How Far Away Are Self Driving Vehicles? (And Where Do Moving Trucks Fit In?)

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Autonomous Vehicle (AV) technology is no longer just “the future”. Today, bringing self-driving vehicles from car shows to the streets is a full-on race for competing companies in the US and abroad.

Earlier this year, we reported about Otto, the self-driving vehicle maker that moved from the warehouse to the highway with their breakthrough autonomous truck. It delivered 50,000 cans of Budweiser from Fort Collins, Colorado down to Colorado Springs with nobody driving it.

Some would argue that the cargo should have been something more significant or important, but (a) for some, there is nothing more important than beer, while (b) for others, in the event something should go wrong, losing a truckload of beer is a lot less significant than losing a truckload of someone’s belongings. Or million-dollar medical machines. Or even really good craft beer.

Regardless of the cargo, now that it’s been proven doable, the race is on! But before we get to how this impacts trucks, there is a significant and important history to detail about the AV industry.

And yes, there’s a legislative sideshow going on that will decide who gets to be on the starting line.

Safety First

Of the estimated 40,000 traffic fatalities in the US last year (yes, that’s four zeros!), roughly 94 percent of the crashes involved human error.

Simply put, we the people are doing a horrendous job behind the wheel. Replacing us error-prone humans with machines that don’t make mistakes, the reasoning goes, will put a huge dent in the number of traffic accidents that occur in the US each year. And the sooner, the better.

7 Embarrassing Lessons I Learned While Moving People

7 Embarrassing Lessons I Learned While Moving People

Lessons I, Kevin The Mover, learned during my earliest days on the job through the mistakes of others (and my own).

US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, in introducing the NHTSA’s revised guidelines for autonomous vehicle development, said self-driving cars could also help the blind and disabled – perhaps acknowledging that the technology would not only increase the level of safety for such drivers but would also give them a higher level of independence.

That’s something that is hard if not impossible to measure.

Interestingly, Chao doesn’t see the value in limiting development and testing to established automobile manufacturers—in other words, he thinks the companies with a known capacity for designing for commercial gain shouldn’t do it all. From the Scribd self-driving guideline book:

States should not place unnecessary burdens on competition and innovation by limiting ADS testing or deployment to motor vehicle manufacturers only…No data suggests that experience in vehicle manufacturing is an indicator of the ability to safely test or deploy vehicle technology [emphasis mine]. All entities that meet Federal and State law prerequisites for testing or deployment should have the ability to operate in the State.

That last bit – “entities that meet Federal and State law prerequisites” – may hope to keep this race from turning into a free-for-all. But again, these are just guidelines. Strong suggestions, maybe. But not laws by any definition. That, we can expect, is already beginning.

The Feds Take the Wheel

self-driving trucks

Last September, the U.S. House of Representatives made a bold move by unanimously voting to put the development of self-driving cars in the hands of federal regulators, not the states.

On the surface, this may seem like just another instance of federal bureaucracy getting in the way, but by cutting off the states’ authority to prohibit autonomous vehicles, the feds are actually hoping to speed up the process of making autonomous drive technology part of the everyday.

In other words, instead of 50 roadblocks, there’s only one.

As Reuters reports, “The House measure, the first significant federal legislation aimed at speeding self-driving cars to market, would allow automakers to obtain exemptions to deploy up to 25,000 vehicles without meeting existing auto safety standards in the first year.”

Wait a minute! Without meeting existing safety standards?!

The States Have a Say

That does sound rather concerning. But as US News & World Report explains that point, the proposal put forth by the House would

give the federal government the authority to exempt automakers from safety standards that don’t apply to autonomous technology [emphasis mine]. If a company can prove it can make a safe vehicle with no steering wheel, for example, the federal government could approve that. But generally speaking, manufacturers seeking these particular safety exemptions must demonstrate that their self-driving cars are at least as safe as existing vehicles.

A car is a car is a car, as far as the government is concerned. As it concerns self-driving cars, however, Reuters adds, “The House bill would require automakers to add a driver alert to check rear seating in an effort to prevent children from being left behind.” (This may or not be bolstered with a device to stop anyone who would forget their child is in the car from ever driving again.)

Furthermore, this bill does not put states entirely in the back seat when it comes to motor vehicle regulation. Registration, licensing, liability, insurance and safety inspections would all still be set by the individual states.

Yep, only performance standards would have to pass through federal review.

States will still have some authority to regulate the eventual use of autonomous vehicles, like requiring a human to be present on any self-driving vehicle. But states are “encouraged not to pass laws that would throw barriers in front of testing and use.”

Disagreement Among Administrations

self-driving trucks

As US News tells us,

Under the Obama administration automakers were asked to follow a 15-point safety assessment before putting test vehicles on the road. The new guidelines reduce that to a 12-point voluntary assessment, asking automakers to consider things like cybersecurity, crash protection, how the vehicle interacts with occupants and the backup plans if the vehicle encounters a problem. They no longer ask automakers to think about ethics or privacy issues or share information beyond crash data, as the previous guidelines did.

