Listen to CEC’s Corporate Recruiter Samantha Heirendt and Pittsburgh Civil Practice Lead Brian Lantz discuss resume and interview tips and tricks, what the process looks like from the role of an interviewer, and what makes a great candidate.
Announcer: Welcome to CEC Explains — your deep dive into fascinating subjects from the worlds of engineering and the environment, brought to you by Civil & Environmental Consultants. And now, from our CEC studios around the nation, this is CEC Explains.
Samantha: My name is Samantha Heirendt, and I am one of the corporate recruiters here at Civil & Environmental Consultants. I’ve been in the recruiting world since 2014 with a variety of experiences, including environmental, technical, and engineering recruiting. I’ve been with the CEC for about nine months and specifically support the Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Athens offices. However, CEC has offices nationwide with a total of about six recruiters. My role as a recruiter is always to find the best fit for our candidates. Whether that means the role is located in one of my offices or across the country. Over the years, I’ve learned that the amount of information out there about what people believe to be the right way to get hired isn’t always a reality. I’m excited to share my pearls of wisdom today to help give people the opportunity to find the life-changing job they’ve been looking for. So, today, we’re going to talk about all things related to the hiring process including tips and tricks on how to get a job at CEC, along with who we are, what we do, and why CEC is the place to be. And I want to introduce my co-podcaster, Brian Lantz. He is a civil engineer by trade, and he is also the VP in the Civil/Site practice for our Pittsburgh office.
Brian: Hey Sam. As Sam said, vice president at CEC, I’ve been here for about 12 years, currently the practice lead in our Civil/Site practice in the Pittsburgh office, and as one of my responsibilities, I work closely with Sam, and I’m responsible for hiring for our approximately 65 staff in our group.
Samantha: So, we’re going to talk about the process of getting hired at CEC, on the recruitment side, all the way to the hiring manager and the interviews. I think a lot of these tips and concepts might seem basic to a lot of people, but the reason we’re bringing them up is because we repeatedly see them all week at interviews that, hey, we thought that this was known, but it’s definitely not and just different things to kind of navigate the space in our new world of hiring as well. We had about 1,000 interviews company-wide in 2022. So far in 2023 in January, we had 120 interviews, and that involves before the interviews, I would say, we average about 4,000 phone screens per year between six recruiters. So, we work in a pretty high volume. We want to make hires like we are out there trying to find the best candidates, and I think the next step in this process is we’ll talk about resume basics and how to stand out. The baseline expectation is that you’re technically qualified for the position. Would you agree, Brian?
Brian: Absolutely, yeah. I would say… just thinking about how the process goes – the resume doesn’t always go directly to the person that may be making the hiring decision, right? When we work together, Sam, a resume probably comes to you first most of the time, and you’re going to review it from a probably nontechnical perspective. Does this person meet the minimum criteria for what we’re looking for? So, at a minimum, you have to check those boxes for the recruiter to pass it along to the hiring manager.
Samantha: Yes. It’s very important when you’re writing your resume to realize that it’s going to go through multiple steps, different people, different backgrounds are reading your resume. Like Brian said, I’m not technical. Granted, I’ve been in the engineering space for a while, so I have an understanding, but, again, the nitty-gritty of what it is to be a civil engineer I don’t know. But on that resume, you think it’s basic, but your contact information needs to be on there and correct – name, general location, email, and a phone number. Example – this week, I had somebody who had a number on their resume that was different than the one they used to apply for. So, I called the one on their resume, and it was incorrect. So, then I go and checked their other phone number. So, you want to make sure that, as basic as it is, your phone number is correct.
Brian: I think the simple items are important. A couple of things just from CEC’s perspective that we look for – quality is really, really important to us. It’s what we do. At the end of the day, we deliver quality; that’s what we focus on. So, typos, misspellings, really encourage folks to try to catch those before they send a resume out. It really leaves a bad impression if there is an error on a resume.
Samantha: Yeah, and even your emails, we want to make sure — right now, Gmails are free. We are not sponsored by Google, but you can easily make an email that is professional and simple; you can make one that is specifically only for jobs if you want to get organized in that way. And we really don’t want you to use your company email, your company phone number. We don’t want —
Brian: We want to be respectful of everybody’s privacy. Yes. We don’t want to create any issues. Absolutely.
Samantha: Very important. And then for experience, job title, company, and dates of employment. I think it’s easier on the recruiting side and the hiring manager side if you address time gaps in your resume. I think some people get nervous about that, but in today’s day and age with layoffs, feel free to add that you were laid off. It’s okay.
Brian: Yeah. Or I think everybody re-evaluated life during COVID; I think that’s fair to say, and we’ve seen a lot of resumes come in where people just said, “Hey. I’m going to take off and do some things I want to do for a while.” Don’t try to hide those. Don’t hesitate. Just be forthright and forthcoming, and say, “Hey. I took some time off to do some personal things.”
Samantha: Yeah. We saw a really good example recently that they called it a planned career hiatus. They described that they had an intentional pause to complete personal projects and pursue unconventional lines of employment, and I think they worked at a ski resort and did some like snowmaking. And it was like, “OK. This totally makes sense why there’s this big gap because I am going to ask you about that.”
Now, here is something that we know that a hiring manager and a recruiter is differing on. So, I personally am OK with a resume that goes over one page. Brian, I think you feel differently.
Brian: I think it depends, Sam. I think if it’s pertinent to the job you’re applying for, and you want to show detail and skillsets that apply to the job that you’re seeking, I think that’s okay. And just for perspective, like you said, you’re looking at thousands of resumes every year.
