Hiring in Trades: Building Maintenance Technician Interview Questions
July 22, 2021 - Management - 12 minutes
Finding the right employees is oftentimes the biggest challenge business owners and managers face, whether they’re looking for a building maintenance technician or workers in any other trade.
Hiring a building maintenance technician comes with all these concerns, plus the fact that their work can have a real impact on the safety of others. If a salesperson fails to make a sale, it’s disappointing but rarely devastating: there’s always another customer they can contact. However, if a technician makes a mistake and signs-off an elevator as safe to use… the consequences can be far more severe.
The consequences of hiring the wrong building maintenance technician:
Financial: onboarding and training a new employee means buying new equipment and tools, plus time out of a manager’s schedule, as well as probation period pay (up to 30% of the employee’s income).
Organizational: introducing an employee who turns out to be the wrong fit can heavily impact the company culture, even leading to questioning of your leadership skills if the new hire’s negative attitude affects the team.
Productivity: productivity is closely linked to employee wellbeing so if neither your new hire, nor your existing employees are thriving, work isn’t getting done either.
If you paid close attention to the consequences above, you’ll have noticed that a few of them have more to do with the personality of an employee than their work experience. That’s because in a customer-centric, teamwork-based world, soft skills rank just as high as hard skills. This is especially true when you consider that you can teach practically any skill to someone who is eager to learn, but you cannot teach someone how to have a good personality.
So, how do you make sure you’ve got someone who can balance technical expertise with a friendly attitude, is able to both be confident in their skills but also open to learning new things, and can hit the ground running?
By breaking down the process and asking the right interview questions! Let’s get started!
How do you hire the right building maintenance technician?
Hiring a technician, whether they specialize in general building maintenance, HVAC, plumbing, or any other trade, is a bit different from hiring in any other department.
On one hand, technical skills are easy to quantify and advertise from the beginning. For example, if you’ve got a senior position to fill and you’re aware that 90% of the job will be maintaining the ventilation systems and supervising a junior technician, you can make it clear that they need to have 4+ years of experience, OSHA training completed, and a NATE accreditation.
On the other hand, assessing a building maintenance technician’s soft skills is more complicated, as there are job-related and teamwork-related soft skills.
Job-related soft skills are things like problem-solving proficiency (e.g. how they react if they’re faced with an appliance malfunction that they haven’t seen before), the ability to climb and manage heights, lift up to 60-70 lbs., etc. As long as you’re not looking for a very junior technician, these skills will simply come with doing the job so you can include them in the job description.
Example of a Building Maintenance Technician Job Summary
Our service business manages 4-storey luxury residential buildings in a downtown location. Each building has 10 apartments and we’re responsible for servicing the central heating system, built-in appliances, and other miscellaneous assets. As these are luxury properties, they require constant support and maintenance.
The successful candidate will be part of a 2-people maintenance team, alongside a Senior Maintenance Technician, and they will be responsible for servicing plumbing, electrical, access control and HVAC appliances as well as any other duties assigned by the building manager.
The hardest, by far, to quantify are teamwork-related soft skills or the cultural fit of your building maintenance technician. Before the interview, it’s important to outline the kind of soft skills you’re hoping for. You can do this by mentioning that they’ll have to work with a senior technician, for example, or do some customer service work from time to time, such as upselling.
Make sure to include these in the job requirements, but don’t get your hopes up; most applicants will skim over soft skills and simply consider how much experience they need, then apply directly.
You’ll want to check the credentials and job history of your favorite candidates prior to the main interview, as some people will still apply (and might be worth considering! Don’t discount anyone because they’re not your typical applicant). A good way is to send them a problem scenario beforehand and eliminate weaker candidates based on their answers. This saves you from spending an hour or more interviewing them, maybe even liking them, only to discover they’re not qualified to run HVAC performance tests.
During the interview: What to ask a building maintenance applicant
One mistake some managers make is using the interview time to go through the applicant’s CV, bit by bit. At this point, you should already be certain that they’re capable of doing the job.
The interview’s purpose is to find out if they’re the right person for doing the job. It’s great to start off by asking them about their previous experience, but the goal should be to gauge what their behavior was like on the job, how they related to other employees and the manager or owner, and whether they were able to align themselves with the company brand.
A building maintenance technician interview can be divided into 3 main parts:
customer service prowess.
No matter how skilled a technician is, the plain truth is that no one likes to work with a jerk and absolutely no one wants to hire one. To get around this, you need to put yourself in the customers’ shoes and decide if this is the kind of person you’d want working in your home or business premise.
While the way technicians interact with customers differ from the rest of your staff – mainly in that they’re often face-to-face with customers–the technician you do hire should ideally be “a people-person,” in much the same way that you’d expect someone in sales or marketing to be. The bottom line is you want to work with people who are capable of being friendly to customers and who work well with others.
