Interview Q&A - Part 4: Maintenance Interview
This is the fourth in a series of articles in which I will provide questions that are typical of job interviews, along with answers of the kind that veterans should provide. Between each question and its answer, I will make a comment or two.
Karen, the veteran hiring specialist in the human resources department of a manufacturing company, is interviewing Daniel for the position of plant maintenance manager. Karen and the general manager of the plant have read Daniel’s resume and agree that he has the necessary qualifications. The interview began with basic questions like those in parts 1 and 2 of this series.
Karen: What would you do to maintain worker safety?
This is Karen’s first “non-basic” question – indicating that safety may be a problem. Daniel does not know that this is the case, but should answer as if it is.
Daniel: On the morning of Day One, I would put out the word personally that all company safety regulations are going to be strictly enforced. I would do that in a way that would not show up any of my assistants or crew leaders. That’s something I learned in the Army: Don’t express or imply that a subordinate noncom has done anything wrong in front of the troops. If the department does not already have a safety specialist, I would upgrade one of my assistants after a couple weeks of getting to know my people, and then send that person out for training. But regardless, I would be very much of a presence on the floor. As far as machinery is concerned, I have always been quick to shut something down that doesn’t look right or doesn’t sound right.
Karen: How would you keep an adequate inventory of parts and supplies without overstocking?
Karen is interested in Daniel’s priorities.
Daniel: First of all, I would go over our purchasing records for the past year. Then my approach would be to minimize the stocking of parts that are expensive and not used very often – probably certain pumps and valves, mechanical couplings, and so on. But before doing that, I would make sure I was covered by our vendors for immediate delivery in emergencies. But with items like the lubricants, the hoses and fittings, and the cleaning supplies, there’s no excuse for trying to play it too close and running out.
Karen: How have you dealt with vendors such as stocking distributors to ensure that you were getting value for your dollars?
Karen wants to hear that Daniel would track his vendors’ performance – and pricing – closely.
Daniel: To begin with, I have to get good prices. I trade information from time to time with other companies – non-competitors – on what various distributors are charging. From there, it is a matter of value added. I will stay with a vendor that prices a little high if I get technical help and some engineering help along with that – plus help in emergencies, standing rock-solid behind what they sell, keeping my product knowledge up to date, etc. I have always worked very closely with stocking distributors, and I insist on that last point. To use a military analogy, as a commander, I want a steady stream of intel.
Karen: Tell me about your communication techniques.
*Karen is as interested in how Daniel receives information as she is in how he transmits information. *
Daniel: I am big on two-way communications, so I ask a lot of questions. I also practice management by walking around, so people can tell me about things they notice – getting back to machinery or components that don’t look right or sound right. I always have an assistant with me when I do that, or I get the crew chief in on the conversation so I don’t undermine anyone’s authority – again thinking the Army way. As far as changes in products or procedures are concerned, I communicate down through the ranks. Anything that is extremely important goes into an email to all concerned or gets printed and posted.
Karen: Would you do much of the actual physical work yourself?
Daniel’s answer should give Karen added assurance that he would not run the department mainly from a desk.
Daniel: I have found that a great way to build respect is to demonstrate that I can do all but the highly specialized craft jobs myself. So I would do a fair amount of the physical work at first. Then later, yes, if a crew was having problems with something I understood, I would get in there and fix it. But this would be an instruction session as well, so I wouldn’t have to do it a second time. Also, in emergencies, I would always be there – and I would expect the assistant who is in charge of that particular project to be there, too. Command and control in the field; lead the troops from the front.
Karen: What if you saw that a problem was probably going to take a lot of time to figure out?
*Karen wants to know that Daniel would use the maintenance department’s time wisely. *
Daniel: In almost all cases, I would call in outside help – a distributor’s sales engineer or a manufacturer’s field service representative, depending on the problem. I would observe what he or she did, and I would have my key assistant there – and the appropriate crew chief. So next time around, we would have a good shot at fixing the problem.
Karen: How have done your budgeting?
Karen is especially interested in how well Daniel would work with his colleagues during the budgeting process.
Daniel: In my current job, I make plus-or-minus projections based on changes we have made in the plant equipment during the previous year. I also adjust for inflation and whatever price increases I am getting from my suppliers. I factor in personnel changes, figuring on an average amount of turnover. Then I go over everything with the plant superintendent, and we discuss any major installations we might want to make during the budget year. The next step is to draft a preliminary budget, which we discuss with the chief operating officer. Then we make some adjustments and go to final – and I sit in on the final budget meetings.
Karen: When you needed to make a personnel change, how would you would interact with our human resources people?
The company wants someone who would interact with HR regularly, not just when there is a need.
Daniel: In the case of letting someone go, I might already have been interacting with HR, in conjunction with the plant superintendent – if we had thought that counseling would have helped, for example. I have found over the years that HR does its best work when you don’t surprise them. I don’t cry wolf very often, but when I see a problem brewing, I let HR know. I also keep the job descriptions up to date. I look for opportunities to change responsibilities or redefine jobs. If I am getting a lot of turnover in certain positions, I work with HR to try to figure out why.
Karen: What about employee training? How have you handled that?
Karen is reacting to Daniel’s remark about turnover.
Daniel: Training needs to be thorough, but at the same time I want my people to start performing right away. I have the field service representatives from the distributors or the machinery manufacturers train new people on major work on the machinery, so I know they are getting the very best instruction. I have the crew chiefs teach the rest of the procedures. They keep rigorous checklists on the new people for about six weeks, then we talk. If everything is okay, the new people go into our regular evaluation cycle. Long-term, I want to get my people trained so that almost all of them can do both first- and second-line work.
Karen: How would you want to divide maintenance responsibilities between your workers and the production workers?
*Karen is looking for a clear-cut answer. *
Daniel: I would not divide them at all. I would want my crews to do all maintenance, including routine machinery maintenance. I don’t like dual management, and if I am going to be responsible, I want to be in charge.
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN.
- Read the first question below and my comment.
- If you have a recording device, record an answer immediately – playing the role of Daniel. Do not think long before answering, because you would not want to do that during an actual interview.
- Go through all of the questions in this manner.
- Listen to yourself.
- Type out an improved answer to each question. Take plenty of time with this step. Do some research on the Internet if necessary.
- Repeat Step 5 until you are satisfied with your answers.
If you do not have access to a recording device, type out your first answers as rapidly as you can, then go to Step 5.
How did you handle your last termination of an employee?
Karen is checking to see whether Daniel used generally accepted practices to ensure a fair and legal separation.
How did you handle the last major breakdown of equipment?
Karen is interested in how quickly Daniel got the equipment up and running – or replaced.
When you have a serious breakdown, when do you repair and when do you replace?
Daniel’s answer should convey an understanding of the cost of downtime.
You said you would be there in emergencies. What about work-life balance?
The company needs to know that Daniel would be on call 24-7-365.
What is an active compliant manufacturing robot?
Karen may ask one or more highly technical questions to see how well Daniel researched her company – and to check his knowledge of manufacturing. In this particular case, the company website shows this kind of machine in use and describes it.
By Mike Rollins