Samantha: Yes, a lot of resumes, so many resumes.
Brian: And these are personal preferences, but just some considerations. I think be intentional and make sure you’re thinking through if you have a lot of information that you know why it’s on there, and it’s important to what you’re applying for
Samantha: And something that stands out on a resume for me is it being easy to read, having some white space, having some simplicity. Again, I read so many resumes. So, if the visual simplicity is there, it’s way more approachable for me. I know I can look at the info, see it quickly, and get my job done efficiently and quickly.
Brian: Absolutely. I would say too, it’s really kind of an insight for me; it’s something that we do as engineers is we write a lot, right? We write reports. We communicate our calculations and our technical work in reports. So, the ability to communicate clearly and concisely, I think that shines through in how you present your resume.
Samantha: And, speaking of different resumes, I do think, according to what we’re hiring for, it does kind of tailor a resume. So, at CEC as a whole, the positions that we’re hiring for are clearly in our name civil and environmental, but we’re also hiring structural, mechanical, electrical, architectural, and then on the corporate side in marketing, accounting, HR. So, Brian being on the technical side and having a more technical resume is going to be looking for technical information. On the marketing side, they’re going to maybe be looking more at your format and your branding and what type of experience you have in that aspect. So, I do think you need to tailor it to your field as well.
Brian: I agree, and I would even say more specifically to the exact position you’re applying for, right? So, if you’re applying for a job that’s listed as land development engineer, please tell us about your land development engineering experience. If you have other experience that’s tangentially related, that’s good, and that’s useful to know, but maybe that’s stuff we talk about in the interview after we get through the most applicable items.
Samantha: Yeah. And something to know on my side is don’t put just land development experience. What aspects of land development have you been a part of? You can put I’m a civil engineer, but there are so many aspects of that. I’m an environmental engineer. Well, what aspects are you doing? If you’re a mechanical engineer, there are so many different varieties of mechanical engineers. I need to know what you did specifically, and that also leads into the specifics; tell me what you accomplished, not just what you were responsible for. What has impacted the business, what projects you’ve worked on, and what parts of the projects and the goals you’ve helped accomplish? I think that’s also important to show.
Brian: Absolutely. I mean, really, you’re trying to sell yourself, right? So, tell us all the best qualities and best traits and things that are most applicable to the job you’re applying for.
Samantha: Yeah. And, speaking of selling yourself, I think that’s a really important part. Sometimes I think people get nervous, and they don’t want to seem self-centered or egotistical like you’re in an interview, we’re there because of you. You are the star of the show right now, and we want to know why you’re a star. So, don’t get in your own way.
Brian: That’s a good point. Don’t be too modest. Absolutely.
Samantha: Also, with tailoring resumes, we can tell if you’re just blasting out a resume. Sometimes the objective at the top says, “I’m applying for land development at company XYZ,” and we’re company ABC. Like you were just blasting it out. You put the wrong company name in there. We know you barely probably read the description. You can tell.
Brian: Sam, you mentioned something that was interesting – the objective at the top. Just a personal preference question: should you have an objective at the top of your resume?
Samantha: An objective is not super important to me. I want to open up a resume, go right to your first job, and see your experience and what you’ve done. Then I’ll go back to that objective. Skim it. Sometimes I think objectives are kind of used to just show that you wrote an objective, but it’s not important to me. Is it important to you?
Brian: No, I agree. I mean, to me, the objective is you’re applying for a job. The objective is to get hired for that job. If there’s something more, something kind of outside the lines, a broader goal you’re after with your career that maybe isn’t specifically outlined in the job description we have posted, that’s good to know. But, yeah, an objective is not a must for me either.
Samantha: Yeah. And the clear and concise way to communicate that Brian talked about earlier, that’s what I’m looking for on that first page. I’m not going to lie. Like if I see in that first job experience that you’re hitting everything in the job description and everything I need, I already know I’m going to send you a request to have a phone interview. So, if it’s clear, concise, and right there at the top, you’re going to move on quickly.
Brian: Absolutely. And this is different, like you said, for technical positions versus non-technical positions, but from an engineering perspective, we’re technical people, right? So, we want to see numbers. We want to see what projects did you manage, and how big were they in terms of size, acreage, dollar amounts? How many people did you work with or oversee? What were your accomplishments that you can quantify in terms of numbers?
Samantha: And then I’d say I think we’re at the step where the recruiter decided to do a phone screen. We have discussed your background. We’ve talked about any gaps you might have in your employment, but a question I always ask somebody is why are you looking to make a change? And that is important to talk about because I need to know your motivations for changing a job because if you’re unhappy at your job now for a certain reason — if you’re going into the same environment at CEC — you might not be happy. So, we want it to be a symbiotic relationship. Like you need to be happy. We need to be happy. We don’t want to lie to you and say everything’s fine here. Like we’re going to talk about what you don’t like and make sure that you’re not coming into that same scenario because we want you to stay here forever if you’ll stay with us.
Brian: We’re, I mean, I don’t want to skip ahead to the interviews yet. I think we’ll get on to that, but on that note, in our interviews, I think we do tend to talk a lot about CEC, maybe more than a typical interview. We want to know about you. We want to know about your skills and qualifications and what you want, but we also want to tell you about us; we want to make sure it fits culturally. So, we can get into that more.
If I can, Sam, on a resume, we get both, and I don’t know if we’ve talked through the right or wrong answer or if there is one. You put a picture on a resume?
Samantha: Oh, we’ll definitely talk about this. No, don’t do it. Don’t do it.
Brian: It’s a little bit weird to me, but I don’t know if there is a right or wrong answer. Sounds like we agree.
