CAD Manager-Hire the Good and Avoid the Bad

1 May, 2006 By: Robert Green

Strategies for improving the hiring process.

When I compiled results from last year's CAD Manager survey, I was saddened, but not surprised, to see that only 17% of CAD managers have the authority to hire or fire employees. In fact, the number of CAD managers who even participate in the hiring process has dropped over the years to around 30%.

With CAD such an integral part of a technical employee's day-to-day activity, it's incomprehensible to me that any company would hire CAD staffers without involving the CAD manager. Let's all resolve to end this mistaken trend now by showing our companies just how helpful we can be in the hiring process.

In this month's column, I'll discuss how you can contri-bute maximum value in the hiring process with minimal time invested. I'll give you pointers for making your management team understand how valuable your contribution can be.

Bad Hires Cost Money

I'm sure many of you have had to manage people you didn't hire. I'm equally sure that most of you have had to manage somebody who wasn't well qualified from a CAD standpoint. It's obvious that you spend more time supporting, teaching and coddling a bad hire than a good hire, right? And when a really bad hire has to be fired, everyone can see how much time, effort and money the company lost, right?

Your challenge is to take these obvious truths to your management team and craft an argument for your involvement in the interviewing and hiring process. I recommend using the following strategies to start the conversation.

Emphasize bad-hire horror stories from the past. Recall those people who were not productive, who had to be let go and who misrepresented themselves during the interview process. Make the case that if the interviewing process were more technically centered, problems would have been caught before the individual was hired.

Equate bad hiring with needless support. Illustrate how every hour you spend supporting a bad hire is a wasted hour for you—and a nonproductive hour for the bad hire. When your company starts to understand how much money they're losing by supporting bad hires, it will see the value in preventing them.

Offer to fix the problem. Now that your management team understands the problem, offer to fix it by revamping the interviewing and hiring process. You can use a combination of your own ideas and those I present below to form a plan that prevents bad hires from happening.

Avoid the Bad with a Great Ad

The hiring process usually starts with an advertisement in a print publication or Web site. Make sure that any advertising you do emphasizes that all candidates will be screened for CAD competency by multiple choice and practical testing (more on this shortly). By stating clearly that anyone who applies will be evaluated, you send a strong signal to those who may misrepresent their skill set, thus avoiding needless interviewing of bad candidates.

Note: Be sure to get your ad approved by your human resources department, because policies for job candidate evaluation and testing vary in different countries and municipalities.

Multiple-Choice Testing

First, you should deploy a multiple-choice testing platform to quickly confirm basic competency. The purpose of a multiple-choice test is to cull the pretenders from those with real knowledge and remove them from the hiring process immediately. In fact, you may even want to position the multiple-choice test as a qualifier for a more in-depth interview.

While grading the multiple-choice test, note the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate. You may find someone who knows the basics very well but has no clue regarding more advanced functions. If a user demonstrates proficiency in the areas of knowledge required for the job, you can pass them on to the next testing phase while knowing their weaknesses.

A resource I've successfully used for multiple-choice testing is AutoTEST Pro by Academix Software. AutoTEST Pro comes with some basic AutoCAD question selections but, more powerfully, can be customized by you to deploy your own tests for other applications. AutoTEST does the grading, timing and reporting and costs only $40.

The Practical Drawing Example

The candidates who survive the multiple-choice test can be tested for actual drawing proficiency. The best strategy is to use a real-world problem a user would encounter in your work environment. You then can use your typical task to craft a test that will give the candidate a short, but challenging, project to complete. Creating the practical drawing example will take some time and thought but will be well worth your effort, so take some time to do a good job. At minimum, be sure to include the following components:

Itemized task list. Make sure the candidates know exactly what the task is. If objects must be on certain layers or certain text or object styles must be used, make sure to list the specifics in a clear and concise manner.

Prints of the completed task. Make sure the candidates can see what the result should look like. This step is critically important because CAD users tend to be more visually oriented than text oriented.

Have a test machine with standard software ready to go. Ensure that candidates can work on the standard version of your CAD software platform without worrying about any tweaks or changes you may have made. If you have a highly customized CAD environment, you should take time to orient candidates so they aren't confused before they start.

Include scaling and geometry concepts in the task. Make sure the candidates can perform scale-oriented tasks such as attaching external references and combining files to common origin points. The point of the test is to determine whether candidates actually understand what they're doing.

Test for plotting competency. My experience shows that more time is wasted supporting users who don't know how to plot than on any other single task. Verify plotting competency by including the requirement to output a certain view or drawing on a set sheet size with a specific scale. If somebody can't plot now, it'll mean trouble later!

Deploying and Grading the Test

When you administer the practical drawing test, I recommend using a timing device so candidates know that they are being evaluated for time to completion. I believe that adding a time component shows who functions well under pressure and, more importantly, who doesn't. Some people say I'm cruel for introducing even more pressure into the job interview process, but I've found that time to completion is a very important part of ranking candidates. I also recommend recording the test using a video-capture utility such as Camtasia ( so you can replay any user's test session later.

Evaluate the results of your practical drawing test with the following metrics:

Check for accuracy. Was everything done in accordance with the task list? Were objects drawn to scale and to dimensions? Was the plotting output correct? Assign an accuracy score based on how many parts of the task a candidate completed correctly.

For AutoCAD, use Undo. In AutoCAD environments, you can go backward through the drawing process using the Undo function to see how the candidate actually created the drawing. It's amazing what you can learn about an AutoCAD user this way.

Review the video capture of the exam. By actually watching the candidate's approach, you'll learn a lot about how he or she works. For non-AutoCAD applications, this method is the only way I've found to truly evaluate how a user performed.

Prioritizing the Candidates

Now that you've qualified, screened and tested the applicants using multiple-choice and practical drawing techniques, it's time to rank your candidates and present your recommendations to management. Here's the methodology I use:

Accuracy first. Use the accuracy score you compiled as the first filter.

Speed second. In the case of two candidates who have the same accuracy score, use the time of completion as a tie breaker. The purpose here is to hire someone who is good and fast ahead of somebody who's simply good.

Approach third. In cases where accuracy and speed are both equal, go back to the video recording of the practical drawing test and evaluate the user's approach to the task. Admittedly, you'll need to use your best judgment to determine which candidate performed the best.

Write up your list of candidates, scores, times, completed drawings and your personal notes about each candidate and submit the list to your management staff. By including this level of information, you show your management team that you're enhancing the interview process in a tremendous way. If your management ever had any doubt about the value of including you in the interview process, those doubts will vanish.

Summing Up

You should be able to use some of the strategies and tools presented in this column to make the interviewing and hiring process easier for you and more productive for your company. You also can use these tips to help you skip over poor candidates and prioritize qualified ones.

If you're not involved in your company's hiring processes, now's the time to get involved! If you're already involved, why not use some of these ideas to maximize the value of your contribution? Either way, I guarantee that your management will view you in a new way as you help your company hire better staff and avoid bad hires. And who knows? You may even enjoy your job more when you have greater involvement in staffing decisions.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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