How the Recession Is Affecting the Commercial Construction Industry

The ‘Great Recession’ theoretically lasted about 18 months, from 2007 to 2009. Recovery has been agonizingly slow in many industries but we are now in 2015 and the construction industry is more rapidly shrugging off the residual effects of the recession.

How Bad Was It?

Even though construction industry is cyclical and recession typically follows a boom period, nothing could have prepared it for the harsh and widespread reach of the recession:

  • Residential: Homeowners defaulted on homes and others delayed buying homes, leading to a glut of residential real estate languishing in realtors’ inventory.
  • Commercial: Commercial construction also was hard hit, severely impacted by the federal budget sequester and eventual-but-temporary shutdown, followed by scaled back government spending, and sharply reduced lending practices.
  • Institutional: Institutional construction remained stagnant, affected by the same limitations and funding problems that the commercial construction sector faced.

How Were Construction Workers Affected?

Nevada, California, Florida, and Arizona are typically areas with plenty of construction work. But the recession changed that:

  • Nevada employed an estimated 146,000 construction workers at the peak of its construction boom. That number was reduced by 59 percent.
  • Arizona’s construction employment dropped 50 percent from its pre-recession industry peak.
  • Florida was close on the industry-related unemployment heels of Nevada and Arizona, losing 40 percent of its construction workforce.
  • California fared better but still recorded a 28 percent drop.
  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately 2.3 million construction workers lost their jobs in the recession (nearly 30 percent of the total number of lost jobs).
  • The overall construction industry has an estimated 1.4 million fewer construction workers in 2015 than it did in 2007.

The Construction Outlook in 2015 and Beyond

Happily, the U.S. and its construction industry continue to move away from the harshest effects of the Great Recession. Industry observers expect to see these improvements:

  • Non-residential construction: picking up and looking more solid, especially with the expected 2.6 percent real GDP growth in 2015. This sector may rise by 8 percent with growth in office buildings, hotels, and industrial facilities.
  • Single family housing: expected to increase by 11 percent in the number of residential units, thanks to easier access to home mortgage loans.
  • Manufacturing plant construction: will probably drop about 16 percent after huge increases of 2013 and 2014.
  • Institutional construction: expected to continue its moderate upward trend and increase 9% over 2014 results.
  • Residential construction: called the potential ‘wild card’ of 2015 because of rising interest rates. Existing home sales may climb toward 10 percent.
  • Public construction: growth will remain low due to ongoing federal spending constraints. However, transportation spending is expected to grow by about 2.2 percent.

Ironically, construction workers may not be rushing to return to new jobs. Many left the industry altogether, retraining for other employment.

Texas and North Dakota both show significant increases in construction employment. North Dakota now needs to recruit construction workers. Texas’ construction employment is up 10 percent, nearing its pre-recession peak.

Economists don’t expect the construction industry to return to its peak level (2006) until 2022 or later. However, the BLS anticipates that the fastest-growing jobs now and 2022 will be in healthcare and construction.

So while the Great Recession did a considerable amount of damage to the overall economy, individual incomes, and morale, 2015 and beyond are looking considerably more favorable in the commercial construction industry.

Interviewing For Construction Jobs & Building Trades Jobs – Two Interviewing Styles

When interviewing for construction jobs or building trades jobs, there are basically two types of interviews: the screening interview and the hiring/selection interview. Both of these are styled differently and you need to be prepared for both.

Screening Interviews

Screening interviews are used to qualify you for selection before you meet with a construction hiring authority. Screeners will try to weed you out rather than get you hired. These construction interviews are normal for companies who receive hundreds or thousands of solicitations for a single construction job opportunity. Screening interviews are usually quick, efficient and low cost strategies that result in a short list of qualified candidates. They assist Operations Managers to save critical time by eliminating unqualified candidates.

If invited to a face-to-face screening interview, it will usually be with a third-party construction recruiter or someone from human resources. Human resource interviewers are typically experienced and often are professionals skilled at construction interviewing and screening candidates. They may not understand the details of the job that you interview for, but they are effective at judging character, intelligence, and good fits for the company culture. They are also good at identifying potential “red flags” or problem areas with your work background and general qualifications.

Your toughest task might be to get past the screeners to the Operation’s Managers. Be prepared to explain any discrepancies in your background (i.e. gaps in construction employment or construction education, frequent job changes, layoffs, etc.).

Some examples of screening interviews include telephone interviews, computer interviews, video- conference interviews and the structured interview. The purpose of these interviews are to screen you and eliminate you from selection of for the various construction jobs you are interviewing for. The result of this process results in a short list of a few finalists since there may be several dozen candidates to weed out.

Telephone Interviews

Telephone interviewing is the most common way to perform an initial screening interview. It helps both the construction interviewer and the candidate get a general sense of mutual interest in pursuing things beyond the first construction interview. It also saves time and money, and may be tape recorded for review by other interviewers.

During a phone interview, your goal as a candidate should be to arrange a face-to-face meeting. If this is not possible, try to arrange another time to talk, or get the name/address of a suitable contact in the employer’s firm so that you can submit a construction resume.

If you are caught off guard or unprepared with an incoming interview call, ask to meet in person, or reschedule the appointment for a more convenient time. Remember that the person calling is the one who establishes control. Therefore, it’s to your advantage to place the call at a more convenient time.