Samantha: I do. I think there is a right or wrong answer here. I don’t think it matters to see your face. I mean, if you’re going on Broadway, you should definitely have a headshot like that makes sense, but for here, your face is not a condition of employment.
Brian: So, Sam, let’s say we get through the resume review process. What happens next? Maybe we talked about this candidate, but we’re not talking about an interview just yet.
Samantha: Right, so, phone screen. First, we review the resume. Things are checking boxes. I will most likely send you an email or give you a call that’s like, “Hey. Let’s set up a time to have a phone screen.” It is nice when you do set up that quickly, that timely response. It shows your interest. It shows that you’re excited. It shows that you’re checking your email like you’re out there, you’re ready to go, and we setup that phone screen. I give you a call. Something that I think is lacking on a lot of phone calls is to sound awake and sound interested. I get a little stressed out when someone sounds like I just woke them up for a nap for a scheduled phone screen. Like you knew this was coming. You scheduled it for 10. Am I interrupting your day? I don’t know. But I do appreciate people taking the time.
Brian: I mean, there’s one side of this – it sounds like, alright, we’re being really particular; these aren’t important things. It doesn’t really matter, but I think people might be surprised. I wouldn’t say it’s rare, but it doesn’t happen all that often when people are very punctual, people are prepared, people have thought through these items. It really stands out, and it really makes a big difference in the hiring process, at least to me. I think it does.
Samantha: It does. If I can get through all my steps in the process seamlessly, without having to chase people down, re-ask questions, reschedule, I already know this person has it together, and I think they have the basics of being a good employee here. So, even if you’re not technically qualified, at least you might have the skills to learn more. You’re halfway there on the technical side, but your personality and everything carry you the rest of the way through.
It is nice if people greet us and let us know who they are because I know I’ve had people that just are like, “Hi,” and I’m like, “Did I call the right number? Do you think that I’m someone else?”
Brian: It’s kind of the professionalism.
Samantha: Yeah. And then we talk about — where you’re located, I think is really important. Commutes can be a lot for people and that can wear down over time. So, I really like to make sure that commuting is OK.
Brian: Remote work is a big topic right now, and we’ll get into that more here a little bit later, but that’s something to talk through on a phone screen.
Samantha: Oh, yeah. Always. We can talk about it now. I know you live 30 minutes away, or you live 15 minutes away, that 15 minutes is way more palatable because we do have a hybrid work policy, and it opens up our radius because you aren’t having to drive in all the time, so that’s nice.
Brian: Yeah, we like the collaborative nature. We like people being in the same room together. The learning environment is just a little bit different than it is over Teams or online otherwise, but there are certainly a lot of folks that have a preference to work full-time remote, and it’s important that we know that up front just so everybody has the same expectations. We know what we’re going into, and we’re evaluating it accordingly.
Samantha: Yeah. And we don’t want to get to the end of the interview and then you say, “I want 100 percent remote.” We don’t want to waste your time or the hiring manager’s time. So, we just like to be very upfront about those policies.
And then, so, I will ask you why you’re looking to change jobs, and I think what’s important is to not be vague in those answers. A lot of people will tell me they’re just looking to see what’s out there. To me, you don’t seem serious. You’re going to waste people’s time. We don’t want to waste your time. There has to be a driving factor that’s motivating you to look for jobs.
Brian: If I can ask, Sam, what are good answers that you’ve received?
Samantha: I know some people think this one’s jarring, but some people are just 100 percent under-compensated. And that’s something that’s a big part of life, and they’re brutally honest with me. They’re like, “Hey. I’m severely underpaid. I’ve asked for raises. We don’t get bonuses. We don’t have any performance plans, things like that.” So, they’re just like there’s no progression.
Brian: So, professional growth, salary; that’s fair absolutely.
Samantha: Yeah! And also, it is okay to say that maybe you don’t get along with your project manager or your boss like you might just not sync up with the team, and that’s okay. It can just not be the right cultural fit for you, and there’s a way to say that without bad-mouthing your employer. So, it’s okay to be honest about why you’re looking.
Brian: That’s what I was going to say. Just be honest. So, you mentioned salary is something you should talk about on the phone screen. I think it’s important for people to know don’t be shy about that. It’s okay. Some people are very hesitant to talk about dollars and what their salary expectations are. Would you agree? Is that how you feel about it?
Samantha: Yes, definitely talk about it. That is one of the major reasons we come to work. If you’re not getting paid, that’s called volunteering.
Brian: Yeah, right. There are a lot of reasons I love to come to work at CEC. I love the culture, I love the people I work with, and I love the opportunities, but getting a paycheck is an important part of coming to work too.
Samantha: It is. So, let’s discuss it. Let’s have an idea. Let’s not get all the way through the process, and then find out that we’re on completely separate pages of what we’re looking for in terms of compensation because I just wasted your time; you wasted our time. A lot of times people need to take off time from work to come to an interview or rearrange their schedules, find childcare. All these different factors to make time for an interview, and if it doesn’t align in the front end, you don’t need to make all those accommodations.
Brian: Just be open. Be honest. Absolutely.
Samantha: And I think we’re a really transparent company. We tell you the good, the, maybe, where we can improve, what makes sense for what you’re saying, if something doesn’t align with what you’re saying. We want to tell you right away. We want to make sure you’re happy here.
Brian: If we don’t think it’s a good fit, we want to tell you that. Absolutely.
Samantha: Yeah, and we also want to give you enough information that you can tell that maybe we’re not the right fit for you versus you not being the right fit for us. You do have the power to assess a company that you’re going to be spending minimally 40 hours a week at. You spend so much time at work; you got to be happy.
