How to Find Good Employees – What Works, What Doesn’t


Shawna Armstrong, a former corporate recruiter who now helps construction companies develop hiring processes, comes on The Dirt to offer advice for contractors looking to hire better workers and develop a strong pipeline of candidates for future openings.

She explains what works and what doesn’t when it comes to attracting talent. She primarily works with small contractors to develop hiring systems. Such systems include software to grow a database of candidates, writing job descriptions and social media copy, digital prescreening of applicants and interview guides.

So if you’re struggling with finding workers in today’s increasingly competitive job market, check out the latest episode of The Dirt.

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In This Episode:

  • 00:00 - Hiring in the Construction Industry
  • 00:37 - Who is Shawna Armstrong?
  • 03:18 - How to Create a Hiring Process
  • 07:26 - The Importance of Always Having a Job Posting
  • 09:05 - Show People What it’s Like to Work for You
  • 10:34 - Always Be Recruitment Marketing
  • 11:54 - Active Job Seekers Aren’t the Ones You Want to Hire
  • 13:51 - What Size Company is a Good Fit for Shawna?
  • 18:17 - Advice for Companies Who are Hiring
  • 23:07 - Get in Touch with Shawna
  • 23:25 - Final Thoughts


Bryan Furnace (00:00):

Today, we're here to talk about hiring practices, that's something that our industry is really struggling with these days, with the lack of workforce, and then there's finding qualified people, and then there's just the fact that our industry, let's face it, isn't the greatest at conducting interviews and doing hiring. Today, we're talking to Shawna Armstrong, who's going to help us maybe with some ideas on how we can better this process for our industry. So, for the audience, can you just give them a really quick overview of your background and what it is you currently do?

Shawna Armstrong (00:43):

Sure. My background is in recruitment and hiring, I spent about 20 years in recruitment process outsourcing, which is essentially a large corporation doing hiring for other large corporations. So, I spent about 20 years there, working across different industries, different job levels, different hiring systems, through different labor market scenarios, developed a real expertise in recruitment and hiring, and uncovered challenges in the hiring process, that, in that environment I wasn't really able to fix. After I left that corporate recruiting world, I went over to Buildwitt, which was a smaller startup at the time, serving-

Bryan Furnace (01:36):

Not anymore.

Shawna Armstrong (01:39):

Not anymore. Not anymore. They were a small startup at that time, serving the dirt world, and at that point we're looking for somebody to help build their hiring system, because they were growing very quickly, or getting lots of requests for companies to hire them. So, they needed to build their team very quickly, so I came in and built their hiring system, and then built a recruiting business for the construction industry, which we very quickly decided not to move forward with, because of the fact that recruiting is such a competitive sport, and Buildwitt being a company that wanted to serve the entire industry, and help elevate all companies within the industry. Hurting one company to help another did not align with that mission, so stealing employees obviously hurts a company.


So, we decided to not move forward with that business, and so I left Buildwitt, and a year ago went out on my own, and what I do now is I build hiring systems for the construction industry. Taking the compilation of all of my knowledge in recruitment and hiring, and all of my experience with what works and what doesn't work, my love for the dirt world, and the construction industry, and the understanding that this is something that is really needed to help solve the workforce issue, and so that is the trajectory of my career.

Bryan Furnace (03:18):

Gotcha. And so, if I were to, as a company, or as a small business even, engage with you to try to formulate some sort of hiring practice, what is the process there? How do I even start engaging with you, and then what does that process look like?

Shawna Armstrong (03:33):

Yeah. So, the first engagement is really a conversation, what are you currently doing now? What does your hiring process look like? What are your challenges? What are your needs? What are your goals? And build something from there. So, what I essentially build is a hiring system. So, I'm not a recruiter or a recruiting agency, and I actually don't even do any of the recruiting, but what I do do is get a hiring software system, or an applicant tracking system embedded to deliver the hiring process. And then, I'll actually configure the system so that the technology is being leveraged to its fullest capacity, in terms of automation, in terms of being able to scale and manage a larger number of applicants more efficiently, and to deliver a quality process where all candidates are communicated with, which I believe is extremely important. And then, also, so that you've got a growing database of future hires.


