Bus and Motor Coach Library

Hiring Your Best Assets

by Matt Daecher, Deacher Consulting Group (2002

Probably the most differentiating aspect of your motorcoach company from the one in the next town is your people.  You both have offices, garages and similar equipment, but your people are what make the difference - both in representing your company to the customer and affecting your bottom line in terms of their performance. 
            I'm sure you've heard before, and maybe even stated yourself - your drivers are the 'face' of your company.  In reality, the other folks who work for you are also a part of the 'face' of your company - maybe just not as prominent a facial feature.  Logic tells us we want the best looking face out there, but how does one accomplish this?  Well, it certainly starts with the hiring process and how you evaluate your potential applicants.
            Besides being the 'face' of your company to your customers, the performance of your employees also affects your bottom line and success.  Employees who don't perform well cost you money in terms of incidents/accidents, vehicle down time, deductibles, increased premiums, vehicle breakdowns, and missed sales.  Those employees who come and go cost you money in terms of recruiting, hiring, training and potentially more missed sales.
            So then, the key to minimizing these potential losses is to hire the right people.  As they say in the insurance business, "you hire your claims."  While I won't be offering any earth-shattering advice, we'll at least review what you should be doing in attempting to hire the right folks.  For the most part, we'll focus on drivers, since they are the most prominent feature of your 'face' and historically the biggest risk to your ultimate success.
            The first step in the hiring process is determining what your minimum standards for drivers will be.  You'll fine tune these over time as you go through the hiring process again and again, but figure out your baseline to begin with.  Look at these standards as the minimum starting point for considering drivers for employment.  In this business, much of these standards will revolve around age, experience levels, and past driving performance.
            Age minimums will depend on whether you operate intrastate or interstate and may also be affected or influenced by your insurer.  Experience levels range from no commercial vehicle experience to many years of experience in various types of buses.  Your training program should dictate what's minimally acceptable to you - if you have a comprehensive training program in place for all new drivers, you'll be better equipped to successfully recruit those with no or little commercial vehicle experience.  Understand these drivers will take much more preparation time than those with experience, but some companies feel (and rightfully so in some cases) that they'd rather train a 'green' driver to drive the right way than try to correct bad habits engrained over years of driving for other companies.  Also, if you take this approach, I'd recommend requiring at least three years driving experience operating a non-commercial vehicle so that you have a driving history to review which will give you insight into the applicants driving behavior, regardless of the vehicle they were operating.  On the other end of the scale, hiring a driver with a lot of commercial vehicle experience can minimize your preparation time with that driver, though it shouldn't entirely eliminate the training process.  In reviewing an applicant's past driving performance you'll be evaluating their motor vehicle record (MVR).  The duration of driving history contained in an MVR varies by state, but an MVR will show a minimum three years of driving history.  Set your baseline in terms of moving violations and accidents over a defined time period.  Whatever baseline you set, make sure you stick to it.  Two quick caveats here - do not use points or severity of moving violations as part of your baseline.  Points assigned in various instances are often arbitrarily lowered as part of plea bargains and severity of moving violations lowered in favor of the driver in other plea bargains.  If you see a violation with zero or fewer than normal points, or a speeding ticket for less than 10 mph over the speed limit, chances are the violation has been reduced in a plea bargain.
            Next, it's time to look for candidates.  It's a good thing you've established your minimum standards because you'll want to communicate these along with other pertinent information about the job and your company when recruiting drivers.  It's no secret that finding drivers can be very tough, especially considering the economics and roller-coaster nature of this business versus all the competing employers in your universe.  Many articles have been dedicated to recruiting and I'll just scratch the surface by saying that you have to think outside the box.  Putting an ad in the paper won't likely cut it.  However, ads in smaller hometown gazettes may bring better results, as folks are more likely to see and read them.  Brochures, toll-free "job net" phone lines, internet advertisements and old fashioned canvassing are better options.  Differentiate your job offer from others by highlighting the company, its values and the working environment. 
            Every applicant will complete an application. Unfortunately, every employer doesn't utilize the application the way they should.  Most simply look at the previous work experience and go from there.  However, the application's contents, and the way it is completed, can tell you about the personality and characteristics of the applicant - maybe before you even speak with or meet him/her.  As an employer, you should insure that the application is filled out completely, including using "n/a" or "none" in sections where information is not applicable to the applicant.  If an applicant has taken the time to completely fill out an application, it usually means that this is a very detail-oriented person - a good characteristic for any driver.  If there are blank areas on the application, make sure you get them filled in during the interview process.  Check to insure that you have no gaps in the employment history - if you do, investigate this during the interview process also.  Also, look at the number of jobs in the past three years - if a person has many listed, they are more than likely to have you listed on another company's application in the not-to-distant future if you decide to hire them.  Also, numerous previous jobs may be an indication of financial issues, problems in getting along with other employees, and other characteristics which are not a good fit for a bus driver.  Lastly, when possible, have applicants complete the application in person with a supervisor, rather than taking one home and/or dropping one of with the receptionist - this helps insure the application is completed by them personally, and provides the supervisor an opportunity to review it to insure completeness and schedule an interview if not done on the spot.  This process will also say something about your company and your personal attention to employees/future employees, setting you apart from others.
