Prospecting for gold

While the rest of the corporate world can generally rely on human resources services to find the best employee to fit the job opening, such services are rare in the small business trucking industry. When it comes to finding drivers, it's like prospecting for gold.

When your small trucking company has grown to the extent that you need another driver, where do you find individuals who will take care of your equipment and your customers as responsibly as you do? Land Line asked seasoned small business trucking pros to spill their secrets.

OOIDA member Woody Chambers, Hoffman Estates, IL, says that word of mouth through an agent is a good source for potential employees. Sometimes a young driver who is working up through the ranks can be an excellent candidate.

It is tough to find a driver who'll take care of your equipment and customers like you would yourself.

"I have started truckers on a straight truck, hauling locally," he says. "I don't see anything wrong with hiring a driver from a school, as long as you start them on some type of apprenticeship program."

Veteran trucker Donnie Newman, Jasper, AL, has 12 trucks on the road, mostly hauling perishable products for his company.

"I can't pay for recruiters that ride around in a van promising driver prospects $1,000 bonus checks to sign on," says this OOIDA member, who says he has his own system for hiring drivers that works. He says it's a combination of old-fashioned "gut-feeling" integrity, combined with common sense and a handshake.

"You can't just look at somebody's credentials on paper and know if he/she is the person you want to hire," says Donnie. "I've got 25 years experience and every day is a refresher course. You can use all the info in the world, but the final call is yours. You've got to know what kind of driver you want."

Donnie wants to meet his driver applicants in person. "I want to see them, talk to them," he says, "this person is going to represent me. This may be the only personal contact my customer has with my company. Also, when you are hiring a driver, you need to think - if there was a jury sitting out there looking at this driver, how would this person appear to them? Because that driver may find him/herself in that very position someday. For purposes of defensibility, you must think about the way the driver looks, attitude, etc."

Donnie has a couple of rules about hiring that are gems. "Never get desperate," he says, "You know how much it is costing for that truck to sit there, but you don't know how much it's going to cost if you hire the wrong driver. Don't ever get so desperate to get that truck rolling that you make a bad decision."

He likes to hire experienced drivers and he does not like to advertise in the newspaper.

"I've got my own good drivers running all over and they'll meet some driver who is interested and run all the way across the country with this guy. My driver will get to know him a bit, watch how he acts, drives, etc. And if my driver recommends him to me, this information is important. Getting out there with a guy gives you a better idea of how he's going to drive your truck than anything on paper can tell you. I hire a lot of drivers this way."

One more hiring guideline from this Alabama trucking businessman - "Don't hire family."

OOIDA member Bill Farrell, Farrell Trucking of Missoula, MT, has four trucks on the road. Competing with bigger companies for drivers has Bill working hard and even attending employment law seminars. "There's a lot of classes and seminars out there where you can learn a lot," says Bill. "You have to learn a lot, and you better have a good attorney who knows about employment law."

Bill has experienced good results from advertising in his local newspaper. He asks for a simple resume and looks for two things - insurability (three years experience) and longevity.

He absolutely insists on a personal interview. "I want neat, clean drivers. If a person takes pride in their appearance, they'll take pride in taking care of my truck. I don't need a guy to show up wearing a suit, but I like to know they can make a good appearance. That's important to me."

Bill describes himself as a "hands-on" boss. "If the applicant has less than five years experience, I'll take them out myself on a 25-mile run in the truck," he says. "I like to know that the driver can make a good left hand turn and knows that he's got a 48 ft. trailer behind him."

Farrell Trucking likes to hire experienced drivers, but Bill is not adverse to hiring recent graduates of trucking schools, especially the older grads who have had good experience in other areas.

When it comes to interviewing, some questions can get you in a lot of trouble.

One of the most critical tips Bill learned from studying employment law is that after you make a job offer, and only then, there are certain questions you can ask. "My attorney says after the job offer, you can ask if there is anything in the applicant's background (health or otherwise) that may interfere with the performing of the job. If they say yes, you don't have to give them the job."

Don't even ask!

When it comes to interviewing a potential employee, some questions can get you in a lot of trouble. Be careful how you phrase your inquiries.

So what's off limits as far as the law is concerned? Questions that indirectly reveal race, creed, national origin, marital status, sex, arrest record, age, or disability are typically seen as discriminatory. As in any industry, however, there are exceptions. In the trucking industry, for example, minimum age requirements necessitate asking for a driver's date of birth. Also, while it is generally illegal to ask the applicant's native language, in trucking, it's a regulation that your new driver speak and read signs in English adequately.

Below are a few examples of questions you cannot ask:

  • Will you require time off for medical reasons? (disability)
  • What is your maiden name? (marital status)
  • What is your national origin or race?
  • Where do you go to church? (creed)
  • Have you ever been arrested? (In the trucking industry, it is lawful -indeed required - to ask about violations of motor vehicle laws that resulted in the forfeiture of bond or collateral. Limit your questions to this area, however.)

There are countless examples, and this is by no means an exhaustive list. Perhaps the best rule of thumb is this: If the question sounds irrelevant to the job, it probably is. Don't ask. LL