This being said, spotting a bad apple isn’t as easy as asking them “Would you tell a building manager they’re an idiot for messing up the central heating system?” Hopefully, no candidate would ever answer “Yes!” to that, but even so, your questions need to be a bit more tactful, too. In order to gauge this, you need to ask qualitative, open-ended questions, where there’s no right answer, but simply two or more ways of doing things.
Some great work ethic questions for your building maintenance interview could be:
Would you rather finish a job on time and sacrifice perfection, or take longer and ensure the best repair possible?
When was a time you felt like you went above and beyond to finish a job?
Describe a time when you felt overworked and how you handled the situation.
What is an accomplishment you feel most proud of?
Is there anything you regret doing in your career?
Have you ever made a mistake on the job? How did you manage the situation?
What tools, physical or digital, do you find most useful?
Remember to read between the lines. The purpose of a work ethic question is to help you assess whether an employee is intrinsically motivated to do a great job or if they’re the kind of person that will do the bare minimum necessary to avoid being flagged by management. Answers that highlight regrets or mistakes are also very important because they show a person is capable of managing a situation that has gone wrong, and learning from it.
For example, someone who answers that they’ve “never made a mistake in their life” is probably being less than truthful. Sure, there may be a bit of bravado there, but it can indicate they don’t trust you as their manager. Even worse, it demonstrates they’re not able to admit their mistakes and are therefore unable to (and haven’t) learnt from them; either way, this can spell trouble and indicate they won’t recognize your authority or that there’s likely to be issues managing them in the future.
Some great cultural fit questions could be:
What is something about you that people would find unexpected?
What’s the biggest issue in the building maintenance industry these days?
How do you stay up to date with tools and best practices?
How would you let a colleague know they’ve made a mistake?
Is there a course or accreditation you don’t yet have and would like to attend?
How do you feel about using digital tools on the job, like a quoting app or inventory manager?
What do you like to do in your free time? (this can seem personal, but who knows, if your team shares hobbies it can lead to great team-building opportunities).
Cultural fit questions will depend a lot on the kind of business you’re running or working for. Building maintenance companies come in all shapes and sizes, with some being more formal and straight-laced, while others are more of a down-to-earth, salt-of-the-earth type. This should be reflected in your cultural fit questions and the candidate should be briefed about it beforehand, so as to avoid any disappointments when they show up to work in sweats and a t-shirt and everyone is wearing a button down.
Some great customer service prowess questions for your building maintenance interview could be:
What is your idea of a great customer experience?
Have you ever dealt with an upset customer? How did you manage the situation?
How would you react if a customer mentioned you in a negative review?
Depending on the sector your business operates in, technicians might not have to deal with customers every day, the same way a residential plumber might have, but it’s still a good idea to ask a few questions about customer service because it paints a detailed picture of the kind of candidate you’re looking at. And if you need some more questions for inspiration, check out the great ones listed here.
Patience, kindness, and politeness go a long way in dealing with building managers, tenants, or any other kind of shareholder. At the same time, if you’ve breached an SLA and sent them late on a job, you’ll appreciate having someone who can pacify an upset property manager. Not to mention, these are people who others enjoy working around so they’ll contribute to a positive company culture.
The most important question to ask in your interview:
Do you have any questions for us?
If you only have time for one question, this is the one you have to ask because it tells you more than anything else about the person in front of you.
Did they put in the effort to research the company beforehand or are they asking basic info about it now?
Are they interested in the company structure? That’s a good sign that they’re in it for the long term and want to know if there are opportunities for advancement in the future.
Are they asking about the business culture? Excellent! This means they’re also interested in being a good fit for the role, rather than just looking to fill in a position.
Are they asking about pay? They shouldn’t have to because the salary should be listed in the job ad so everyone is on the same page from the beginning.
Are they asking any technical questions? Great! They’re detail oriented and passionate about specifics.
As long as the candidate demonstrates interest, that’s all that matters. If someone lacks any curiosity about the place and people with whom they’ll be spending 40 – 60h every week, it could very be that they’re shy or introverted, but at the same time it could demonstrate a lack of interest; it’s a point worth flagging up for discussion.
It’s equally important that you’re transparent when answering the questions they have for you. Of course you want to talk about all the great things your company does and offers, but avoid exaggerations. Just like you wouldn’t want them embellishing their resume, they don’t want to be misled either. If a tough question comes up, answer it honestly and then focus on the positives on the situation. They’ll appreciate your truthfulness more than a dishonest answer.
Takeaway: Think outside of the box when hiring for building maintenance
We hope you’ve found the points above helpful, but, of course, there’s always more to learn! Below, you can check out our interview with Shannon Tymosko and learn more about her own journey and the fantastic advice she has on offer, too!
Hi! I'm Cristina Maria
And I want to bring next-level strategies to the field service industry. When I'm not working on the best tips to grow your business, I'm on the lookout for a sci-fi novel to beat The Foundation.