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Stop letting ‘lack of experience’ keep you from great hires

Rikka Brandon firing employees

The LBM industry is in the midst of a perfect storm of hiring woes. Already in the throes of a labor shortage, the aging/retiring workforce and the pandemic only added to the issue. At the same time, the industry has faced tremendous challenges enticing younger workers to the industry to fill the pipeline.

In any market, finding the perfect candidate with experience in the position and industry is ideal. But that’s simply not always possible, especially right now. At some point, you’re going to need to look at and seriously consider candidates who don’t have much (or even any) knowledge of building products and distribution.

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The key is to determine which job criteria can be learned on the job and which cannot be taught. This will vary from position to position, particularly those roles requiring specific skills and knowledge. But by and large, it’s easier to teach people some things than others.

Things that can likely be trained 

Product knowledge: In a perfect world, all of your salespeople would be well-versed in all the products you sell. Better yet, they have experience selling and specifying those products. But that’s just not feasible in most cases. Partner with your manufacturers and vendors to create product onboarding with new employees to get them up to speed quickly on features and benefits and how to sell to your customers.

Software and technology: Like products, software for the LBM industry is highly specialized but easily teachable. Plan for training rather than nixing potential candidates because they don’t know how to use your ERP software.

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Tools and equipment: While it’s ideal to hire a person who is already certified to drive a forklift or is familiar with the tools and equipment you use, it shouldn’t be a make-or-break criteria. Most of your tools and equipment came with training on how to use them safely. With the ongoing driver shortage, it may even be worth paying for the training of potential truck drivers if the candidate seems like they’d be a good long-term employee.

Things that likely can’t be trained 

Aptitude: When things come naturally to people, it improves their chances of success in the role. You can get hints about someone’s natural ability from jobs they’ve chosen in the past as well as by asking behavioral-based interview questions. For example, a strong sales candidate is going to build rapport with you naturally and easily during the interview.

Enthusiasm/interest: It’s easy to train an employee who appreciates the job, loves the industry, and wants to commit to a career. Don’t pass up a candidate who will embrace his or her role.

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People skills: The ability to work with customers and communicate properly is hard to teach. These attributes are far more important than base-level industry knowledge.

Willingness to learn: Of course, learning about the industry and how to use equipment requires a strong desire to learn. Don’t hire someone who doesn’t seem like they want to ramp up their knowledge and skill set related to the job they’ll be performing.

Another way to think about it is “GWC”—Gets it, Wants it, and Capacity—a concept promoted by the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) that is popular with a range of businesses. The EOS blog explains: “When evaluating whether someone GWCs their job, you must ask three questions—Do they Get it? Do they Want it? Do they have the Capacity to do it?—and answer either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to each question. ‘Maybe’ is not an option. If any one of the three answers is ‘No,’ then that person is in the wrong seat.”

It’s important to look at each role and determine what can be taught and what must be naturally ingrained in the employee. Keep in mind, though, that if a candidate doesn’t have the capacity, it may be something that can be developed/trained. It’s well worth the investment in internal and external training to recruit and hire an employee who will work hard, do well, and commit to your company.


Rikka Brandon is a leading recruiter for the LBM industry. She’s the CEO of and founder of where she helps business leaders solve their recruiting and retention challenges.

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