Building people Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2009

When Ron Hall became the estimating manager for McCarthy Building Cos. Inc. in the early 1990s, he faced a new situation he hadn’t yet encountered at the construction firm.

“Suddenly, I’m not only in charge of the work, but I have eight people whose work I’m responsible for,” Hall says. “It doesn’t take long, once you reach that point, to realize that my success is tied directly to their success. My success is their success.”

It was a simple realization, but as he has moved up the ranks at the company, it continued to hold true. Today, he oversees the nearly $80 million Southern California division of the $3.5 billion company, and he knows that his division won’t succeed without having top-notch people helping him out.

Smart Business spoke with Hall about how to hire the best people to fit with your organization so you can get the results you want.

Engage with them. Obviously, you have to talk about the normal stuff — their education, the technical background — but I try to engage them in regular conversation so during the course of the interview, some of their true personality comes through.

Most people want to talk about themselves — most people that have balance in their life. They might come into an interview prepared to present an image. Their natural personality, if they’re well-balanced, it overrides the strategy that they might have had.

Ask them about their past experiences, and you delve into some of the stories that they start telling, and you ask them more about it. Inevitably, their personality compels them to speak.

The flip side is if they won’t talk about it, it’s also an indication of the behavior or the personalities that you’re dealing with. If they’re hesitant and guarded and won’t tell you much about themselves, then it’s not a promising sign. One of the most important aspects in leading my company is we have a lot of transparency in terms of what are our business goals and what are our financial results and what is our plan. We try to share that with employees at all levels of the organization so that they’re empowered and understand the big picture. Consequently, it’s important that if they’re going to succeed in our organization, it’s important that they themselves adhere to that same philosophy, and they’re willing to be open and honest and willing to trust others and put our trust in their partners.

Draw out their personality. As an interviewer, you have got to create an environment for them that makes them comfortable. If you’re sitting rigidly across the table from them with a stuffed tie and an arms-crossed posture, then you’re not going to get there. You need to allow them to see some of who you are. I try to make it a point to let my own personality show through in the first 10 minutes of an interview so they get a sense for that openness. Set that tone at the beginning of the interview to encourage them to follow suit.

[It’s] really just being genuine. I won’t hesitate to tell a personal story about how I got here or why am I in this position at McCarthy or why am I the guy that they’re sitting across the table from. There’s lots of stories. The plain old, ‘I worked hard, I was successful on this project and then I got assigned this project’ — the methodical, technical reprise of how I got here isn’t really interesting to anyone, but the notion of some of the mishaps I’ve had along the way and some of the change of philosophy and impact it had on me are more compelling for people, so I try to share some insight on my personal professional development.

Dig deeper. I seldom make any decision off of the first interview. I don’t like to do a 30-minute interview. I like to talk to the person for an hour or so, then I usually make it a point to tell them to go home and consider what we’ve talked about and sleep on it. I kind of want to do the same because how I feel at that moment might be a little different the next morning when I wake up or a week later, so I like to let that first interview settle in.

Then have a second interview. In the second interview, hopefully, you’re starting a little more advanced. In the first interview, the first 30 minutes is trying to relax. The second one, you get more to the personal issues quicker. … Some of the things that you have a better chance of getting done in the second interview is kind of peeling back some layers of the onion, if you will, of business philosophy.

Some of the things you can get to are flexibility. How adaptable are they going to be to the systems we operate versus the ones they’ve been doing in their other past jobs? How adaptable are they going to be to our personnel? We do a lot of stuff (from) a teamwork approach. It’s never just one person doing something. We usually have two sets of eyes on every activity, so it’s important that people can interact and work well with different personalities. On one job, it may be personality X, and then the next job of dealing with two people, it’s personalities Y and Z. Their flexibility and adaptability on interpersonal skills is important. I don’t think I get much of that in the first interview. You get a better sense of their interpersonal skill sets because you’re deeper into the conversation.

It’s a reactive thing. I don’t have a set of standard questions, but if they want to talk about their particular approach on how to deal with this certain aspect of the job they’re interviewing for, you can react to what they’re focused on and you can dig into it a little deeper. It all has to stem from a unique approach to that individual. You have to listen to what they’re saying, and from that, you can kind of see where they’re thinking, and that steers you in the appropriate areas to steer a dialogue to try to get deeper.

How to reach: McCarthy Building Cos. Inc., (858) 784-0347 or