How to Hire the Best Operators and Where to Find Them

How to Hire the Best Operators and Where to Find Them

If you’re a construction contractor you’re faced with a slew of decisions on a daily basis, many of which will have a major impact on your company’s short and long term prospects. One of these is whether you’d be better off buying or renting your heavy equipment and another is who you’re going to get to operate that equipment regardless of where it comes from. While today’s heavy equipment is more technologically advanced and capable than ever before it’s also very much like a race car in that what you ultimately get out of it will depend on who you place in control of it. Trying to find highly-qualified, highly-motivated, talented, dependable operators can be like trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack. But find them you must.

How to Hire Heavy Equipment Operators

There’s more to operating heavy equipment than simply showing up at the job site and strapping yourself in. Here are some of the qualities that separate the best heavy equipment operators from the rest:

  • An aptitude for the work – While lots of people can be trained to operate heavy equipment the best seem to have been born to it. Their comfort level is obvious although they should never use that comfort to behave in a reckless manner.
  • Effective hand-eye coordination – For the best heavy equipment operators the controls are extensions of their body. They possess a deft touch and a sharp eye that work together as one to generate exacting control.
  • Love of the outdoors – Not everyone is comfortable working outdoors but the best heavy equipment operators thrive there. The prospective candidate should have no problem working in the rain or snow if it’s safe to do so.
  • Comprehensive knowledge of the equipment – The best operators have a deep abiding interest in what they do that drives them to know everything they can about their equipment. This knowledge allows them to get the most out of the equipment without endangering lives.
  • An eye for detail – The best operators will do regular inspections of their equipment checking for even the tiniest inconsistencies that could indicate trouble. On the job they’re always aware of their surroundings, potential hazards and the current state of the project.
  • Solid communication skills – The best heavy equipment operators are able to stay in constant contact with the site manager, GC and other operators. They are fully able to communicate concerns or issues in a clear, straightforward manner.
  • Patience and persistence – The word “hurry” is not in the vocabulary of the best operators. They understand that for a job to be completed properly and safely each move needs to be given due consideration and that cutting corners to finish faster is a recipe for disaster.

Beyond all of these qualities the best operators also have a willingness to help out, to train other less experienced operators and to demonstrate leadership. With all of the above as givens then, where exactly are you supposed to find people like this?

Finding a Good Heavy Equipment Operator

In the past employers wanting to hire the best operators had limited avenues to explore. In many cases they were reduced to observing the competition and then swooping in to make a particularly talented operator an offer they couldn’t refuse. Thankfully, the Internet age provides employers with a wealth of options that simply didn’t exist even 20 years ago. When combined with other avenues of investigation – along with the fact that there are more heavy equipment operators working today than at any time in history – being able to hire the best operators is probably easier now than it’s ever been. Sources to investigate should include:

  • Heavy equipment training schools.
  • Social media sites like LinkedIn and Facebook.
  • Veteran’s employment websites like
  • Local job fairs and employment agencies.
  • And of course the competition (all’s fair in love and business).

Interviewing a Prospective Heavy Equipment Operator

Now that you’ve lined up a bunch of prospects for your heavy equipment operator job you’ll need to know what kind of questions to ask them in order to discern whether they’re the real thing. The following 10 questions should help you separate the wheat from the chaff and hire the best operators:

  1. What makes you think you’re right for this position? – The candidate should be able to articulate their interest in heavy equipment operation, their background in it and desire to pursue it as a career. They should also have done their homework and learned something about your company that they can use to explain why they think the two of you are made for each other.
  2. Why did you leave your last job? – What you want to hear is that it didn’t present enough challenges or the company went out of business or the work was spotty. What you don’t want to hear is that they had repeated run-ins with other employees or that they were fired for taking too many days off.
  3. Do you have any experience working in challenging conditions? – If they’re coming from the armed forces the odds are they’ve had to perform in all kinds of weather under all kinds of conditions. Others may have more limited experience but that by itself does not mean they’re unqualified, unless you specialize in taking the jobs no one else wants.
  4. What do you do if your equipment begins to act up? – Do they just barrel ahead anyway? Do they stop and try to fix it themselves? Or do they pause, try to ascertain the nature of the problem and then communicate what they’ve found to management? If you mostly use heavy equipment rentals it’s important that your operators not take repairs into their own hands or do other things that could violate the rental agreement.
  5. What do you think are the most important traits of a heavy equipment operator? – You want to hear things like punctuality, patience, attention to detail and a safety oriented mindset. You don’t want to hear something like an ability to hold their liquor.
  6. Are you able to handle criticism? – Occasionally you’ll find someone who is both extremely talented as well as extremely thinned skin. While it may be tempting to hire this person for their skills, their thin skin will likely mean problems in the long run. Legitimate criticism helps us get better at what we do and no one should have a sense that they’re above criticism.
  7. How does your approach to work change when you’re facing a deadline? – The right answer is that it doesn’t. The wrong answer is that they speed up in an effort to bring the job in on time. The true professional knows that mistakes happen when people abandon their normal routine in order to meet a deadline. Those mistakes can wind up costing far more than being a day or two over schedule ever would.
  8. How much importance do you put on safety? – Any properly trained heavy equipment operator will respond that safety is their top priority and then provide examples of why it’s so important. Their answers should exhibit an iron clad understanding of the importance of sound safety practices and a commitment to them.
  9. Do you consider yourself an effective communicator? – Communication on the jobsite is important to bringing the job in on time while avoiding accidents. A rambling response will answer this question just as effectively as a clear, concise response.
  10. What do expect by way of salary? – You should expect that someone with a decent amount of experience and solid recommendations wants to be paid accordingly. Their request should be fair and in line with the current market.

The Field Test

A resume and interview can help you eliminate some prospects and elevate others to the status of possible hires but before you can make a decision you’ll need to see them in action as well. During the practical portion of the evaluation the candidates should demonstrate their ability to handle a range of situations and tasks they’ll typically be expected to deal with on the job site. They also need to show they’re capable of following specific directions, that they have a high degree of awareness of their surroundings and that they’ve taken the importance of safety to heart. You’ll also want to assign them a series of specific tasks that require precise operation of the equipment.

The Decision

The quest to hire the best heavy equipment operators will likely require interviewing numerous candidates but if you keep the above information and tips in mind your search should ultimately bear fruit. If it comes down to a few candidates who all seem fairly evenly qualified based on their resume as well as their interviews and field tests you should have them back in for another conversation. If you still can’t decide based on their qualifications you’ll likely have to go with your gut feeling regarding who would be the best fit with your current group.