That the present administration is not interested in the ethics of the industry is an issue that we will steer clear of.

We will instead add the sentiments of Mitch Bainwol, head of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, who says the guidelines, which are policy, not law, provide a “streamlined, flexible system to accommodate the development and deployment of new technologies.” 

This stands in contrast to critics who suggest these guidelines don’t go far enough to ensure the safety of vehicles being put out on the road. David Friedman, director of car and product policy analysts for Consumer Union, warns that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) “needs to be empowered to protect consumers against new hazards that may emerge, and to ensure automated systems work as they’re supposed to without placing consumers at risk.”

Clearly, the autonomous vehicle industry is at the crossroads of safety and economics.

Business: Anything But Usual

The race to get AV technology to the market is more than just selling cars alone. As FTI Communications puts it,

The automotive revenue pool could reach $1.5 trillion by 2030…this in part because AVs will likely have an impact that extends far beyond the automotive industry, into sectors such as insurance, tech, logistics, cybersecurity, delivery services, public sector infrastructure and tourism, to name a few. 

In other words, this has the potential to change economics as we know it. But since the NHTSA has established nothing more than non-binding, non-legal guidelines for the industry, there remains a significant degree of confusion about how to proceed at both state and private levels.

Add to this the current administration’s apparent appetite for growth in traditional manufacturing jobs, including manually driven cars, and we have a recipe for sluggish progress in what could be the greatest advancement in transportation since the invention of the combustion engine, maybe even the wheel.

As far as our industry is concerned, the question remains…

Autonomous Trucks: Now or Later?

self-driving trucksAs the subject of self-driving trucks is not addressed in the NHTSA’s guidelines or the aforementioned House bill, the development, testing and implementation of AV technology for transport trucks of all types have by default been left up to individual states (hence, Colorado’s beer delivery experiment).

Speaking in general terms, Michigan Senator Gary Peters states that “the House bill will facilitate the safe development and adoption of self-driving cars, reduce existing regulatory barriers and establish new regulatory framework.”

He does, however, refer to conversations he has had involving the prospects of self-driving trucks raise a very different set of issues from self-driving cars.

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As we are told, “The Michigan senator…did find some opposition to the idea of pushing freight legislation off to a later date to instead focus more intently on autonomous passenger vehicles.”

One of those opposed was American Trucking Association CEO Chris Spear. Besides issues like cybersecurity, infrastructure and vehicle-to-vehicle communication, Spear makes the valid point that since autonomous passenger cars will eventually be sharing the road with freight trucks anyway, these and other issues should be answered for commercial and passenger vehicles at the same time.

“Our industry cannot be subject to a patchwork of conflicting state rules,” US News quotes Spear as he advocates for the federal government to pursue some sort of overarching freight standards that wouldn’t vary state to state.

Compliance with multiple state regimes would be very disruptive to the economy, to these companies, and I think it would be a jobs issue over time if we’re not able to move freight in a productive way, in a safe way and, obviously, in a profitable way.

But Spear does concede that while autonomous cars will likely be hitting the road very soon, autonomous tractor trailer technology is still “decades away” and “not in the foreseeable future.”

To this, Spear said he’s not worried about truckers losing their jobs to technology anytime soon. “We have a 50,000-driver shortage as it stands,” he reminds us. Navistar President and CEO agrees, joking that freight companies “already have driverless trucks, but that’s because they have trouble recruiting and retaining drivers.”

The Space Race of Our Industry, In a Nutshell

There’s a wealth of automotive technology coming out, a lot of it from right here in the United States. But a failure to put the proverbial pedal to the metal could result in missed opportunities for the US to stake its claim at the forefront of the industry.

It could also delay the implementation of autonomous technologies that ultimately could make American roadways safer.

“Whether it’s data-sharing, testing protocols, engagement of all of the right stakeholders – these are all issues that we need to begin to discuss,” says Deborah Hersman, CEO of the National Safety Council and former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

If the trucking sector is left on the side of the road while these discussions progress, it will be even longer before our industry begins to see the safety, as well as the economic benefits, of autonomous vehicle technology.

And because of all that, it may be a long time before you or any other company waves goodbye to your cargo being driven away by a moving truck.


Illustrations by Rob Wadleigh

How to Move Your Stuff to College (Without Bothering Mom and Dad)

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In the college classic “Animal House”, Donald “Boon” Schoenstein famously exclaims to his fraternity brothers “We can do anything we want! We’re college students!”

Which makes me think Boon had plenty of help moving to college in Faber and into the Delta house. (Okay, maybe this dates me a little.)

Either way, whether this is your first time or your fourth time (or seventh, if you’re like Bluto), transporting all your stuff from your room at home to your dorm at college can be as challenging as any of your finals. (Moving to college without mom and dad can be tougher than your entire exam schedule.)

We can help you figure out how to get your stuff down to campus if you don’t have the luxury of hiring Mom & Dad’s Moving Company. Here’s your multi-scenario cheat sheet. 