            Satisfactory application in hand (applicant meets your minimum standards!), it's time for the interview.  First step is to acquire any incomplete or blank information on the application.  Once that's done, it's time to learn more about your applicant than what's stated on the application.  There are plenty of generic structured interviews widely available to aid you in presenting the applicant with 'why' questions and 'what if' scenarios to answer - use these to tailor a question session for your applicant to gain some insight on his/her thought processes and personality.  Also, use this opportunity to find out more information on their previous jobs listed on the application, especially those in which they operated commercial vehicles.  What kind of relevant training did they receive/undergo?  What was their company culture like?  What did they and didn't they like about these jobs?  This can provide you not only additional information on the applicant, but also insight into your competition, how they do business and how they are perceived by their employees.  The interview should also be used to inform the applicant of the realities of the job and more about your company and why it's a good place to work.  Also keep an eye on the applicant's mannerisms and body language - are they comfortable with the questions and freely answering them?
            Time now to verify what you've been told by the applicant, both on the application and in the interview.  You're required by the FMCSRs to conduct inquiries/investigations regarding employment verification, drug and alcohol testing, and DOT-recordable accident history with any employer subject to DOT regulations where the applicant held a safety-sensitive position within the previous three years from the date of the application.  Remember, regulatory requirements are a minimum, and you should be doing more.  Verify employment with any previous employers listed to insure the applicant was truthful and to gain some insight where possible on their performance.  This is best done over the phone - you'll learn and be able to infer much more by talking personally with their supervisor or HR person than you will via a fax.  Obtain the applicant's MVR and review it carefully for proper licensing, violations/accident information, and any licenses suspension information.  Did the applicant truthfully complete these sections on the application?  If not, you should have a red flag waiving in your head.  Does their MVR information meet your minimum standards? 
            Assuming everything is okay, take the applicant on a road test (if they have no commercial vehicle experience, this step will come later during your training process).  Road tests are not required by regulation if an applicant has a properly endorsed CDL license issued while operating the type of equipment they will operate for you, but you should always take them on a road test anyway.  First, take them around the block/yard to get a good sense they can handle the equipment.  Then, take them on a pre-set course which will expose them to various traffic and roadway situations (be sure to include some tight right turns in congested areas).  Watch their eye movements and where they look as they drive and perform maneuvers.  How's their signaling and following distance?  Do they proceed with caution on stale green lights?  Are their stops and accelerations smooth and gradual or quick and jerky?  How confident are/aren't they?  You should document the road test and share your thoughts with them afterwards, including perceived strengths and concerns. 
            After a successful road test, it's time to spend more money and meet more regulations.  Send the applicant for their pre-employment drug test.  Also, send them to your designated physician for a DOT physical - regardless of whether they have a currently valid medical certification card or not.   This will insure that they receive a non-biased physical exam from a physician who's familiar with the regulations and the type of work they will be doing (you have reviewed these items with your designated physician, right?). Also, remember that the DOT physical is a minimum standard - you may, per company policy, require additional physical ability tests.  Depending on your type of operation, lifting ability tests/requirements may be added on to the standard DOT physical exam to medically certify a driver for your purposes. 
            From the beginning, and throughout the entire application and review process, you should be observing the applicant's communication and public relation skills.  Are they effective communicators?  Have they demonstrated problem-solving abilities and good judgment in their decision making process? How personable and likeable are they?  Has their behavior and personality been consistent on a day-to-day basis?  Do they have that "can-do" attitude?  All of these questions are relevant to you - after all, this driver will be a customer service and public relations representative for your company.  Will he/she be an effective ambassador?
            Suppose you have multiple good candidates at this point for each job opening.  What can you do to narrow the field even more and choose the best candidate?  Personality tests, or driver profile tests, are an additional method to gain insight into the suitability of a person to the job.  There are specific profile tests designed to predict which candidates have attributes identified in previous studies to succeed in the commercial vehicle industry.  These tests have been scientifically developed to identify and rate specific attributes and traits which may help you further differentiate candidates.  Criminal background checks on applicants (may be required based upon service contracts or state requirements for your type of operation) also provide you an opportunity to gain additional insight into an applicant's safety, reliability and trustworthiness.  Criminal checks are not always easy to do, and in many cases, the checks are limited to county by county or state by state searches.  While search results may not be complete, as a practical matter, the mere existence of any criminal activity may help prioritize that candidate in relation to others.
            I mentioned at the beginning of this article that I would focus mostly on drivers, which I have, but let's spend a little time on other employees.  Specifically, let's talk about service technicians/mechanics.  As mentioned earlier, they also are part of the 'face' of your company and their performance can certainly affect your costs and success.  So, rather than going through a superficial application and hiring process as I see at many places, invest some time to determine if the applicant is the right one for your operation.  I would suggest applying many of the same steps as we discussed with the driver applicants, whether required or not (many mechanics have CDLs and fall under some of the same regulatory requirements) and adding in some job specific testing and more detailed investigation into their previous training in heavy vehicle diagnostics and repair.  Their ability to maintain your vehicles properly and also communicate with drivers effectively will affect your public relations and bottom line.