And if you're communicating with them, then they have a higher potential of becoming future hires. And so, the workflow is set up to where it actually matches the operations process of the company. So now there's a system put in place. And then, I'll work with companies to preload that system with all of the content that they'll need to then deliver the process inside the system. So, I will write job descriptions that are better than canned job descriptions, that don't really tell people much about what it's like to do that particular position in this company versus another company. And I'll write social media copy, so companies can take that opportunity and put it out on their socials and say more than just exciting opportunity, we're hiring, know anyone who's interested? And then, I will also put digital pre-screens into the applicant tracking system to help with some automated screening on the front end, and also waiting and ranking of people that make it through that step.


And then, I also will write a company recruiting interview guide that is aimed at selecting candidates that are a right fit for the company itself. So, based on the environment that they operate in, the way their teams collaborate, what their company values are, same interview for every single position in the company. And then, I'll also create position specific interview guides that are aimed at getting the personality attributes and behaviors that are critical to success in that role, so companies are not just doing a vibe check and crossing their fingers and hoping that it works out.


And then the last part of the system is a evergreen generic job, basically, that is always open, so that if a company is not hiring at the moment, they can still have a growing database of future hires, and there's something that people can apply to and express what type of a role that they're interested in, so that you can be more proactive when you have a position to open, you're not necessarily starting from scratch, you may already have somebody in your database. Either from a prior role, that is still interested because you communicated with them throughout the process, and didn't blow them off or ghost them, or in your general application, because people have expressed interest and you didn't have anything open at the time, but you still were able to capture them.

Bryan Furnace (07:26):

Boy, I think I just pulled my first nugget out of this interview. I have never considered having a posting, even if there isn't an opening, for no other reason than to have someone at the ready when I need a person. That's something I think our industry has never even considered. It's always a last minute scramble to find someone.

Shawna Armstrong (07:47):

Yeah. And just as a minor clarification on that, it's not like a posting that's posted on the job boards, or on Indeed, but it just sits on your website, on your career page. So, if you're really doing recruitment marketing well, you're doing it all the time, whether you're hiring or not. You're putting out content that's just peeling back the curtain and talking about what it's like to work here, why people love to work here, what types of opportunities we typically have, what a career path looks like, what type of work we do. I have a list of a hundred things that you can talk about from a recruitment marketing perspective.


And so, if somebody comes to your website and there are no actual positions to apply to, that's where this is sitting. So, it's not like you're going out on the job boards and advertising a fake opportunity, that's one big no-no, in my book, is when I see companies posting a job just to pipeline talent. They don't really have an opening now, but they're just trying to build a future pool. That's not fair to job seekers, and it doesn't reflect well on your company. And those people, when you do have an opening in the future, are not going to be interested because they feel like they've been duped.

Bryan Furnace (09:05):

It's interesting, I think you just really touched on a really meaty point of peeling back the curtain and letting people understand what it's like working there, and the things that you're doing for your employees, and what your employee's thoughts are on the company. It's interesting because we're in a time right now where, I don't know, 90% of the companies I come across can't find anyone, no one wants to work, it's always a problem. And then, there have been a handful of companies that have really gotten this key concept of peeling back the curtain, and it's fascinating because both of the companies that I have in mind in particular generally get 15 to 20 applicants a day, and have not had any issue filling positions with truly qualified quality people.


And I think that's something that our industry just... We're 20 years behind the rest of the world when it comes to technology and any other aspect of this business, let alone social media, and how it can be leveraged for hiring practices. So, anyway, I didn't mean to divert really far, but man, that is such a valuable thing for companies to spend some time on, whether they're large or small. Put yourself out there and show people what it's like working for you, and what are you offering employees? Instead of what are they willing to offer you for labor or manpower, what are you willing to offer them? And I think you'll see a much better result.