Brian: That’s a good point. We want to tell you what the benefits of CEC are, why we work here, why we love working here, and what we have to offer, but it’s not a sales pitch. We want you to come work here because you want to be here, right? So, we want to make sure it’s a good fit.
- So, let’s say the phone screen goes well. So, we’ve done the resume review. That’s progressed to a phone screen. What’s next?
Samantha: After the phone screen, I kind of type up a little summary, talk about the important things we talked about on our phone screen, and I send that off to the hiring managers where they’ll then review the technical side of things, or let’s bring them in, or maybe not a fit. Is there anything that you look for in the notes that I send you or in the resume that stand out to you? I guess, what do you see in that review process that just makes you say, “Yes, let’s set up an interview.”?
Brian: Usually after the resume review, and this is just my perspective, but I think we have a good idea of if it’s going to be a good fit or not. On the phone screen, it’s just a confirmation, right? As long as there wasn’t anything out of left field we weren’t expecting, everything generally aligned with what we were expecting to see. We get that confirmation from you and then we proceed with scheduling an interview.
Samantha: Right. So, once I get that green light, I give you a call. We figure out some times that make sense for you. We work with the hiring manager’s schedule. Usually, you’re meeting with one or two people, sometimes a little more than that, just depending on the group, but you’re not going to be bombarded with 10 people. So, we let you know the location, the time, and we do let you know before your interview who you’re meeting with. So, that does give you an opportunity to definitely research the people that you’ll be talking to, and I think that’s important to know before you go into an interview. But, yeah, it’s game day; it’s interview time. The show is going to start.
Brian: Probably doesn’t need to be said, but don’t show up late.
Samantha: No. Please don’t show up late.
Brian: It happens. It happens more than people might think. Not a good impression, but, I will say this, there are times when things happen that are beyond people’s control, right? We’ve all been driving to work, and there’s an accident or who knows what, right? Just communicate that. It’s okay. We’re human beings too. We understand life happens. Let us know. “Hey, I’m really sorry. There was an accident. I’m sitting in traffic. I’ll be there soon as I can.” That goes a long way.
Samantha: Very long way. And then, on the opposite side of that, please do not show up too early. Sometimes people show up an hour early, and people have packed schedules. So, we have to make you wait, and we don’t want to make you wait. We’re excited to meet you, but if it’s an hour before your scheduled time —
Brian: We might not be prepared. Absolutely.
Samantha: So, I say the sweet spot is 10 to 15 minutes before your interview. That’s the perfect time. Show up. Show that you can be punctual, a little bit early, and that you’re excited.
Brian: It gives people time to — part of what we like to do with our interview process is typically, Sam, you will show them around kind of give them a tour of the building, show them our gym, our large seminar rooms, our cafe, some of the amenities before the actual interview starts.
Samantha: Yeah, definitely. So, that’s always nice to get to see the whole building where you would be working. And then something else that I think is important when you come to an interview is to have something in your hand. That can be a folder, a notebook, a bag, something that maybe has copies of your resume.
Brian: That’s what I was going to say. Questions, prepared questions. Absolutely.
Samantha: Yeah. You walk in with nothing and I’m like, “Where are your questions? Do you have a copy of your resume? Where are you going to put the information?” I have a whole packet that I give you that talks about CEC and our company and our different groups, and it’s just nice. It shows that you’re ready to take on anything.
Brian: For sure.
Samantha: And, like you said, questions. Questions are very important.
Brian: Yeah, I mean, we’ll have questions for the interviewee, of course. We want to know more about them, what they did, what their strong suits are, and what it is they want to do. What do they want in a job? Why was CEC interesting to them? How did they hear about us? Those are questions we’ll go through no matter what. But I think some of the most valuable interview time is when the person that’s being interviewed has a chance to ask us questions, right? To me, it’s as much about them interviewing us to see if they want to work with us as it is us interviewing them.
Samantha: 100 percent. I would say the most common questions that we get always talk about company culture. Yeah. How would you explain CEC’s company culture?
Brian: It’s such a broad topic.
Samantha: Yeah, it is.
Brian: It is one of the first questions that comes up with everybody, and, honestly, it’s something we really try to focus on in the interviews. Culture is really nebulous, and it’s really hard to define, and if you ask 10 different people, you get 10 different answers. But, what I would say is, our culture in the Civil/Site practice in the Pittsburgh office is we work really hard, but we have a lot of fun. We like the people that we work with. It’s rewarding.
Samantha: I would say culture for me and the recruiting/HR side of things, I think is definitely probably a little bit different than the technical, the project beings, the engineering side. How it differs for me is one of my favorite things about working here is that I think you’re hired to do a job, and you’re trusted to do it. You’re given support. You have training. You’re never left on an island, but you’re trusted to do your job. I never feel micromanaged. I think as long as you’re getting your work done and you’re doing it correctly and putting the effort in, that gets recognized,
Brian: Flexibility is a big part of our culture. Things happen. People have families, children, relatives, whatever. Somebody gets sick, we get that, right? So, if you need to come in late one day and make it up the next day, we understand that. It happens to us too. It’s part of life. At the end of the day, I think our culture here is we’re professionals. We have things we have to get done, right? That’s why we’re at work. And, to a large degree, it’s up to us to manage our time and how we get that done. Just make sure we get it done in time.
One thing I always tell people what we’re not in terms of culture. We are a lot of very technical people, but we are not a place where you come in — I’ve been in some engineering firms where you walk in and all you hear is clicking on a keyboard, and it’s totally silent. If you walk over into the Civil/Site teams, I guarantee somebody is laughing, possibly throwing something over a cube wall, having a good time, right? We’re working hard, but we’re enjoying it, and we enjoy the people we work with.