You Have a Car

Awesome start! Nothing better than a road trip to kick off the new semester! But if you can’t fit everything into the back, what are you going to do?

Moving to College U-Haul Trailer

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Got a mountain of boxes and bags? A mountain bike? A bunch of furniture and the all-important mini-fridge to transport? If so, think about renting a trailer to hook onto your car. U-Haul rents them one-way, based on availability. Check out our complete U-Haul pricing and review guide and streamline the decision-making process.

Wait, you don’t have a hitch installed on your car? U-Haul does that too, for a price. Just input your exact car model and they’ll give you an estimate right on their site.

But maybe you’re feeling crafty (and want to save some money)? Imagine how proud your parents will be if you installed it yourself! Here’s a popular step-by-step guide, with some pictures to boot.

DIY Corner: Color Code your Boxes

Allow me to introduce you to an old friend of mine: Washi Tape.

…But Maybe You Don’t Want to Pull a Trailer

Totally understandable. It takes some getting used to (plus, that aforementioned trailer hitch). In place of that, maybe consider shipping your stuff via ABF. They’ll put your stuff on a trailer with a bunch of other people’s stuff, which while risking damaging your (hopefully not too expensive) stuff, might still be advantageous since you only pay for the space your own stuff takes up. Another, more agile option is to order a ReloCube from U-Pack. These containers are 6’ x 7’ x 8’ and are dropped off for you to load up, then taken away and delivered to your new place on campus. (Packrat also offers containers, albeit in medium and large sizes.) Just take note…

Moving to college - ABF Trailer

Image by http://johncassiemillburn.blogspot.com/

Campus move-in day is living chaos. (Perhaps you’ve survived one or two of them.) Check with your college administration to see if there would be any logistical problems or policy issues with having a container placed outside your dorm – or anywhere on campus. Or anywhere even close. Be clear, and get any approval in writing before you try to sneak a 40-foot trailer with a forklift hanging off the tail end past campus security.

So You Don’t Have a Car

Unless you are planning on backpacking to college, you’ll be going through shipping options.

If you only have a few extra boxes to send, the good old US Postal Service is your cheapest bet. UPS is another option if you’re moving to college with only a small handful of items, and their online calculator allows you to estimate your shipping-by-air costs. (Oddly, for ground service, you’ll have to locate a nearby location and talk to someone directly).

If shipping stuff to college via the post office or UPS works for your pile of dorm-destined stuff, go that route first. If not, you still have ABF and U-Pack to fall back on. Again, check with your campus authorities and administrators before ordering up that trailer and forklift.

Moving to college with a rental truck

We see you there in the back with your hand in the air. And yes, you are correct. Renting a truck might be the best way to go if you are moving to college on your own. U-Haul is the first name that lots of people think of, but check out Budget and Penske too because the cheapest price is always different depending on where you live and the date you need it on.

You Want to Avoid Shipping Costs and Trailers Altogether

In this case, your strategy is more limited and depends on your situation. If you still have to buy stuff for college, don’t. Not yet. Avoid buying stuff when you’re still at home because you’ll only have to haul it all to college. Instead, order online and have it delivered straight to your dorm. When all is said and done, you might end up saving a few bucks on that mini-fridge.

Another consideration: although limited to the area you live in and the size of the vehicle, peruse some carpooling sites like Zimride and The College CarpoolMoving to college ride share

There’s also the possibility of people selling random stuff off the backs of trucks when you get there, on or around campus. (Sound weird? It happens every year on campuses everywhere.) If there are such people, you might really score. If not, you’ll have to go without the mini-fridge for a while. Your call.

On the other hand, you could end up with two mini-fridges if you and your roommate aren’t on the same page. Touch base with your roommate before the summer is out so you don’t both end up lugging two microwave ovens, TVs and mini-fridges all the way to campus.

Finally, whenever and however you pack up, think seasonal. Leave those extra blankets and sweaters and your snowboard behind. You can pick them up the next time you’re home after you head back for Thanksgiving or winter break.

Moving to College In Any Scenario

Plan ahead. Pack your boxes. Reserve that truck. And remember to check with the powers-that-be regarding move-in day policies and procedures: the parking situation, restricted move-in hours, having stuff delivered (early?) and, yes, driving a forklift across the quad.

One final note before class is dismissed: Even if mom and dad end up helping you move into your college pad, that doesn’t mean all your stuff will suddenly, magically fit into the family trucks. So when they start scratching their heads, staring at your mountain of stuff and wondering what to do, tell them everything we just told you.

They’ll be proud of their well-educated kid.

The Fundamentals of Buying and Selling on Craigslist

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Craigslist. We used to hear that word and automatically think of seedy transactions and random items. But we’ve since come around and now use it on a regular basis to sell stuff we no longer want, as well as to find items that are one-of-a-kind for our homes!

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How to Make the Jump From Rookie Mover to True Professional

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Anyone who has ever started a business knows one thing for sure: customers don’t come pouring in just because you’ve opened your doors. But new businesses sometimes learn something else… the few customers who do come in can be their biggest source of growth.