Shawna Armstrong (10:31):

Yeah, it's true. And so, that constant always be recruitment marketing, that's my motto, all the time. Whether you're hiring or not, always be talking about careers. And doing it on social media, because when you're posting a job on a job board, you are marketing only to active job seekers. The only people that are on Indeed are people who are looking for a job, that job, in that location, right now. That's a pretty small percentage of the population, though I will say, I'm finding that there is less of a talent shortage than I'm hearing because there are a lot of companies that are doing things wrong internally from an operations and leadership perspective, and there are plenty of people that are looking for a better place to work. So, people are out there, they just need to be aware of who you are, and why you are that better opportunity that they're looking for. And then they will come. And then once they come, you need a system to be able to process them efficiently, communicate with them all, and select the right one out the backend.

Bryan Furnace (11:50):

Another interesting tidbit... Man, I'm pulling all sorts of little nuggets as we talk through this. Another interesting tidbit that we talk about a lot is, as to what you were saying about hiring on the job boards, those are only people that are actively looking. And it's pretty common in the practice right now that the majority of people who are actively looking right now aren't necessarily the people you want to hire. Because all of the really good people, because of this labor shortage that we're suffering from, everyone's holding pretty tight to the vest, and they're taking care of them pretty well. And really, you've got this rotation, and of course, there's some good quality people out there in that rotation, but a lot of that rotation is also the guys who are continuously getting fired for issues at work, and they're constantly rotating through jobs.


And you hit the nail on the head of you can get away from dipping your hand to the bottom of the barrel with these proactive social media posts, and by actively marketing your company and putting yourself out there, now you're dipping into the higher quality pool because you're getting people that aren't necessarily out there looking for a job, but if the right opportunity comes along, I wouldn't mind jumping ship.

Shawna Armstrong (12:57):

Right. Whose interest would not be peaked by a potentially better opportunity? And a good opportunity means different things to different people. So, for someone it might be more money, for someone else, it might be less travel, or a better commute, or more opportunity for training and development, a better title, growth, the opportunity to learn a different trade... The reasons for somebody's interest to be peaked, there's such a wide range of things that could look like for people, that the more you talk about, the more you can potentially draw in. And so, that's another reason why you just always be recruitment marketing, because then the bigger the pool of candidates you have to select from, the more selective you can be.

Bryan Furnace (13:50):

Yeah. So, let me ask you this, with everything you've described about your services and what you do, putting together these packages, this doesn't necessarily sound to me like a one or two man operation that's doing most of their hiring off of Facebook marketplace and Craigslist ads, that's not necessarily who's going to be a good fit for your services. What size company would really be the ones to proactively engage in something like this?

Shawna Armstrong (16:10):

So, I've been working pretty exclusively with smaller companies that don't have necessarily a recruiting or talent acquisition department. What it looks like is, it's generally a smaller company where the owner is wearing 100 hats and doing their own hiring, and they don't necessarily have hiring software, or an applicant tracking system, they don't maybe have really good job descriptions, they don't have interview guides, or screening criteria that's working really well for them. So, they're having problems attracting people. Here's what I hear, we can't find people, and then we can't find good people, or the right people that want to stay. So, having someone like myself come in and give you a system is less expensive than hiring a six figure talent acquisition manager to come in and build and run it. Because once it's built, then it's just turning it on and off. So, then, the owner can really either continue to manage it on their own, or an office manager, or a recruiter, or even sometimes the leaders in the field can be a little bit more self-sufficient.


So, it's less expensive than hiring a talent acquisition manager, and it's also less expensive than being dependent on recruiters or recruiting agencies and paying those fees over and over again, every time you need to bring a key person on your team because what you're doing isn't working. Although, if you do only need a handful of key people on your team, one or two hires, then yeah, maybe it's better just to go to a recruiter or recruiting agency, have them bring you someone. But that's the difference between buying a fish and buying a fishing pole, I would say.

