Recent headwinds in the hiring market have put a lot of pressure on leaders at auto dealerships to build up their talent reserves for the future. But, unfortunately, finding and landing promising automotive talent isn’t easy.
Many GMs and top leaders in the auto retail space feel like they’re always hiring — but they never seem to have the right person to promote when a position opens up. That’s because even leading dealerships often don’t invest in upskilling and re-skilling their in-house teams the right way. The result is a highly competitive dealership hiring market, where stores are forced to pay top dollar to win rising stars from local competitors.
It doesn’t have to be this way. When you pick the right people, monitor their performance, and support their growth with training and investment, hiring goes from a cost center to a strong ROI generator that pays dividends over time.
Why does hiring challenge even the most successful dealers?
Recruiting the right people has always been hard, because it’s difficult to tell what someone will be like when the interview is over.
Most dealerships “hire for skills, but fire for behavior” — which may mean a poor attitude or work ethic, but usually means bad performance — and it’s difficult to tell how someone will execute by reading a resume or even conducting interviews. A lot of promising young salespeople or technicians get let go because they don’t drive enough revenue.
If it sounds like hiring is a bit of a guessing game, you’re not wrong. There’s always the risk of a bad hire, but by changing the way you think about hiring, you can greatly improve your odds of reducing churn and building long-term working relationships.
Tackling this challenge takes a two-pronged approach:
Learn how to “hire hard and manage easy”
Hiring is nobody’s favorite part of the job, and it can feel like a distraction from more important parts of managing a dealership. It’s time consuming, uncomfortable, and maybe even a little annoying.
As a result, managers have a tendency to try and “get hiring over with” quickly, usually by signing one of the first qualified prospects to walk through the door. On the other hand, if you treat hiring auto dealer talent as a mission-critical practice rather than a time suck, your added patience will be rewarded by better results in the long run.
How do you “hire hard” to find winning talent? Finding uncommon ways to vet prospects can lead to uncommonly good results. Experiment with how you test interviewees to see how they perform on the fly. Rather than just soliciting resumes and running candidates through a highly scripted interview routine, get creative in how you evaluate candidates — fold in activities like role playing to get a sense for how potential applicants think quickly in real scenarios. Ask questions about their interests and tastes to see if they fit with your company culture.
As part of refining your hiring process, it’s important to develop a structured system for evaluating candidates. Establish metrics for key areas of importance and score each candidate in those areas so you can rigorously compare your options and make an informed decision.
If this sounds involved, it is — but it can produce great results. If you don’t have much experience working with candidates in this way, it helps to consult with an experienced partner to streamline the process.
Invest in ongoing training and reduce your need to hire altogether
The easiest way to tackle the challenge of finding great team members is to make the ones you already have stronger, and to keep them on your team for as long as possible.
Too many dealerships create a culture where performance is priority number one — if you aren’t hitting your numbers, hit the road — but don’t provide the necessary training to support employees. It takes continuous effort and energy (and investment) to improve a salesperson or technician’s performance. An empathetic and growth-oriented development mindset builds in-house talent, the way you want it to be built, so you have prepared leaders-in-training ready to step up to a new position at a moment’s notice.
It can be tough to start a performance development program, but once it’s rolling, it becomes second nature. Engaged, supported team members whose performance is tracked and who receive professional development opportunities stick around longer and deliver better results, cutting down on your need to hire altogether.
Hiring is always a challenge, but with the right mindset and the understanding that a bit of extra effort now can make your life much easier and happier later, you can tackle it head on and come out on top. Working with a partner that has experience setting up programs like these can make it much easier to get started faster — so you can start seeing ROI faster.