The folks at Black Tie Moving have lived this – 1,180% growth over the last three years. How have they managed such enviable numbers? In this Forbes piece, they explain, giving seven steps to a level of customer service that, in the long run, can trump any marketing plan.

The key, of course, is putting them into practice every day. With that in mind, we provide some real-life context for some of the points Black Tie makes in the Forbes article.

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How to Use a Moving Dolly Like the Pros

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Moving house without a hand truck – or a moving dolly – is like riding a bicycle without a seat. It’s technically possible, but honestly, who does that?

A sturdy, reliable hand truck is any mover’s best friend. Used properly, it saves you time, rescues your back and it can singlehandedly keep your stuff from getting damaged.

(Thinking of a square furniture dolly?)

But they’re not as easy to use as they look, provided you are using them in the proper way. With that in mind, here are tips compiled by moving pros as to how to optimize that hand truck you found in the back of your moving truck, or that one your friend let you borrow and you don’t want to return broken.

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How to Hire the Best Employees

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Though we haven’t quite worked off all those Christmas cookie calories yet and the calendar on the wall shows us March is in full swing, we are only a couple of pages away from the start of the busy summer season! That’s right. Soon the phones will start heating up, our docket will start filling up and we’ll be scrambling for good people to cover all those jobs.

Or will we?

We all want that confident feeling of sending a great crew out on every job – a crew made up of guys who are (a) great movers and (b) great people. The interesting thing is, we can train someone to be a great mover. We can’t train someone to be a great person.

In this month’s Main Feature we take a look at finding and hiring the kinds of people we want on the job – and in our organization.

Mini Table of Contents

  1. The Importance of Hiring Good People
  2. How to Find Good People
  3. Knowing What Potential Employees Want
  4. How To Make a Good Job Description
  5. How to Make an Effective Job Application
  6. The Interview: Before, During, and After
  7. A Few Final Words

1. The importance of hiring good people

Hiring good people goes way beyond building a crew of good movers. Hiring good people means creating an environment where everyone adds to the overall positive energy of the workplace. We all know what it’s like working alongside that guy who shuffles around complaining about everyone and everything, right? As the minutes and the hours pass we can literally feel our energy being sucked away. But when we go out on a job with that guy who is always upbeat, always positive, always encouraging everyone and helping get every part of the job done? We start feeling like world conquerors. And the next day we hope we get to go out with that guy again.

There’s no magic and no coincidence here. And it’s probably no surprise to any of us either. But it is something to keep in mind when we are looking for new guys to join our team. We don’t just want strong guys or experienced guys. We want good guys.

So what, exactly, is a good guy? A nice, honest, reliable person who will do his job without complaining? Well yeah, those are all good traits. But we’re looking for more.

“The good people you’re looking for are positive, happy people,” says Leon Logothetis. “They are people that will inspire you to be a better person, provide you with motivation to achieve your goals, empower you to make the changes you need to succeed and cheer on your success. In the workplace, good people tend to be productive people. They’re organized, create schedules they stick to and don’t get easily distracted from the end goal. And all this help you be more productive.”

These are the guys who help turn us all into conquerors. The thing is, how do we find them?

2. Like Attracts Like

Stanford management professor Bob Sutton tells us that we are the ones responsible for bringing good people into our organization, largely through the kinds of people we show ourselves to be. We ourselves need to be good guys, but we also need to act like leaders. We need to “know how to project power… since those you lead need to believe you have it for it to be effective.” A leader (and that’s what you as a boss needs to be) sets the tone of the workplace through the attitude he holds and the confidence he projects. At the same time, we need to create loyalty within the ranks.

Great. How do we do all that?

Simple: by setting an example for our crew to follow. Sutton explains that employees will “monitor, magnify, and often mimic their (boss’s) moves.” Think back to your previous boss or bosses; what were they like, and how did everyone respond? On a broader scale, think of someone who turns heads just by walking into the room. What kind of person can do that?

While Sutton talks mainly about CEOs, the same applies to all of us. In any industry, he says, “the best bosses work doggedly to stay in tune with this relentless attention (to how their people view them) and use it to their advantage… They know that the success of their people and organizations depends on maintaining an accurate view of how others construe their moods and moves—and responding with rapid, effective adjustments.”

In plain English, bosses and leaders need to pay attention to their behavior, and their people’s reaction to their behavior, if they want to build employee loyalty and workplace positivity. I see the same dynamic in action as a father but let’s stick to the workplace for now.

Setting the example in the workplace is not only huge in creating a positive atmosphere for those already in your organization, it shows anyone who walks in your door what your company is all about. This includes potential new hires. The good guys who walk through your door are likely to walk right back out if they don’t see any other good guys around.

Got your good guy thing going on? Got yourself surrounded by more good people? Great! Now let’s go find those new good guys.

3. Knowing What Good People Want

Our friends over at Glass Magazine offer us three tips for “finding, recruiting and keeping great people.” These folks deal with issues similar to those in our industry. One, a cyclical (seasonal) pattern of busy and slow times that limit opportunities for on-the-job training. Two, physical demands of the work resulting in a high rate of attrition (or burnout). These guys, then, are worth listening to.