Samantha: And I walk around this office all day going to the different departments, talking to different managers, just because I recruit for all the different groups. I think that’s reflected throughout the whole office and not just Civil. I think Environmental, Eco, Air Quality, all these groups also have a good mindset.
Brian: I agree. Yeah.
Samantha: In general, people are happy to be here. And then I’d say one of the next questions that we receive is about training and continuing education. Something that’s built into our policy is when you get your P.E., we will pay for it, and as soon as you receive your professional engineering license, you automatically get a salary increase. That’s just automatic. You don’t have to apply for anything. It’s not certain people and not other people. It is just what it is. It’s just a rule we have, and I think to have that built into a policy really respects people, self-improvement, education; we want our employees to be better.
Brian: It’s a huge focus, and knowing people are interested in getting their F.E. or their P.E., that’s important. It tells us people are driven, right? That’s something we want to hear about in the interview. If you don’t have it but you’re planning to take it, tell us that. That’s important information. We do try to be super supportive. That’s part of our culture too. We want to help people financially. Take a review class to study for the P.E. exam. Pay them the day they go to take the exam, right? That’s work-related absolutely.
CEC is just really supportive. That’s one of the things that attracted me to CEC when I joined 12 years ago. You rarely, if ever, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard no or been told no when somebody wants to pursue something related to professional development. “Hey, there’s a training. Can I go to this?” Absolutely. We want you to be better at your job. We want you to have that kind of rewarding factor and feel that you’re getting the things that you need to grow professionally here.
Samantha: And even for people who aren’t in the technical space, I know, as a recruiter, I have the opportunity — we call them Brown Bags that over lunch —
Brian: That’s a great point. Yeah.
Samantha: Yeah. There’s one on CAD design. I’m going to attend that next week. I think it’s important to understand what everyone in that company is doing. So, I’m invited to that. Everyone in the company is invited to that so you can learn about the CAD side of the company.
Brian: So, it’s just kind of an environment of continuous learning.
Samantha: And again, on the non-technical side, I currently am enrolled with a diversity and inclusion certification that I’m in the process of doing just to make sure that we’re a well-rounded team. I know, on the marketing side, they do digital marketing certifications that it’s through a university. The company pays for it. There are all these aspects where you don’t have to be an engineer. You’re still supported. Even though it’s an engineering company, the corporate side is equally as important.
Brian: That’s a great clarification. It’s not limited to technical aspects. This is what we do at CEC across the board.
Samantha: Yeah. So, it’s a good place to be, and there’s a lot of opportunity.
Brian: I’ll just mention tuition reimbursement too. That’s something else that we do that’s a great program. Folks want to go back and pursue a different degree, another degree, master’s. I got my MBA when I was here at CEC, and they supported me through that and that goes a long way. It really does. Sam, another question that comes up a lot in interviews is folks want to know what types of, I’ll use the word extracurricular activities, what type of employee groups are available, kind of like social type groups, for folks to be involved in?
Samantha: Yeah. So, we have about five big ones that we focus on here at CEC. We have CEC Fit! for people who want to be active and promote a healthy lifestyle. Different programs that you can join to network throughout the company, make friends. I know I recently saw an email about signing up for the Pittsburgh Marathon. Could never be me, but I’m really excited that people who do like to run have a group to do that with.
Brian: Some friendly competitions. We do the Biggest Loser competition every year.
Samantha: Yeah. Just a general healthy lifestyle-focused group. They have different challenges, walking challenges, meditation, breathing, drinking enough water. It doesn’t always have to be at the level of the marathon. So, there’s a spot for everyone.
We have CEC Women which is where we want to focus on recruiting and retaining talent with women in the consulting industry, provide professional development opportunities, provoke collaborative networking of professional women, and then also facilitate leadership and growth inside and outside of CEC. So, that’s also one of our big groups focused on women.
We also have CEC IGNITE. It is a group steered by the younger professionals but for all the employees. The point of it is to accelerate the connections of young professionals. So, when you’re at the entry-level part of your career, it’s an opportunity to make those connections, get that early exposure to the business, and learn professional and different business development opportunities. So, we’re focused on every level of careers.
We also have CEC Community. Volunteering is important. We want to enrich our communities. We want to give back. People taking their professional talents and volunteering that and then also just helping out in any aspect they want to volunteer.
Brian: That’s really rewarding. I’ve just seen a lot of people do that. It can be Habitat for Humanity, or it could be just going to help at a soup kitchen, something local, but CEC supports it, and it’s very rewarding.
Samantha: It is.
Brian: And CEC will even pay for half a day. Take PTO; they’ll donate four hours and pay you to promote something like that.
Samantha: I was shocked by that when I joined here that I can get a half day to go volunteer.
Brian: That’s right.
Samantha: It’s tough. Do you want to take your weekend? That’s great, but also, you can take work time to do it.
Samantha: I think it’s a very fun perk. Last but not least, one of our bigger groups is CEC iDEA. So, this is actually an acronym. It stands for Inclusion as essential to professional life, Diversity in the workforce, Equality and opportunity, and Awareness to understand, respect, and appreciate others. That’s another group that we have for diversity, inclusion, and equality where we want to help people from all different backgrounds, and all different types be welcomed here at CEC.
