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Help Wanted!

Dear Dave
We are a 26-person civil/survey firm. Like most firms in our area, we have more work than we can handle. We don’t like to say no to our clients, but if we can’t find additional qualified personnel to meet the demand, we will have no other choice. We have tried running help wanted ads from time to time in local and regional newspapers and professional publications, but rarely find anyone really qualified for the positions. What we need most are a couple of registered engineers with 6 to 10 years of experience. Any suggestions on what might work?

Dear JH
Good luck. The level of professional you’ve described is in very tight supply. In the short run, continue to place ads on a regular basis. One never knows when someone might surface. You may also give consideration to working with a headhunting firm specializing in technical staff placements. However, be prepared to spend up to 25–30% of the first year salary as a fee should a headhunter find someone you hire.

Another popular short-term tactic is to offer your own staff a bonus for referring a candidate you eventually hire. Like anything else, there are no guarantees. In fact, one of my clients, an east-coast structural engineer, has been offering its staff a bonus of up to $5,000 for successfully referring a project manager level engineer and still has had no luck in filling open positions.

Networking with professionals at society meetings, seminars and conventions is another popular tactic. By meeting and getting to know as many potential hires as you can, you can increase your chances of finding people when you need them. Take every chance you can get to talk to people about their interests and to share the good news about your firm and the opportunities you offer the right individuals.

As distasteful and unprofessional as it may seem, some firms have dropped the last trappings of civility and now resort to unabashed direct recruiting (a.k.a. poaching) from other firms. You identify who you want, make initial contact, and you follow up with an organized, all-out campaign to lure that person away from his or her current firm to join yours.

Unfortunately, the best solutions to staffing are long-term in nature. Some firms make a point of consistently working with colleges and universities to offer summer intern positions to students to find the best early, and begin to build a relationship years before they graduate and come to the market. Along the same lines, firms will go out of their way to “contract” portions of projects or research to students even when they’re back in school to give them some extra income, and to keep communication channels open. Once they graduate, they’ll hopefully accept positions with your firm. It may take years to get them up to the level of experience you need, but if you prime the pipeline and maintain a steady flow of new professionals, you’ll eventually build the key, core staff you need.

Wahby and Associates