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Make Networking Work in HVAC/R
Some careers, such as the more prolific positions in journalism and broadcasting, require lots of networking for you to land a job. A candidate’s appeal may depend almost entirely on who they’ve rubbed elbows with and which companies they’ve worked for. Luckily, HVAC/R jobs typically don’t require networking, especially not to that degree.
However, that doesn’t mean that networking isn’t useful for HVAC/R employers or prospective job applicants. Networking allows you to feel out different companies’ cultures before you work for them. You can also get advice for kickstarting a career in the trades. If you're an employer, you can make your company more desirable for potential applicants.
Networking isn’t useful by itself, though. There are a few pitfalls that both employers and prospective employees should be aware of. We’re going to help you avoid those pitfalls by going over some networking strategies, questions to ask, and behaviors to avoid if you want to market yourself or your company effectively.
We hope this article will help prospective job seekers use networking to advance in their careers. Likewise, employers can use these networking tips as a means of building a strong workforce.
Job seekers: know yourself and what you’re looking for
When I think about networking, I imagine a big web where one person is connected to hundreds of different people and companies. It kind of looks like a digital spiderweb with profile pictures instead of orbs or dead flies. For some people, including yours truly, it’s a bit overwhelming to think about somebody having so many connections.
I feel that way partially because Dunbar’s number is REAL, but I also worry that the person hasn’t really figured out what they want to do and who they want to work for.
There are a few different jobs in the HVAC/R trade, and we suggest that you have some clarity as to what you would feel satisfied doing. If you enjoy working with your hands and carrying out projects, then you’d be a good fit for a craftsman job. If troubleshooting is your forte, then you might make a great technician. Read up on some positions that you would like and be good at doing.
Beyond the individual jobs, there are so many segments of the industry. If you’re dead-set on working in residential HVAC, it’s not a good idea to pursue connections with companies that specialize in grocery refrigeration.
It will be pretty difficult to market your strengths and passions to other people in the industry if you don’t have a strong sense of what those are. You probably won’t make a memorable impression at a trade show or when you meet with potential employers.
Employers: make sure YOU have good social skills
To draw applicants in, you must prove that your company is a good place to work for and that you’re pleasant to work with.
Of course, you could throw in all sorts of incentives to attract applicants. You could give your employees tool funds, a fair amount of paid time off, and other benefits and STILL not be an attractive employer.
Your success at drawing in applicants will partially depend on your social skills. How does your behavior reflect your company at networking events, trade shows, and career expos? Are you attentive in conversations with prospective applicants?
If you’re impatient or dismissive when people ask questions about the trade or your company, you’ll turn prospective talent away from your company. If a potential applicant takes the time to ask for advice or get to know you and your company, then they deserve that same courtesy from you.
Job seekers: ask for advice from HVAC/R company leaders BEFORE applying for a job
Some applicants may not have a lot of work experience on their resumes. Whether applicants are young, down on their luck, or changing careers, there are several reasons why someone might not have work experience. When that’s the case, hiring managers may have a hard time distinguishing between serious applicants and non-serious applicants.
This tip won’t work all the time, but one of the best things a prospective applicant can do is arrange a time to talk to someone from the company and ask for advice.
When you ask for advice, you express interest in the company and the job. You make a good impression, and the hiring manager will remember that. It also demonstrates your listening skills and open-mindedness, which are underrated soft skills in the HVAC/R industry.
Employers: don’t isolate your company from inexperienced applicants
I think we’d all agree that a skilled tech is an asset to a company. It’s common sense that hiring an applicant with proven experience is a relatively low-risk decision.
While hiring a less experienced applicant is a much greater risk, it could very well be worthwhile in HVAC/R. When you’re looking for potential employees, it’s useful to look at their character and attributes rather than their proven experience. If someone reaches out to you and has a trainable personality, seems to enjoy learning, and is a good listener, then it’s a good idea to remember that person when you’re hiring.
Overall, proven experience is less important than trainability. When you hire an experienced employee who isn’t very trainable, you may have to deal with some bad habits that they refuse to break. When you hire someone who seems trainable, you can instill good habits and work ethic in them from the very beginning.
It could be a real mistake to overlook that bright young man or woman you met at a job expo or networking event. They could end up being more valuable to your organization than a veteran who ends up being stuck in his ways.
Job seekers: learn about companies’ training programs
Bert trains our residential apprentices. He's always focusing on internal training and making sure our techs have the resources to succeed.
On the topic of training, it’s up to the applicants to find a company that will train them to do their job correctly.
When you have a chance to speak to an HVAC/R company’s representatives, ask them about their training programs and resources. It’s a good move for a few different reasons.
First of all, you’ll be able to get an insight into a company’s culture. The way they talk about training says a lot about the organization and its values. You can make an informed decision about where to apply and which connections are worth making if you know a bit about the culture.
Your curiosity also shows that you take your work and education seriously. If you connect with someone in the industry and apply for a job at that person’s company, you’ll be a much more attractive candidate.
Employers: don’t try to sell people on working for you
Providing information is a good thing. Turning a person’s question about your company into a sales pitch opportunity is not.
The best approach is to let prospective applicants ask questions and answer them accordingly. You obviously won’t want to be negative, but you also don’t want to go over the top and try to make an applicant want to work for you. The interest has to be mutual; show it back if they show interest first.
You also run the risk of sounding phony if you try to get prospective applicants to apply for a position in your company without getting to know them and their experiences.
The goal is to have a productive and informative conversation that could develop into a professional connection. Don’t push the potential talent to apply for a position in your company too early. Trying to sell a person on working for your company is like discussing marriage on the first date; it won’t make the other person want a connection that hasn’t even had time to develop in the first place.
Good old personal connections are the best way to network. However, the internet has made it easier than ever before to connect with people in the industry worldwide. Online communication has become especially critical over the past year due to the pandemic and limits on large gatherings.
Social media is the primary means of networking online. Your online behavior and participation in discussions will say a lot about you or your business. It’s a best practice to have a full profile and engage with others politely. Social media is a bit more distant than real life, but you’ll be more successful if you’re transparent about who you are and what your skills are.
This tip is probably common knowledge by now, but LinkedIn is an excellent place to join HVAC career groups. You can also establish a positive reputation for yourself or your business there. SpeedClean published a guide to specific HVAC groups on LinkedIn, so you can check those out and see which groups focus on your segment of the industry and professional interests.
Reaching out to strangers or people who are high up on their career ladders can seem intimidating. That’s why our final tip is to remember that your very own peers can be excellent networking resources. If you make a friend in the industry, they can help you plan the next steps for your career or business.
Sometimes, it’s not about having the most high-profile connections. It’s about having positive relationships with the people who will want to help you become your best professional self. The “quality over quantity” cliché rings true for networking.