#1. Understand who you are hiring. Millennials, who make up the 18-34-year-old sector of the workforce, “tend to seek jobs that fit their lifestyle: flexible work hours or remote work, a good culture fit, eco-conscious and charitable companies, and meaningful work. (They want) team-oriented work environments that offer professional development/ training, recognition and frequent feedback.”

Read that again, and you can almost see our company and our crews in action. True, not everyone wants to haul furniture and boxes every day. And hey, not everyone can. But being part of a team, working with a charitable company, receiving training, recognition and feedback; these are all things that we can readily offer if we don’t already. And that part about a good culture fit? That goes back to creating a positive workplace, doesn’t it!

#2. Know what employees value. In short: appreciation, inclusion, opportunity and respect. To be more specific, these are the things the good guys are looking for in a workplace. Not just in a job, but in a workplace. Sure, interesting and meaningful work is also part of any good package. But the bigger picture of being appreciated and valued as part of a team is not to be ignored.

We’ve all experienced working in the height of the hectic summer (and that includes yours truly). We know that sometimes we just need a couple extra pairs of hands to help get us through the day. But some of those extra pairs of hands turn out to be pretty darn helpful, and it would be a shame to lose them as soon as the workload starts to drop off. Sit them down and tell them you see their good attitude, you recognize their skills and you want to give them the opportunity to do more within the organization. Even if you can only do it on a part-time basis at first, the reality of seeing this gig moving furniture turning into something more – and with a pretty cool company – might help you keep that good new guy around until things pick up again.

#3. Use proven recruiting techniques. All right, we’re not sure about $100 cash vouchers (too expensive) or putting flyers on windshields (too random). We are sure about targeting the kinds of people we are looking for – physically fit, motivated, outgoing types that we might find in places like gyms and health clubs, high schools and local colleges, job fairs and staffing agencies and town recreation leagues. Putting your name and your ‘We’re Looking for a Few Good Men’ signs and flyers in front of these people will likely bring you more of those good potential candidates you crave.

This last point leads us to a crucial step in finding those good guys: knowing what kind of guys we want and then letting the rest of the world know through the next step in our hiring process.

4. The Making of a Good Job Description

Entrepreneur Magazine is speaking to all of us when they say:

“Outline exactly what the company is looking for in a new hire
and include that in the initial job description.”

What are you looking for in your next good guy? Energy. Positive attitude. Communication skills. Clean driving record. Start writing it all down. The list can go on and on but that’s all right, just let your ideas of the ideal good guy flow. We’ll clean it up later.

Now that we’ve got our good guy looking like a super hero let’s get his attention. As ZippyApp tells us:

“job descriptions are a vital piece in your recruitment marketing strategy,
since they give the first impression of your company
and is what connects you with a candidate.”

To help us along they hook us up with their 4 Tips to Lean and Mean Job Descriptions.

    1. Think of a job title as a story headline. Catch people’s eyes with something more creative than just ‘Mover Wanted’. Include incentives like guaranteed hours or time-based raises. Add a word or two that describe the job specifics. To take ZippyApp’s example and tailor it to our industry, we might say something like: “Full-time Mover (with possible promotion to Crew Leader) – Joe’s Moving, Oceanside”

As an exercise, go to Craigslist or Indeed and plow through the job announcements for movers. Take note of which ones catch your eye. What do they have that the others don’t?

    1. Cut out any filler words. There will be plenty of time to explain all the on-the-job details in the interview. For now, laying out the basic requirements should suffice. Again, catch people’s interest with a little creativity – a break from the norm in a job description translates into a different kind of company, at least in the person’s mind. Example: Instead of the overused ‘Must be able to lift and carry 50 pounds’ try something like ‘Willing and able to handle heavy and fragile items with agility and care.’

But back to the first point. Avoid making the job sound like, as ZippyApp puts it, “a prison sentence”. Listing every possible task that may come up on a job can be intimidating, to someone who has never worked for a moving company before and might not have any idea what all these things even mean. Besides, looking for a job can be bad enough, there’s no advantage to making anyone read a short novel on what the job entails.

    1. Include any job requirements. This may sound contradictory to the previous point but here we are talking about the things you consider to be necessary skills, certifications or experience. Your good guy doesn’t need to know how to shrink wrap a sofa or strap a baby grand to a piano board, but if he needs to have a driver’s license and be able to work Saturdays he needs to know this up front.

One other bit of info that we need to make clear in the job description is our location. Houston is not very helpful. 550 Main Street, Houston gives the potential applicant an idea of how far they have to go just to get to work. And if it’s too far, it’s better they know this before they apply instead of finding out later.

  1. Be specific about the job benefits and salaries. “Candidates love to be incentivized,” ZippyApp says. So whether it’s health insurance, CDL training or that potential promotion to crew leader, make it clear these things are part of the package. As far as providing info on pay: “If you don’t want to post your salaries, or if salary depends on the candidate’s experience, providing a salary range is better than not putting anything about what can be expected.”

