by Jim Park
They don't always hide out in the next stall, or lurk behind dropped trailers out on the lot. Some probably do, but usually recruiters do their business in the lobbies of truckstops, or in motor homes out on the lot, at truck shows and career and job fairs. The better ones aren't the shadowy figures with the contracts in their back pockets seen slipping business cards under your windshield wipers. Recruiters have become important staff members with carriers of all sizes today. It's also an ideal place for a driver to begin the second phase of a career in transportation.
So here we present part five in our 'Beyond the Wheel' series, Recruiting, as another option in our examination of employment opportunities for drivers and owner-operators wanting in from the cold.
Marvin Nabess waited until he was 57 years old before he fulfilled his dream of becoming a truck driver. In his earlier years he had held a number of different jobs, including selling cars. His more successful ventures revolved around working with people and helping them sort through some sort of problem.
"When selling someone a car, I had to assume that they had done a little research into what they were buying," says Nabess. "I knew they weren't there to ask me how many engine options were available on a certain model. I knew they had already done their homework. All I could do from there was to explain why my product was a better choice than the one being offered by the dealer down the road."
And that, more or less, is what Nabess is doing now at Arnold Bros. Transport's Winnipeg terminal. He became a recruiter after only three years on the road, but he's more than satisfied with the choice he made. He sees his role as much as a sales position as it is a consulting position. He knows that not every driver is ideal for his company, nor is Arnold Bros. the ideal choice for every driver. It's Nabess' job to spread the word about the opportunity, then help the driver to decide if it's right.
The sales aspect of the recruiter's role is just the tip of the iceberg. Shawn Gallant, the recruiter at TransX's Mississauga, Ont., terminal, sees himself as a cross between Dear Abbey, a matchmaker, and a spoonful of cod-liver oil (one can only imagine what the human resource people would think of putting that in a job description, but I digress).
Gallant began his career in trucking as a driver as well, but he took a brief diversion into sales in the early 1990s, then left the industry altogether for a stint as a customer service rep at Microsoft. That, he says, really opened his eyes.
"I couldn't believe how many times I was asked which key on the keyboard was the "any" key," Gallant says. "It was pretty exasperating."
So he's back in trucking, and he loves what he's doing now because of the broad set of challenges he has to deal with, and the broad set of skills he uses every day to see him through.
At its most basic, it's the recruiter's job to keep the seats full. The job demands spending a great deal of time on the road visiting the places drivers frequent, while making contact with as many drivers as possible. Recruiters spread the word about the company, some being more aggressive than others, but it's always a bit of a selling/matching job. Both Nabess and Gallant say they've become progressively more adept at sizing up a driver's compatibility with the company, but both admit they aren't always right.
"Sometimes a driver looks just right for the job, but when we get down to the short strokes there's some difficulty with qualifying that person. That's frustrating," Gallant admits. "But I'll work with the driver as best I can. It's my job to make sure we're right for him and he's right for us."
Getting the drivers in the door is one thing. Keeping them there is also part of the job. Gallant says his position in the corporate hierarchy is smack in the middle between the drivers and management.
"I definitely walk both sides of the line in trying to keep the drivers happy with management, and management happy with the drivers," he notes. "It's the 'Dear Abby' part of the job. I need to be careful not to bite the hand that feeds me, and in this case, I've got two hands to worry about."
So if you fancy a career opportunity where you get to wear a couple of different hats and dance to the tunes of a couple of different drummers, then maybe recruiting is a position to consider. But you shouldn't take the job lightly.
At the end of the day, recruiting isn't a job for someone looking to get out from behind the wheel into ANYTHING else. It's not a career of last resort, Gallant says. You're dealing with an individual's career in this position, and that can have broad and far-reaching implications.
As the one who answers the telephone or spends the time out in the truckstops, you're the one who is expected to give the honest answers. It's not uncommon for recruiters to be paid performance bonuses, based on the number of drivers hired by the carrier. So, the inclination to paint a rosier picture of the carrier than might actually be the case is there, in order to make the bonus.
When you've managed to lure a driver away from his or her present employer, there are going to be financial ramifications for the driver and the family. Time between jobs, on-the-job training, or orientation at a lesser rate of pay might be a factor, so you can see why filling the seats isn't the most important part of the job, or at least it shouldn't be.
Nabess says because he has driven for Arnold Bros. for several years, he has a pretty good idea how the carrier operates, and he can describe the routine to a prospect very accurately. That helps, he says, adding that he's still got a bit of room left to sell the carrier to the driver.
"It's seldom ever a yes or no situation," Nabess says. "I'll give it my best shot to sell the driver on the company. I can tell him why Arnold Bros. is different or better than the next carrier. I can help him compare pay packages and a month's work here versus his present carrier, but I can't tell him to take the job. That call is up to him. But I won't lie to him, telling him it's any better here if it isn't."
Even after the hire, the recruiter's job isn't done. As Gallant pointed out, he's positioned right between management and the drivers. In fact, his office is adjacent to the driver's room. "There's an obligation on my part to make sure the relationship is working," he says. "I sold them the job, and it's up to me to help make it work."
The part he hates is the exit interview. He says he feels somewhat responsible for every driver who quits TransX, because it means something went wrong. At the same time, he's there to make sure drivers don't have unreasonable expectations about the company, and vice versa. That's the cod liver oil thing. You can't please everybody all the time, but one of the biggest thrills he gets is when a prospective driver calls, saying the job was recommended by another TransX driver.
"Then," says Gallant. "I know I'm doing something right."
Nabess agrees with Gallant about the hiring responsibility. "I take the job seriously and understand the problems that can arise in taking the wrong job. That's why I work pretty hard at keeping the drivers on staff, but sometimes we just don't gel," he admits.
Does recruiting sound like a career option for you? Worried about the qualifications for the job? Nabess says it's one of the best ways to take what you already know well, and apply it to a different field without first getting a degree.
"I'm a people person first and foremost. I like dealing with people, but I'm a salesman at heart. I like the challenge of presenting the company in a positive and accurate light, and I value the opportunity to help someone else make what I believe is a positive choice," he says. "Arnold Bros. saw that in me, and taught me the rest."
If you're interested in the prospect of a job in the office, the next time a recruiter approaches you in a truckstop, turn the tables and ask about that job. Who knows, maybe the carrier is looking for a recruiter as well?