Help Wanted: “Our Principle Engineer is very sick, we have no internal replacement and we can not be successful without him.”
Company: Engineering Firm/Industrial
Position: Senior Mechanical Engineer
Search Start: December 2010
Search End: March 2011
The Challenge: The company had a sudden and significant problem requiring a delicate but fast solution. Their Principle Mechanical Engineer, a person who had been with them from the day they launched, had fallen gravely ill. There was no time frame for how long he would be out of commission, and no guarantee that he would come back in a full-time capacity.
The company had also recently won a bid for a large and very complicated project that meant months of complex engineering work and a significant amount of revenue for the firm. A much needed infusion of cash during the height of the economic crisis.
The type of engineer my client needed does not grow on trees. They needed a Senior Mechanical Engineer, with a Professional Engineering (PE) license, and significant industrial engineering experience. Further complicating the situation is the type of engineering the company specializes in; process engineering, design/build of power plants, facilities and complex chemical processes. They needed someone who could spec out, draft, design, and project manage. Sounds like a typical engineering role, but in actuality, most of the engineers with the experience they needed (15+ years under their belt) haven’t touched AutoCAD in years. They usually have an internal resource drafting/editing designs as needed.
I’ll add one small wrinkle to this situation. They had tried working with recruiters in the past but with no success. They stated there was no one out there who truly understood what they did or was willing to invest a great deal of time in figuring it out. Hiring into their unique culture and high standards would be a considerable challenge. This would be my first time working with the firm. I knew when I left the meeting this was a perfect fit for me.
The Search: Networking into the chemical process design engineering world is extremely difficult. Most of the really talented people know each other, or know of each other, and they are typically gainfully employed or gleefully self employed. They have little to no interest in entertaining a move unless they have to. They are also not overtly public about their profiles. You won’t find them on LinkedIn or any of the resume sourcing boards. Getting an introduction is only successful if the engineer candidate knows the person and is a trusted resource.
The first two weeks of the search brought a few decent but less experienced candidates. People definitely worth talking to, but no one who really matched my expectations relative to the complexity of the projects they worked on, nor the hands-on design experience my client desired. As we continued to work together, educating each other on both their perception of the candidate market, and my knowledge of what the market would bear, further culling out the must haves from the plusses, I realized that the search parameters and the geography would have to expand in order for us to find this rare talent.
Through multiple connections and conversations with other principal level engineers and hiring managers who also sought these skill sets, I learned that there were only about five truly dynamic, incredibly talented and potentially available candidates who would be an ideal match. The tentative position my client was in, coupled with the possibility the tenured Mechanical Engineer may recover and return made the position less attractive. What if they hired someone but didn’t have enough work to keep both busy? Or worse, would there be a power struggle between the two putting them at odds with each other and the other partners?
The feedback I received once candidates reviewed the position summary (‘You’re never going to find someone like this, they just don’t exist.’) or as I discussed the specifics of the situation was somewhat negative. Why would anyone leave a full-time position where they are well paid and work is plentiful for a situation where they may end up back on the street within the year? Oh, and by the way, have you heard the latest unemployment numbers?
As the odds got lower, my persistence increased. I continued to drill, discover and identify candidates through extensive networking, and this included leveraging my many wonderful contacts turning their network upside down to identify one or two potentials. A timely conversation with a local Senior Engineer who had someone in mind recommended I call him immediately. The candidate lived in Connecticut and would require relocation, but he was the single most talented Senior Mechanical Engineer he’d ever worked with, and I would be impressed with the depth and breadth of his experience.
The Solution: He had 25+ years of industrial and commercial mechanical engineering experience, on both domestic and international projects, developing and designing custom solutions for extremely complex, next-to-impossible, chemical process challenges for demanding multi-national clients. But this was not the only area he had expertise in…he was also extremely diverse. In addition to many other areas of industrial design experience, he had deep experience in consulting on industrial HVAC solutions, a much-needed skill set for the firm.
Within the first hour of the interview, the match seemed ideal. My client was also incredibly impressed with the energy and enthusiasm the candidate demonstrated, and the willingness he expressed to take on the opportunity. The candidate would not only need to relocate, but he would also need to shut down his consulting firm which included breaking a lease and a physical move of both office and residence. It was a very unusual situation but both client and candidate seemed satisfied that this was necessary and each required a time-sensitive response. Within three weeks of the first meeting, an offer was drafted and accepted. The candidate began his assignment in the spring of 2010.
Today: The candidate remained with the firm through late Spring of 2013. An unfortunate family circumstance forced his resignation to care for his family. As an expat, he was happy to return home but sad to leave behind a tremendous career opportunity.
Having a window of three months to prepare for this transition, I went back out to the market with a new vigor to identify and hire his replacement. I knew exactly what we needed and though it would still be a tall order, it was a familiar one. Within a few weeks of launching the search, a strong local candidate was identified with extensive lead-time. In June 2013, the baton was passed from the retiring ME to the newly hired ME who was again a unique find in a very limited field of experts. The feedback so far has been exceedingly positive and both candidate and client are extremely happy with the match.