To use the idea of that possible promotion again, consider adding something about what kind of pay increase such a promotion would carry. This is exactly the sort of thing that a motivated applicant would find attractive. Remember, we take care of our people. We want everyone to know this.

Entrepreneur urges to be transparent in describing any offered position. It’s best if not crucial to give the potential applicant a clear view of the job from the job description.

“Sugar-coating a challenging position may help fill the position now,
but it will likely cause turnover later.
Filling the same position twice is far more time-consuming and expensive
than finding the right person to begin with.”

Being clear on the kind of person we want will help us find those good guys the first time around.

5. Job Applications: Friction & Efficiency

The job application serves a dual purpose. Obviously it is a record of all the applicant’s basic and pertinent personal information. But, if administered with a little thought, your application can also provide a glimpse into what kind of person exists behind all that info.

Hiring Monster talks about “friction” in the job application process. While some sources of friction – a ridiculously long application or strange, unorthodox questions for example – will turn a good applicant away, a certain type and amount of friction is a positive thing. As Monster explains:

“Good points of friction are those that present a reasonable and valid hurdle that helps assess whether the applicant is a good fit for the job and the company. Examples include an efficient job application, reference-checking and interview process and job skills tests.”

An efficient application. This means functioning with the least amount of wasted time and effort, but it also means producing an effect. Here are a few ideas for achieving both.

  • Name / Address / Phone Number That’s enough. Go ahead and ask for both home and cell numbers, email addresses, present and permanent addresses and emergency contact information if you want but is any of that really necessary at this stage of the game?
  • Social Security Number Skip it. Instead have the applicant check Yes or No for ‘Are you legally authorized to work in the United States?’
  • Position Desired Another common application phrase but this tends to pigeonhole the applicant in both their and your eyes. Alternative: categorize positions – ‘On Site, Warehouse, Sales, Office Staff etc.’ – and have the applicant check one. Adding boxes for Full-Time or Part-Time might help, but doing so gives the impression you are hiring part-timers. If you are, okay. If not, asking ‘Are you available to work full-time?’ might be more appropriate.
  • Salary desired This question is for a different world of employment unless you plan on negotiating the person’s hourly wage. Skip it. You’ve already decided what you will pay your people.
  • Employment History Time and again I’ve seen companies ask for a person’s jobs for the last five years. This invites all kinds of useless information and amounts to a waste of everyone’s time. Instead how about asking for ‘Work experience involving teamwork, transportation, physical labor or working outdoors’ – or some variation of these. Asking the applicant to then explain that experience will provide you with a much better idea of the applicant’s skills related to the job in question while also giving you an idea of how well they can express themselves on paper – which is one of those things that won’t make or break a person’s ability to do the job but offers a peek at their personality nonetheless. If you are hiring office staff or salespeople or warehouse help in addition to movers, include something like, ‘Work experience related to desired position.’

BUT…

There’s a chance the applicant will have no experience related to the job you are looking to fill. And that applicant might be exactly the good guy you are looking for.

SO…

  • Professional References will play a significant part in the application, as an opportunity for you to find out what a good guy the applicant is and, of course, as a means for you to perform your due diligence in screening every applicant you are interested in, regardless of their work history. Be sure to ask for two if not three, along with a brief explanation of the jobs performed for those references (once again getting a glimpse at the applicant’s habits of self-expression).
  • Education Simple. Box chart with ‘Name / Town or City / Year Graduated’ for High School / College / Trade School / Other. I’ve seen applications ask for addresses for schools. Phone numbers for schools. Seriously, who knows the phone number to their high school?

Additional questions that are easy to answer while providing important information:

  • Are you at least 18 years of age?
  • Can you work weekends/Saturdays?
  • Do you have a valid driver’s license? If so, have you been convicted of any moving offenses in the past X years? Please explain: _____________________.
  • Have you been convicted of a crime in the last X years? If yes, please explain: __________.

At the bottom, you might consider inviting your applicant to add any additional information about themselves that they believe would be relevant to their application and provide a blank space or a few lines for them to do so. The applicant leaving this part blank shouldn’t be taken as a positive or negative, but if they do write something it could help give you some insight into their personality and motivations.

Important!! There are certain questions, and certain kinds of questions, that are prohibited by law in the course of the application process. The Americans with Disabilities Act makes it illegal for most companies to ask “Is there any health-related reason you may not be able to perform the job for which you are applying?” on an application or even in an interview. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act makes it unlawful for an employer to use phrases like “college students” or “recent graduates” in their job announcements and advertisements. Likewise, asking for an applicant’s age or date of birth on an application could potentially be seen as a form of discrimination – hence the question ‘Are you at least 18 years of age?’ Check out the policies/practices outlined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in this piece on Labor & Employment Law

If you find you are not getting all the information you want from your applicants solely from their applications, that’s all right. Asking about their previous jobs at the beginning of an interview provides an easy ice-breaker and allows both sides to ease into a conversational rapport – assuming one is coming.