Tips for phone interviews:

  • At the start of the conversation, make sure to write the person’s name down correctly. Ask for the correct spelling. Ask their phone number so that you can call them back if cut off.
  • Keep the following items handy: copy of your construction resume, list of employer questions, pen, paper, research material on the employer, and any other notes you might have. It may also be a good idea to have a glass of water nearby.
  • Dress up as though you are going to a face-to-face meeting. This usually will help to enhance your energy level and professional presence.
  • Always try to smile speaking on the phone. People can usually sense when you’re smiling or frowning.
  • Try to speak in a loud, clear voice considering that most phone reception reduces phone sound levels.
  • Ask several clever questions as if you were in a face-to-face meeting.
  • If you place the call, don’t let the long-distance phone charge shorten the construction jobs interview.
  • If confronted with a question you do not have a simple and effective answer for, state that the question may be better answered in person.
  • Thank the interviewer for his/her time, and follow up with a “thank you” letter.

Computer Interviews

These construction interviews are used to weed out top candidates from dozens or hundreds of candidates that may be applying for a specific job opening. Computer interviews involve answering a series of multiple-choice questions that will pre-qualify candidates for a potential job interview and/or request resume submission. Some interviews are handled through the telephone with push buttons, while others require accessing a web site to complete the construction job interview with a computer keyboard and mouse. Computer interviews are often timed. Therefore, it may be worthwhile to go in as an alias in order to get a sense of questions and timing before applying under your real name.

Video-Phone and Video-Conferencing

Video-conferencing systems provide the transfer of audio and video between remote sites. More than half of the largest U.S. companies utilize video-conferencing as a means of convenient communication and as an alternative to more costly face-to-face meetings. Basically anyone in the world can perform video-conferencing with the use of a microphone, camera and compatible software. Video-conferencing is now available via the Internet. The continuous drop in cost makes it a popular resource for construction businesses as well as home use.

Tips for video-conferences:

  • Video-conferencing has similar video and audio qualities to that of a home video camera. Be sure to choose an outfit that looks good on you. To avoid problematic imaging, wear solid colors (not stripes or plaids).
  • In order to become comfortable during video-conferencing, practice a mock construction job interview using your home video camera.
  • For the best reception, choose full-face (straight) camera angles instead of angled views. Seek professional help for make-up matters.
  • If given a choice, use full view or wide-angle shots rather than close up shots. Leave the close up shots to the professionals.
  • Keep in mind that there usually is a lag between the spoken and heard word. Smile and maintain eye contact as if you are in a face-to-face interview.
  • Avoid jerky motions because only fluid motions maintain video integrity.

Structured Interviews

This type of construction jobs interview is used to identify the best candidates by asking them the exact same questions. Employers attempt to create a common evaluation tool by providing an “apples-to-apples” comparison of construction candidates. Unfortunately, no two interviews are ever alike. Personal biases will affect the evaluation. Third-party recruiters or the employer’s Human Resource department usually handles these interviews.

Construction Hiring or Selection Interviews

In contrast to screening interviews, there are the more traditional construction hiring (or selection) interviews from Operation’s Managers, department heads and construction executives who may be your ultimate bosses. These construction managers understand the technical qualifications needed to fill their vacant construction positions and the team chemistry needed to keep their departments running smoothly. As interviewers, they are usually less prepared or skilled at construction interviewing.

In fact, many spend only a few minutes looking over a construction resume before the construction interview and rarely prepare questions or strategies. Most do not like interviewing. They see it as an unfortunate, but necessary, task that takes away from job production. Employers feel that they must assume a position of control. If the situation is handled properly, they are usually more than willing to allow candidates to take the lead.

Construction Hiring interviews are two-way streets where you also will be interviewing the construction employer for job suitability. Most of these construction interviews will take place in an office setting in one of several formats: one-on-one interviews, serial interviews, sequential interviews or panel interviews.

One-on-one interviews

This is the traditional interview where candidates meet with employers on a face-to-face, or one-on-one, basis. Each construction interview is somewhat unique and is loosely structured. Both parties typically walk away with a more natural sense of whether or not the fit is right.

Serial interviews

Candidates are passed from one construction interviewer to another throughout the course of a day. No decision is made on your suitability until the final construction job interview has taken place and all interviewers have had a chance to discuss each other’s interview. If facing serial interviews, try to find out something about the next interviewer (and the issues important to him/her) before the meeting. Also remember that you only have one chance to make the right first impression so make sure you are energized and ready for the next interview before taking it on. If you are not, excuse yourself to go to the restroom for a break or try to reschedule the balance of the interviews for another time.

Sequential interviews

Sequential interviews are the traditional means of interviewing whereby a candidate will meet with one or several interviewers on a one-on-one basis over the course of several days, weeks or months. Each interview moves the candidate progressively towards greater detail in respect to the position, the construction company and ultimately an offer. Testing may be one of the sequential interviews, as well as meeting with the top brass or even a third-party consultant.

Group or panel interviews

In this situation, a candidate will go before a committee, sometimes as large as 10 people. This is usually done for efficient scheduling purposes in order to accommodate the management panel. Here candidates are evaluated on interpersonal skills, leadership, and their ability to think on their feet while dealing with issues in a stressful situation.

If confronted with this type of construction interview, candidates should try to identify the leader and the immediate supervisor of the position being considered. Think of the board as a single individual and try not to be intimidated by the numbers. It may be difficult to exercise any degree of real control over the panel, but try to focus on one or two key members and control their reaction to you. However, it is important to make eye contact and communicate individually to each panelist.