Brian: Yeah, we get questions on it a lot. I think I’ll just categorize these more broadly. Some of the best questions we get in interviews are questions that I think make the folks doing the interview kind of reflect on themselves, some of the deeper questions. Some ones that come up from time to time that has impressed me are, “Hey, Brian,” or, “Hey, Sam. What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever worked on at CEC? Who are the best people you’ve worked with?” Like the coolest projects, the smartest people, whatever it is that really makes people reflect and think about the things that it is that are CEC that we like and why we’re here.
We get a lot of, “What is the career path at CEC?” That’s a big one. It’s one we talk about a lot. I mean Sam and I talk a lot about it. So, here at CEC, we have what we call our DMML model. DMML is an acronym for Do, Manage, Market, Lead, and it’s an important part of who we are. We’re a little bit different than some engineering firms in that we don’t have a business development department. We don’t have somebody that goes out and gets projects and then separate people that execute projects. That’s all us, right? We’re doer-sellers. So, the DMML is from the beginning of your career to the end, and I think that’s important too. We don’t ever hire for jobs. We don’t have a big project, and we staff up and then when that project is done, we let people go. We hire for careers, right? We make sure it’s the right fit. We have so many people that have been here for 20, 25, 30 years. It’s really unbelievable. We have people that have been here 30-plus years, and this was their first job out of school. I think that’s really compelling.
But DMML, Do, Manage, Market, Lead, just to touch on that. So, you come out of school, you’re a doer. You’re learning your technical craft. You’re learning the ins and outs of whatever it is. You’re focused on, let’s say it’s grading, or erosion and sedimentation control, stormwater management. Those are things that are important in our group, but whatever it is, you kind of become a master in the technical aspects. So, you’re a doer, and then you naturally begin to manage smaller tasks. So, let’s say, you know how to design stormwater, Sam. You’ve done it a hundred times now. Maybe somebody else can do it, and you can help them. So, you naturally start helping to manage some smaller tasks, and that just evolves over time to multiple tasks, coordinating with other groups, and then managing projects overall. So, that’s the manage piece. And then marketing is a really important one to us, and that’s a really scary, nasty word for engineers. When I interviewed 12 years ago, and we talked about marketing and sales, it made me uncomfortable, right? Would you agree? A lot of engineers are introverts. We’re engineers because we’re not salesmen. We hear that.
Samantha: And even I hear that. I’m a recruiter. I talk to people all day, every day. It’s my job, but a little bit, hearing that marketing side, I even get a little nervous. But when you break it down, it’s not as scary.
Brian: My answer to people is always I wish I knew then what I know now. If you’d asked me 12 years ago, what interest I had in marketing or selling work I would have turned around and run, right? I had zero interest. But what marketing is at CEC is it’s about quality. It’s about doing good work. That’s the best marketing that I do is doing good work, making clients happy, and wanting them to come back for repeat business. That’s an important piece of marketing. It’s not cold calling. It’s not going out and trying to hard sell; we don’t do that. It’s developing relationships. It’s expanding your network in a, again, not the hard sell approach, right? Just, “Hey, Sam, I know you. We’ve worked together. Let’s go to this event that’s coming up.” And maybe somebody you know is there, and you introduce me, right? And it’s really just kind of that natural network expansion, just having good relationships with folks. That’s what it comes down to.
Samantha: And I think you touched on a really important part is it’s doing good quality work and having those good relationships with your clients that you can say, “Hey. What’s down the pipeline?” That counts.
Brian: Absolutely and maybe that client has a friend that works at another company that needs help and they’re like, “Oh. Hey. Sam did a really great job. Why don’t you give her a call? She’s been able to help me out.” So, all that said, don’t let marketing or sales be a scary word. It’s not. It’s quite the opposite. It’s more opportunity, right? Once you understand that, and you’ve kind of experienced it, and it’s not scary anymore, it’s almost empowering, right? It’s like, hey, I’m getting these opportunities come in because people know me, and I think that’s an important part of what we do at CEC.
And then the last piece is the L, the Lead, right? So, these are cumulative. When you go from doer to manager to marketer, you don’t stop doing or stop managing, right? You just add on. It’s additional responsibilities in your job. So, as you progress through naturally, you begin leading technical aspects or business aspects or different avenues of leadership at CEC.
Samantha: It’s clear. It’s defined, and I think we paint that picture very clearly before you start so you know what you’re getting into, and it’s nice to know that there is a track to follow.
Brian: So, kind of with the DMML model in mind, this is going to sound weird, Sam. But we always make a point to say this in our interviews in the Civil/Site practice, “It’s my job to make you take my job.” What the heck does that mean?
Samantha: Yes, please verify.
Brian: So, that speaks to opportunity and growth and advancement. What it means – I was told that when I interviewed here 12 years ago. You kind of cock your head to the side, and you’re like, “What? What does that mean?” So, what it means is I want to find the person that I want to train to become the next Brian. God, help them. But, right? If I can convey everything I know, and mentor somebody and teach somebody and coach them to be comfortable doing the things that I’m currently doing, and I’ve got somebody doing that same thing to me, it lets each of us move up, right? If, Sam, you’re going to take over the things that I’m doing now because we’ve worked together closely, and we’ve shared that knowledge with each other, I can go on and do something else, right? Whatever the next thing is and then you’re going to do the same. Who’s the next Sam? So, you’re going to convey everything you know, and this happens over time, right? It takes time, but it’s something that we like to keep in mind. So, you convey everything that you’ve learned to somebody else and then you can move on. So, it does sound funny, but I can tell you I have seen it happen so many times here at CEC. The person that interviewed me when we started is now our CEO, and I’ve watched it happen time and time again. So, I just thought I’d add that.