Note: Here too, it is critical to stick to questions that are relevant to finding out if the applicant is suited for the job he is applying for. ‘What were your main duties at your last job?’ is appropriate. ‘How often did you miss work due to illness?’ is definitely not. We’ll go over more on the interview process below.

6. The Interview: Before, During & After

Interviewing a New Employee

Before

In their HR Toolkit, hrcouncil.ca suggest telling or reminding applicants when we call to set up interviews what the hourly pay for the job is. “Then ask them if they would like to proceed to an interview,” we are told, to “avoid interviewing people who later refuse a job offer on the basis of salary.” In addition, we can mention or reiterate the days and hours the job requires and, of course, where we are located. Better to turn them off over the phone than waste time setting up an interview that will lead nowhere.

When nailing down a time for an interview, avoid asking the applicant when they can come in. You are a busy person running a busy business, you can’t have job applicants determining your schedule. Figure out a couple of times you expect to be available and give the applicant a choice. By doing this, you are getting the applicant to commit to coming in. Tell them to come in whenever they can and you may never see them.

Of course it sometimes (usually?) happens that just as we are ready to get an interview underway the phone rings or a customer walks in and we have to tell your interviewee to wait. Good guys will have no problem with this. Offer them a place they can wait – preferably a place where they can have a seat – and let them know you’ll be with them shortly. THEN…use this opportunity to get a glimpse of your candidate outside the interview. Ask one of your staff or one of your good guys to poke their head in and say hi to the now-waiting applicant. Get them to engage in a little small talk. This may help you find out more about what they are like outside of an interview.

During

With the interview about to begin, we presume you’ve gone over your applicant’s information. You know what experience they do or don’t have. You know where they went to high school and if they went to college. You’ve read about the duties and requirements of their previous jobs. You can see how neat or messy their handwriting is.

Now forget about all of it.

Not completely, of course. This information is what you will base a good portion of your interview on. But by the same token, there is a reason for conducting an interview after acquiring all the basic info.

We’re not hiring info. We’re hiring good guys.

There’s a widely-accepted truth about hiring people: You can teach skills, but you can’t teach attitude.

On paper, Joe might look like a better candidate than Bob. But then Joe walks in and plops himself down and starts running off at the mouth about how good a mover he is with all his experience and how crappy the movers at his previous company were. An hour later Bob sits up, looks you straight in the eye and tells you that while he has never worked as a mover before he has had a few jobs that required both physical labor and interpersonal communication and is particularly interested in that bit about possibly being promoted to crew leader at some point, after he learns the ropes.

When can you start, Bob?

In Workopolis’s “Why You Should Hire the Unskilled, Unemployed Candidate” we are told that even in the white collar world there are plenty of people – 73% according to one recent report – doing jobs unrelated to their studies. So how much importance should we be placing on education when we are looking for our few good guys? While a certain level of education can be a good barometer of one’s aptitude to learn and willingness to be trained and be professional, it is certainly not the litmus test. Go ahead and ask your applicant to tell you about his schooling, but any answer you get would tell you more about the applicant as a person than as a student – which is exactly why we conduct interviews.

Long periods of unemployment can also be a misleading factor in evaluating a candidate. As the same Workopolis piece explains: “People may be out of work for any number of reasons that have no relation to their potential job performance – family obligations, special projects, illness, or maybe just the fact that nobody will hire them because they are out of work.” Furthermore, “consider how grateful a new hire who has been out of work for a long time will be. That person will work harder and be more loyal than someone who didn’t really need the job. Take another look at the unemployed candidate. There’s a very good chance that person will turn out to be the best hire you ever make.”

Turn your attention away from the hard facts of experience and education and look more at “soft skills” like interpersonal and communication skills, the ability to think through a problem, process information and exhibit emotional intelligence. On the job, these things matter. The following will help us get a good look at the soft skills the person sitting across from us possesses.

Interview Questions should, like the job application, be efficient. We don’t want to come across as robotic but we do want to give the candidate the opportunity to do most of the speaking on topics that relate to the job. Career One Stop lays out a few pointers for preparing effective questions and offers a few example questions which we will tailor to the needs of our particular industry.

“I see that you organized a team project at company X. Tell me more about that experience, including challenges you faced and how you overcame them.”

“The person we hire will need strong communication skills. Give me some examples of when you had to use your communication skills to get something accomplished.”

“We need a team player who can also assume a leadership role from time to time. Talk a bit about times you’ve had to assume the role of leader. How did it go?”

Questions like these relate to the applicant’s work experience and can give us plenty of insight into the kind of person we are looking at. We might choose to use less formal language but maintaining this sort of line of questioning keeps both sides on track, giving us a decent idea of how good our guy is in a short amount of time.

The good folks up at the Ontario Human Rights Commission provide us with another good question we can use – along with an idea that may protect us legally. (Yes, we know, Ontario is in Canada, but if they’ve got laws on this you can bet the United States of Litigation does too.)

