The big things count, too

I recently wrote about the importance, in my mind at least, of getting a job candidate away from the formal interview setting and taking him to dinner. This week, I wanted to step back into the interview itself and share a couple of things that always seem to work well for me. Once again, they won’t apply to all of your job openings, but perhaps some variation of them will fit nicely into the next interview you conduct.

If you’re in the water systems business, it’s likely that you are interviewing someone for a technical position. As a result, it’s critical to find out what he or she really knows. In my case, I’ve found that a pump sizing exercise is a great place to start. I provide him with the information needed to size a pump, along with the curves and catalogs. What makes this exercise especially good is that it’s a jumping off point to other topics. Would you recommend a VFD for this application? Why or why not? What kind and size of tank? And so forth.

At some point, drive your questions to where the candidate doesn’t know the answer. That happens in the field, and you need to know how the candidate will respond. Does he try and muddle through and make something up? Or, does he simply say, “I don’t know, but I will find out.” This is a perfectly acceptable answer, but leads right to the follow-up question of, “how would you go about finding out?” A candidate once gave me the terrific answer of, “I would call the Franklin Electric Hotline.”

Of course, you’re not always going to be interviewing someone from the water systems industry. In this scenario, have the candidate present and explain something he or she already knows. For example, we once interviewed a candidate for the Hotline. He was new to the water systems industry, but in a previous life, he flew helicopters for a living. We ended up asking him to come back the next day with a 30-minute presentation on “How to Fly a Helicopter.” He nailed it, giving us the confidence to move forward and make the right decision. Continue reading

Look closely. The little things count.

Over the years, I’ve interviewed a lot of people, and because I’ve recently been interviewing for an open Field Service Engineer position, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Although I’ve had my share of “misses,” I generally feel pretty good about my process. For me at least, an important part of that process is to have dinner with the candidate at some point.

Dozens of subtle clues play out during the course of a meal that will help you answer the question, “Is this the right person for the job? How will he/she represent our company?”

For example, how does he treat the establishment’s staff? Is he condescending or does he show common courtesy? If he is rude here, my guess is that he’s going to treat a customer’s employee out in the warehouse the same way. At the same time, if something’s truly not right with the meal or service, does he speak up and let someone know this isn’t acceptable?

Does he have some semblance of decent table manners? Good manners won’t get you the job by any means, but checking your cellphone every 5 minutes will lose it for you. I’ve seen it happen.

If I’m interviewing someone in their home city, I always have him pick the restaurant. Is it appropriate for the occasion? If the establishment takes reservations, does he take the trouble to make them? That shows he’s thinking ahead. As a preliminary interview, I once met a candidate for dinner in his home city as I was passing through the area. His resume looked good, and over the phone he expressed a “strong interest” in working for Franklin Electric. He picked one of those well-known chain restaurants with the business model of “get em in, get em out”. Not a deal-breaker by any means, but when I arrived, he was already seated in the bar section, and seemed more interested in the game on TV than in talking about the position. All and all, it wasn’t the conversation and strong interest in Franklin Electric that I was looking for. But, the good news was that I needed to eat anyway, and I learned everything I needed to know without wasting any more time on a formal interview. Continue reading

Geothermal and current loops… it all comes around

These days, quite a few of you are installing closed loop geothermal systems. These systems use long loops of flexible pipe installed underground or underwater to heat or cool a building or residence. Of course, a pump keeps the fluid moving around the loop.

Now jump to variable speed, constant pressure water systems. If you are involved with these systems, especially larger ones, you’ve probably seen or heard the term “4 to 20 milliamp pressure transducer” or “4 to 20 milliamp current loop”. These are loops as well, but loops of electrical current instead of water. And once again, it’s terminology that gets thrown out there without much explanation. So, let’s explain.

Many variable frequency drives (VFDs), especially larger units such as Franklin Electric’s HPX, utilize these 4-20 milliamp loops in conjunction with a pressure transducer. “Transducer” is just a general term for a device that converts a mechanical measurement into an electrical signal. In our case, that parameter is going to be pressure, And, keep in mind that you’ll hear the terms transducer and sensor used interchangeably in our industry.

A small power supply in the drive sends out a low DC voltage to the transducer. In the case of the HPX, its 24 volts DC. These are the “4-20 mA” terminals on the HPX. In our geothermal system, this would be the pump. Two wires connect the power supply to the transducer. This makes “the loop” or the flexible pipe. The transducer then limits the amount of current passing through it based on the amount of water pressure it is experiencing. For example, the 4-20 mA transducer used with the HPX will allow 4 milliamps to flow if the pressure is 0 psi. The upper limit of pressure can be programmed into the HPX, and at this pressure, say 80 psi, the pressure transducer will allow 20 milliamps to flow. Hence the name 4 to 20 milliamp current loop. The VFD controller then knows exactly how much pressure is out there by the amount of current “in the loop”. Continue reading

I’ll know them when I see them…

Recently, I was working with our Human Resources department here at Franklin Electric to fill an open Field Service Engineer position. As we started the process, one of their first questions was “what’s the profile and background of the person you’re looking for?” A reasonable question… However, my reply was, “I have no idea. I’ll know him or her when I see them.”

That sounds dismissive, but there’s some sense and experience behind that answer. The fact is, when I look at our Technical Service team of nearly 30 individuals, it couldn’t be more diverse. There is no ideal background or resume.

For example, in terms of “formal education”, we run the spectrum from no college, but decades of experience, to a Master’s degree in Chemistry. In terms of experience, the team includes some folks that can see retirement from here. For others, Franklin Electric is their first “real” job.

As to the types of experience and where they came from, this is where things really get interesting. We have a Master Groundwater Contractor (green jacket), two people that came from competitors, one that came from a customer, 3 that came from the engineering department at Franklin Electric, and one that moved from the Franklin Electric Hotline to Field Service. Another transferred from Latin America. Some of the best came to us as the result of corporate acquisitions. Finally, one of our Field Service Engineers spent decades in manufacturing at Franklin Electric supervising 4-Inch motor production.

Having said this, there are some common threads. Everyone on the team is technically strong, they know how to talk to people, they can anticipate problems and propose solutions, and each is the type I’d trust with making an adjustment to my rare Ferrari (if I had one). It’s these things that matter, but they are exactly the things you won’t see on a resume and won’t find in a concise demographic or profile. Continue reading

Have a conversation…

Let’s face it. The term “sales” in many circles has a reputation for trying to sell us things we don’t need or even want. But, truly successful sales people will tell you that’s not how they do business. They’ll tell you that what’s made them successful is a relentless focus on helping their customers get the products and solutions they need. They see themselves as educators and consultants, guiding their customers through a decision-making process and providing options.

There’s no area where that’s more true than with the professional water systems contractor. Most don’t like to think of themselves as sales people. But, a huge part of job is just that. You are our industry’s educators and representatives to the rest of the world.

What makes this especially true in our industry is that water systems are far more reliable and have a greater lifespan than most of the appliances in our lives. As a result, most homeowners will only need a new water system or something repaired every 10 years or so. That means that you will only get the chance to stand in front of your customer once every decade or so. So, we need to make the most of that opportunity.

In many cases, the homeowner is out of water and is literally desperate to get it back. Nothing highlights the critical nature and value of water more than not having it. As a result, the conversation becomes a one-way, two-part question of “how soon and how much?”. Try to slow things down. Have a conversation. A few minutes goes a long way. Show them how their water system works. What does that tank do anyway? Explain why they are out of water. How has their home and lifestyle changed since someone last looked at their water system? Have you always had that garden? Continue reading