Samantha: No, that’s fine, and I think it’s important to know about mentoring, opportunity, growth, and advancement. Our current CEO was a civil engineer here, so I think that’s a really good example of how you can move about this company.
Brian: It says a lot. Absolutely.
Samantha: I think what’s really cool is that everybody in this company is on a bonus plan that as I create offer letters, as I’m recruiting, as I’m doing positions the whole way across the board for this company, everybody has a bonus plan, has that potential to earn extra money on top of whatever they’re receiving for their salary.
Brian: Very performance-focused, right? We do good as an office. We do good as a company; we all reap the benefits of that, right? And I think that speaks to something deeper which is something else we always talk about, one of the things that we love about CEC is that were employee-owned, right? It matters if we do good because anybody and everybody can be a shareholder, and I use the term shareholder kind of in air quotes. At some companies, that’s a very prestigious thing. Somebody has invested their life savings to become a shareholder at the company. That is not at all what a shareholder means at CEC. Anybody can become a shareholder. You don’t have to. You’re not treated differently if you are or if you aren’t, but we all own the company together. It’s an added level of personal investment, and I think it makes us all think a little bit differently about doing a good job.
Samantha: Right. And speaking of performance, we do have regular performance reviews which not every company has. It’s a time to sit down, talk with your manager, see you set goals. Did you reach those goals? So, you do have a plan in place. You have goals in place, and it’s a measurable metric.
Brian: Something we check in on regularly. There has got to be a plan, right? What’s my plan? Where am I heading in five years? What’s my goal? We want that to be clear. We want to help people get there.
I think another thing that we like to talk about is we’ve been really lucky at CEC in terms of growth. It’s just I was joking with somebody the other day. We opened two new offices recently, and I found out about it by looking on our company intranet page, right?
Samantha: It’s a norm.
Brian: It’s a norm! It’s like, oh yeah, we opened an office in Arizona and an office in Texas. When I started 12 years ago, I think we had, I don’t know the exact number, I’m going to say less than 12 offices, and fast forward 12 years, we’ve got 30 offices at this point. True national footprint, right? Austin down to the Carolinas all the way out to California. I mean, it’s really incredible when you stop and think about it. It’s really cool.
Samantha: Another selling point of CEC is we do engagement surveys, and I think that gives our employees an opportunity to put on paper to show leadership what we’re looking for, what we’re happy with, what we’re not happy with, how we can improve, and those engagement surveys are scrutinized. They’re reviewed. They’re really focused on so that we can put goals in place for the company, and then those are also communicated with everyone.
Brian: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that all goes back to culture, right? I mean it’s everybody from the top to the bottom wants to be here because it’s a good place to work, and we want to make sure it continues to be a good place to work. And what constitutes a good place to work changes over time, and management has been fantastic about soliciting input from everybody and not just asking questions but implementing change based on the feedback.
Samantha: One of the reasons why I decided to work at CEC is our good reputation, and that does carry some weight. It really does, and having a good reputation and working at a company that is ethical and does the right thing for projects and produces quality work is important.
Brian: I think that’s a huge point. Another thing that comes up a lot that I bring a lot in interviews is transparency. I think that’s something that’s really unique to CEC. I know I came from a different company 12 years ago. I was not really privy to what happened financially with the company, and I think that’s fairly common in engineering and consulting firms in general. I remember one of the first meetings. It’s a total open book like, “Hey. Here’s how we did this financial period. We did well here. We’re more profitable here. We did really badly here. This wasn’t good.” You get to see it all, the good, bad, and the ugly, right? And it goes back to we’re all owners, right? So, this is our money and our business performance that we need to review together as owners. So, I think it is really unique like I said. There’s nothing that goes on behind closed doors. It’s a total open-book policy.
Samantha: Yeah, and that’s nice. No surprises.
Brian: No surprises. OK, Sam. So, interview is over, say it went well. Is it appropriate for people to follow up in the interim?
Samantha: Yes, I love a timeline. I love to give my best estimate of — say, “Hey. We do have more interviews. I know they’re wrapping up in a week. We should be in touch with you around then.” And I always let people know if not, if you think it’s been too long since you’ve heard from me, call me, email me. You’re definitely not bothering me, if anything it shows you want the job more. You can send thank you emails. I can forward those along to the hiring managers if you don’t have their contact info.
Brian: It is nice. Again, part of that process is the interviewee deciding if this is a place where they’d like to come and work. So, that lets us know, hey, they’re receptive to it. They enjoyed it. and they don’t think we’re crazy.
Samantha: Yeah, I love to call and check in and say, “Hey. How did you feel?” because that’s very important. You do have to like us just like we were saying.
Brian: Just a simple follow-up email. “Hey. I appreciate the interview. It was nice to meet you. Look forward to hearing back.” That says something, and it goes a long way.
Samantha: It does. That’s great. Yeah. And then, next, ultimately, we decide if we’re gonna hire you. Next steps, I think we go through a pretty rigorous approval process on our end, but that speaks to us not hiring for a specific project. We want to hire you for life if you want to stay here. So, we make sure we’re reviewing the finances, the work, that you can handle it, that you are going to like being with us so that we never have to lay people off. And I think if that does take too long, it’s worth it in the end because we’re really making sure that it’s going to make sense for you forever if you want to be here.
Brian: We want to make sure it’s a good fit, right? And we should just talk about that. Again, I think it’s somewhat unique here, but for every offer that we make, again, how many offers did you guys make last year? Several hundred, easily.
Brian: Every single offer has to go through, not only the hiring manager. They would initiate it, right, and recruiting. It goes through the Office Lead. It goes through our COO. It goes through our president. Every single offer. I mean, think about that, that’s how important the hiring piece and the cultural fit piece are when we’re making that decision.