To cover ourselves against charges of discrimination in the hiring process we should do our absolute best to follow the same line of questioning for every applicant. This means avoiding questions like How would you deal with racial slurs by a customer? “Instead,” the OHRC advises, “ask all candidates how they would deal with difficult clients or challenging customers.” (Even without any legal considerations we think this is a much better question.)

And Finally…

Give the applicant an opportunity to ask questions. This is our best chance to really see how good our guy might be, opening up the conversation to the topics of our applicant’s choosing. When this final part of the interview is over be sure to thank the applicant for coming in and tell them you should be making a decision shortly (or as soon as possible, or once you’ve interviewed all the candidates – a phrase that does not stick you with a specific time frame).

After

Evaluate the candidate. We hope that during the interview you are taking note of the applicant’s appearance and demeanor. Once the applicant is gone – and you have a few moments – go down a checklist of points, good and bad, about the person. Here is a list of 10 Questions to ask yourself regarding the applicant. Answering these may help put each candidate – if you are interviewing several – into a useful relative light.

Talk to others who had interaction with the applicant. The staff worker or the crew guy who poked his head in to say hi might have some input as to the person’s personality in a more natural, spontaneous setting. He may have been all smiles and politeness in the interview but totally different outside those doors. Granted, he may have been nervous, or he simply may be a quiet person – so consider this input as just one of many factors in your overall assessment of the person.

Call their references! Not only are references an extremely helpful source of input for evaluation, but they may be necessary should any legal developments arise. In this piece on Labor & Employment, we are warned of ‘Negligent Hiring’, explained by Attorney Donald Burke. “Employers who know, or who with reasonable diligence should have known, that their employees are incompetent or dangerous are potentially liable for injuries those employees cause to third parties.” In other words, if you hire an individual who, in the course of his previous employment, has proven himself or even shown signs of being a danger to others and you did not know this because you didn’t check his references, you could be held partially liable if something happens. Chances may be slim, but even aside from the possibility of these legal ramifications, you simply don’t want to hire a bad guy. Checking an applicant’s references can help guard against exactly this.

On a more practical, everyday level, these tips on performing reference checks might come in handy for getting the most out of those 5-minute phone calls.

Use social media to your advantage. Business News Daily suggests we “make it a point to do a background check (including at least a quick Google search on the candidate’s name) to see what comes up about that person online. But if you’re not looking through the candidate’s social media profiles, you could be missing a key way to find out more about the individual as a person and an employee…Because how that person behaves on social media is a good indication of what kind of person the individual is and how your prospect might fit into your company’s culture.” Some may call this snooping. We prefer to call it completing the interview.

7. A Few Final Words

Clearly, getting good guys in the door and onto our team requires thought and planning. Employment Solutions tells us in no uncertain terms: “Don’t be reactive.” We aren’t just collecting warm bodies to put on a truck. We are building a quality team. As such it is imperative that we “plan for organizational needs, anticipate attrition, develop bench strength in critical areas, and strengthen relationships with staffing partners.”

Yes, it is only March. But it is not too early to start getting those good guys in the door. The most ambitious and forward-thinking people are already poking around for summer work. As much as your own schedule and plans allow, why not try to get a couple new guys on board with some part-time on-the-job training? You’ll be building their skills and confidence while showing them you are interested in them enough to invest in their development so when the summer crush hits you can all hit the ground running.

We are building a business. We are building a team of people. So think of it this way:

We’re not just trying to make it through the busy season, we’re trying to turn this into a busy business. (Tweet this)

Hire guys you’ll want to keep – and treat them as though they’ll be staying.

Your good guys – both old and new – will appreciate it.

As will your customers.

Beating Back Old Man Winter: Safety Tips

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Old Man Winter's Truck

And Staying Safe in the Process

Last month at a moving company warehouse in New Jersey, employees found themselves scrambling to find the cutoff valve to a gas line that had been struck by a forklift. While it is true not all of us have forklifts – or warehouses – the looming winter gives us good reason to go over a few safety points.

FEMA lays out a comprehensive checklist for keeping ourselves, our spaces and our vehicles safe in the extreme cold of winter (no wise cracks from those of you in the south please). Here are a few salient highlights:

  • Along with insulating pipes, FEMA suggests allowing faucets to drip a little during cold weather to avoid freezing. Running water, even at a trickle, helps prevent pipes from freezing.
  • Carry sand with you, to improve vehicle traction. Even if you are only loading/unloading consider having some on hand. It also helps you keep your footing on icy steps and front walks.
  • Maintain a full tank of gas. A full tank will keep the fuel line from freezing. Fuel additives may help as well.
  • Check the oil in your vehicles for level and weight. Heavier oils congeal more at low temperatures and do not lubricate as well.
  • Keep fire extinguishers on hand, and make sure everyone knows how to use them. Fires pose an increased risk in cold weather as more people turn to alternate heating sources without taking the necessary safety precautions.
  • A good amount of FEMA’s advice might be common sense but it never hurts to refresh the memory and double-check to make sure we all (in the north) are ready for Old Man Winter.

You guys down south, you can just keep your jokes to yourselves…

___
Photo Credit to B K

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