for employment. I had to make my own judgment based on how he acted in the field. I took him to as many varied jobs as we could fit into a 12-hour day. I allowed him to explain what he was seeing and show me what he knew. I quickly realized he didn’t know much. All he could say was it was steam or hot water, the type of fuel and whether the burner was firing or not,” he told me.

“When I got back to the shop, the owner and I went into his office and he showed me the guy’s employment application. The guy wrote that he knew all about high- and low-pressure steam systems, hot water for heating and domestic, Honeywell, FireEye, McDonald Miller, Cleveland, Penberthy injectors, different burners, firing both gas and oil, and everything else you’ll find in a boiler room. He said he had five or six years experience in the field. I mentioned to my boss that he was just 18 years old and his hands were as soft as a baby’s butt. My boss said that the guy told him he had worked summers in a big institution where his uncle worked. My boss asked if I thought the guy would be a good hire. You can guess what my answer was. The best part of this story is he hired him anyway, but as a helper, not as a technician. You want to know why? His uncle, the guy who worked at the big institution, was a good customer of ours. We had to hire the guy.”


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