Successful candidates are invited to a third, less formal lunch interview. This provides an opportunity to assess “soft” skills such as communication in a more relaxed environment and a chance to determine whether or not an interviewee would be a good fit for the organization.
After a stringent, three-stage interview process there is a four-week boot camp, during which the successful candidate must pass six industry-standard IT certifications in only four weeks in order to “graduate” and make it into the field to begin working.
The interview system may sound daunting, but Hal-Com has found that the process is an excellent way to identify the candidates who will make the best employees and simultaneously weed out “pretenders.” Employees also benefit greatly in the process from a personal standpoint.
In previous years, Hal-Com interviewed and hired people based on the experience listed on their resumes. Sometimes it worked out well. Too many times, it did not. At one point a new employee in the field called for help, floundering over a problem that had he been appropriately qualified, would have been trivial to fix. Hal-Com executives were shocked and troubled by this situation, as was the client the employee was serving. It became very clear that something had to change. The organization could not lose client goodwill by sending inadequately trained technicians out into the field.
Hal-Com experimented with several approaches including various practice exams and began looking for certified employees. Over a six-month period, Hal-Com executives realized that they could install a program that would benefit both the business and the individual employee. The initial four-week period after an employee is hired involves no responsibilities beyond studying and training. Hal-Com provides 24-hour access to computer-based training materials in a training lab as well as hardware and software for experimentation and practice. An employee who has the appropriate experience can brush up on the material and pass an exam after a few days of intensive review. Hal-Com also provides computer-based materials from a number of different vendors. The learning objectives are covered in a slightly different way by each courseware vendor, and this proves beneficial to reinforce learning.
The six required certifications in the curriculum must be taken in this order: CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+, CompTIA Server+, CompTIA Linux+, Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional and Apple Certified Technical Coordinator. The Apple certification is especially critical, since most new hires are completely unfamiliar with the material. The certification provides a telling measure of an employee’s comfort level when faced with something completely foreign.
The final phase of employee orientation is more difficult to quantify, but is an essential part of the process. For a few weeks following the boot camp, a new employee will work with a senior technician in order to become familiar with the Hal-Com culture and get a better feel for the way valuable employees interact with clients.
Hal-Com values training, but in the past, the organization has not seen real results from training alone. Educators learned early that paying $1,500 or more for an employee to leave work for a week and sit through a training class does not ensure that learning has occurred. Hal-Com needed formal validation of training results and found the best way to do this was through certifications earned by taking an examination at a monitored testing center. When Hal-Com employees take a certification exam under these circumstances, hiring executives can determine whether the combination of experience shown on their resume and the time they spent studying has produced the desired results. At that point, they either know the material or don’t.
It costs Hal-Com some $10,000 to put a technician through the training and certification program. Executives consider this a worthy minor investment to ensure that the right people go out in the field to service clients. It takes about six months to recoup training costs, but the investment doesn’t stop there. Bonuses and raises are based on certification and Hal-Com pays the examination fees for subsequent certifications that employees pass. The goal is to encourage technicians to strive for lifelong professional development, and they are rewarded accordingly. For example, if a technician passes CompTIA Security+ plus two Microsoft exams and achieves the Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA), he or she receives a $5,000 raise. An employee will earn a second $5,000 raise on earning MCSE certification.
Hal-Com constantly tweaks its incentive program. Executives feel so strongly about the benefits of professional development through certification that they are currently providing an all-expenses-paid vacation in the Bahamas, including extra time off from work, to the next employee who earns the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE). These six required certifications are particularly valuable because they cover almost all of the platforms the company uses on a daily basis. Every technician needs to prove his or her knowledge of the material to build his or her own confidence and to do their job correctly. Additionally, certification stays with technicians for life. Hal-Com believes it is critical that its technicians be the very best and employees are held to a high standard before they can practice their trade.
When the program was first implemented, Hal-Com had not anticipated the beneficial effect it would have on employee turnover. Some controls were set in place to ensure that people in training would not leave and go elsewhere, and a training agreement was established that includes repayment of training costs according to an employees tenure with the company, if they should leave before a set period of time. To date, Hal-Com has not had to enforce the agreement.
The cost of not training and certifying is immeasurable. It’s very difficult if not impossible to measure lost client goodwill or the personal disruption in the life of an employee who was not the right fit for a position. A tough interview and certification process can eliminate many of these problems for the employer and the potential employee. Hal-Com is in the process of applying these same principles to hire a salesperson who comes to the company with an MIS degree from Michigan and has a strong desire to put herself through the technician boot camp. That’s the kind of motivation Hal-Com looks for.
Hal Hanson is president of Hal-Com, a Cleveland, Ohio-based IT support services firm. Chris Hanson is vice president of Hal-Com.