Bryan Furnace (18:17):

So, one of my final questions for you, if you could give advice to maybe some of these smaller companies who aren't quite to the level that they're going to engage with a service like this, or a talent acquisition person, any advice you can give them as they go to hire their next employee?

Shawna Armstrong (18:33):

That's a great question, and I have a million pieces of advice, but it really depends on what the challenge is. So, I will spend time upfront getting to know the company, what they're doing, what their hiring process looks like, do they have a career page on their website? What do their job descriptions look like? Are they using hiring software? What does their interview process look like? Is there problem with attracting more people? Is there a problem with attracting the right kinds of people? Is there a problem with managing the process and the data and the information and the communication? Is there a problem with selecting the right person out of the backend, making wrong hires? Or is there a problem with turnover? If the problem is with turnover, it could be a hiring process issue, where they're not making the right hires, or they're not getting enough people to be able to be selective enough, but it also could be an internal issue.


People could be leaving because they're not being led well, they're not being engaged, they're not being recognized, they're not being rewarded, they're not being developed and trained, they're not feeling a sense of support and comradery. And so, if you have an internal issue, then hiring isn't going to fix that. You don't want to bring more people into a broken system. So, I would not be the right person to solve your internal problems. I guess what that boils down to is, the piece of advice is to ask the right questions, or speak to somebody that can ask you the right questions, to help you figure out what is the root cause of your problems, and what are the problems that you need to solve for. Because recruiting is not, and hiring, is not going to solve a problem with poor leadership or something internal. So, it's figure out what's the problem to solve for, don't just look to bring more people into what might be a broken system. Fix the system wherever it is on that employee life cycle, whether it's in hiring or beyond.

Bryan Furnace (20:54):

Yeah. And I couldn't agree more. I do feel like there are two huge issues, but there's also this disconnect. There is absolutely a lack of workforce because of the fact that there's just more and more people going the college route, there's not as many people in the trade. So, workforce, absolutely there's an issue there. But there's also a lot of issues with the old school mentality in this industry, the old school hiring practices in this industry. And so, like you said, it's hard to throw a blanket statement of, this is the problem out there. But I do think a lot of self-reflection from a lot of these companies would be very healthy, if it was truly taken to heart. If you did a true self-reflection of how am I doing as a business? Like you said, what am I offering the employees? What kind of culture do I have? What are my hiring and training practices? I think if people really did a serious self-evaluation, I think that would be a very eye-opening experience, and it might alleviate some of that hiring pain that they've maybe previously experienced.

Shawna Armstrong (21:59):

Yeah. And maybe my niche network has grown, or maybe truly the conversation is changing, because I am seeing more talk about this from every corner of the industry, and I'm seeing a lot more people doing what I'm doing, and taking that piece of how they can help the industry, and going out and starting their own thing, and help the industry attack it from different angles. So, if you can nail down what your problem is, there's someone out there that can help you, and I am seeing more and more companies wanting to get a little more introspective and open about changing what they're doing, because what they're doing is not what working. And there are the ones that are going to stay stuck in their ways, and this is the right way, and this is the way we've always done it, and I say good luck to them.

Bryan Furnace (23:06):

Well, Shawna, thank you so much for the time. What's the best way for anyone that wants to engage with you to get ahold of you?

Shawna Armstrong (23:12):

LinkedIn, or on my website, simply

Bryan Furnace (23:17):

Perfect. Well, thank you so much for all of the advice and the tips and information, and most importantly, your time.

Shawna Armstrong (23:23):

Thanks for having me. Good chat.

Bryan Furnace (23:25):

Well, thank you again for Shawna taking the time to come on the show, and enlighten us a little bit on hiring practices and how we can possibly improve this area within our industry. As always, I hope this has been helpful to you and your business, thanks for watching, and we'll catch you on the next episode of The Dirt.