Samantha: Yeah, and it definitely shows how involved our leadership is. It’s great, and they’re all going to help you and talk to you, and the access to leadership is not strictly just Pittsburgh. We have all the offices nationwide; they can get in touch with leadership easily.
Brian: That’s a great point. Pittsburgh happens to be our headquarters, but our management is routinely traveling to every office that we have on a regular basis, open forum meetings, inviting all staff. Come with questions. We’re here to answer them. It’s truly a cool thing.
Samantha: Alright. So, I think that kind of wraps up the interview process.
Brian: Yeah, I think. So, hopefully, that sheds some light on, at least at CEC, kind of what the process is, some things to think about, hopefully some tips that might help you if you are looking for a job, but all that to say it’s a lot more than just submitting a resume and getting hired, right? There’s a lot that happens, a lot of effort, a lot of processes, and a lot of thought goes into this.
Samantha: We hire for so many different positions here. We have an Ecology practice. We have Survey. We have designers and drafters that we’re hiring for on the Cultural Resources side, Waste Management, Environmental, structural, mechanical, electrical, architectural. We have geologists, we have GIS. We have the corporate side from admins, marketing, HR, accounting. It’s endless. Air Quality.
Brian: And we probably missed some. I’m sure we did, but I think it’s fair to say, again, it’s a really unique hiring environment right now, but we have more postings than we have qualified candidates, and it’s been that way for quite some time.
Samantha: Yes, we want to hire you, and that’s one reason with this podcast is we don’t want you to stand in your way. We want you to know what you’re getting into, and we want it just to make sense on everyone’s end.
So, I thought we would do a quick lightning round here at the end. Just going to throw out a couple quick questions at you, and just whatever your initial thought is what I want to hear.
Samantha: So, on a resume, hobbies or no hobbies listed?
Brian: I think it’s insightful about who you are as a person.
Samantha: And I think it can make things conversational. You can bring up a hobby off of someone’s resume, talk to them, and get to know them more as a person versus just technical ability.
Brian: I agree.
Samantha: Next one – education at the top or the bottom of a resume?
Brian: That’s a good one. I would say at the top if you are earlier in your career and it’s more relevant. So, if you recently graduated at one end of the spectrum, we’ll say absolutely; put it at the top. It’s the most important thing. It’s most relevant to your skills and qualifications. If you graduated 10, 15, 20-plus years ago, probably the bottom, less relevant.
Samantha: I agree. Yes. Self-assessments on resumes? So, an example of that is somebody ranking themselves like seven out of ten organized. Eight out of ten self-motivated.
Brian: Absolutely not. That’s just weird to me. I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s just weird.
Samantha: Well, if it’s your self-assessment, why are you only giving yourself an eight out of 10? We’re trusting you’re the one saying it, not like a colleague or your boss.
Brian: My fear would be, yes, it’s either you’re not really great at that, or if you are really great at that, and you give yourself a 10, are you arrogant? It’s just like the interpretation of that is maybe a little questionable. Yeah.
Samantha: Right, I agree, yeah. Cover letter or no cover letter?
Brian: What do you think?
Sam: No. Well, OK, I think I should say that I focus on a resume, focus on that concise language, your experience, where you worked all in a bullet point, nice, succinct is important to me, but I don’t need one.
Brian: I have a little different take. I would say it’s not that often that we get a detailed very thought-out cover letter, but to me, it sets people apart. When they take the time to write the cover letter, and, again, it has to be concise but explain why they’re qualified for this job and why they want this job. They’ve taken the extra time. They’re driven; they’re motivated. They really want this job. That’s a differentiator for me. So, maybe the takeaway is it doesn’t, at least this is just you and me, right, but it doesn’t make as big of a difference through the screening process, but once that’s passed on to a hiring manager, that can be a differentiator.
Samantha: Yeah, and that definitely echoes that different people are reading your resume. Alright, cool. And then GPA or no GPA on a resume?
Brian: I like seeing a GPA, again, if it’s relevant, right? If you graduated and there’s no line in the sand, but, let’s say, if you graduated within the last five to 10 years or more recently than that, put it on there. It’s still relevant.
Samantha: What if it’s a bad GPA?
Brian: So, would we agree if your GPA is good, you should put it on there?
Samantha: Yeah, I’m sure there’s a threshold, whatever you’re comfortable with. If you feel like you had a good GPA, put it on there. If you didn’t, then maybe omit it. Yeah.
Brian: But if you don’t put it on there, I’m probably going to ask you anyhow. So, I’d say add some context. If your GPA isn’t something you’re proud of or where you wanted it to be, I think that’s where the phone screen comes in. GPA is by no means everything. Yeah. Absolutely.
Samantha: Well, I think that’s all we have for now. I want to thank Brian for joining me and talking about the whole process from we get a resume to having you start your first day.
Brian: Yeah. Thanks, Sam. I hope everybody finds it helpful.
Announcer: Thank you for listening to this episode of CEC Explains, brought to you by Civil & Environmental Consultants. Got a question about this episode or an idea for our next one? Reach out to us at cecinc.com/podcast. Don’t miss an episode of CEC Explains. Subscribe now wherever you find podcasts because when CEC explains, you’re always invited to listen.
Looking to become part of a company where you’re encouraged to explore your passions? Where people come first? Where above and beyond is the standard, and where you can take ownership of your future? Join the team at CEC. Visit our website at cecinc.com/jobs to apply today.
Let us know what you think
Got an idea for a future podcast topic? We’d love to hear it.