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September/October 2017

Passion, Professionalism among Wide Range of Qualities Intermodal Employers Stress

When it comes to the complex process of finding and hiring the right people to fill intermodal industry jobs, the letter “P” plays a prominent role.


“I’m looking for the ‘three Ps’ — preparedness, professionalism and passion,” said Tom Lord, who heads the transportation search practice at Seiden Krieger Associates.

“The first sign of a promising candidate is that he/she is well prepared. Passion is a key attribute that empowers employees to be more productive, more innovative, and to inspire colleagues to do their best.”

Virginie Bronsard, senior director of human resources at CN Railway, put it this way: “We are looking for people that have energy and passion for the industry, a willingness to challenge the status quo and proactively plan for where the business is going.”

Kerry Byrne, president of Total Quality Logistics, identified several characteristics, including a positive attitude. Much more is needed, he stressed, including a consistent work history, confidence and a drive that translates into a reason to succeed.

“We’re looking for candidates with passion,” said Meghan Sweeney, a recruiting manager at Coyote Logistics. “Above all we’re looking for positive energy and a drive to thrive in a team environment.”

Kevin Kornoelje, leader of search firm Egon Zehnder’s U.S. transportation and logistics practice, stressed performance and potential. “We look at how they drive results and craft strategy, how are they at team leadership, and collaborating and influencing across the organization.”

Dynamic Market


“The competition for top tier talent at all levels is more intense than ever,” Kornoelje said, as logistics evolves in the digital era. “Finding executives who have done exactly what a client wants is becoming more and more difficult.”

Byrne believes the overall job market has been more healthy and competitive, though the amount of activity is relatively level. “The biggest difference we’re seeing is that candidates tend to have multiple offers to consider,” he said.

“Finding qualified candidates willing to entertain opportunities with stable companies, or companies in growth mode, has been much easier in 2017 than in previous years,” Lord said, because of recent mergers, alliances and layoffs that have trimmed executive ranks. “The question is how willing are the qualified candidates to jump ship for a better opportunity?”


Consultant Steve Prelipp, a former HR executive at major trucking companies, said the market is changing in other ways. “Gen X does not want to be away from home,” he said. “They are not especially interested in driving a truck. Rural/farm kids are a better fit for truck driving, but there are fewer and fewer of them.”

Other Important Qualities

“Our core values are integrity, collaboration, teamwork, accountability and innovation,” Bronsard said. “We are looking for people that are sharing our values, and will embed them in all they do. Safety is at the forefront of our values in our operations, therefore we are looking for people who will have the ability to work in safety-sensitive environments as well as outdoors.”

Sweeney stressed avoiding the “cookie cutter” approach to recruiting. “We’re not focused on a specific background or personality type. We recruit people from a wide array of educational and experiential backgrounds — that diversity is a huge asset,” she said.

Kornoelje identified four qualities that are important when assessing candidates: curiosity, determination, analytical skill and relationship building, with an emphasis on the first two qualities. Egon Zehnder and its clients depend on multiple conversations, and not 30-minute interviews, he said. Psychometric testing also plays a role.

Prelipp underscored the importance of a solid fit between a candidate and the company culture and the importance of assessing whether past experience verifies that they can do the job.

In some ways, the job market is consistent, others said.

Bronsard believes that finding quality candidates is “always part of our greatest challenge. Our reality is that our network is wide, and it spreads in locations that are remote. We are looking for techies and people that have different skill sets to complement those that are running our trains.”

Sweeney agreed that it hasn’t been simple to attract premium talent. “By continuing to be a culture full of highly-motivated, high-performing passionate people who innovate and lead the industry, we will be well positioned to continue attracting and retaining top talent,” she said.

When it comes to the actual interview, a different letter — “C” — is prominent.

“The clear motivating factors to start a career with TQL are confidence, being personable and showing examples of a strong work effort,” Byrne said.

“Confidence,” Lord said simply. “One’s level of confidence will be evident in every aspect of an interview from the handshake, eye contact, to how effectively questions are answered. It is important to note that candidates are often negatively perceived if they appear to be overconfident.”

Integrity, curiosity and the courage to speak their mind about ideas without reservation are key attributes, Bronsard said. “We are looking for people that will be supporting and driving the culture we want to be known for at all levels of our organization,” she explained.

During interviews, Sweeney said Coyote searches for candidates whose passion is accompanied by teamwork and strong communication skills. “Being a strong, clear communicator is essential for building relationships with customers, carriers and other Coyotes,” she added.

Prelipp highlighted some other key interview factors to watch. “Are they really looking for a new job, or ‘just kicking the tires?’” he said. “Do they have a genuine interest in what you have to offer?”

Along with analyzing candidates’ attributes, employers need to assess how they project themselves to candidates, especially in a competitive job market. Experts say there is a wide range of ways to do that.

Culture is an attraction at Coyote, too, though Sweeney said opportunity is the long-term payoff. “Our people have the opportunity to transition to different roles and departments within the company,” she said. “We have a talent management team solely dedicated to putting the right Coyote in the right role.”

Supplier, Motor Carrier Perspectives

Frank Sonzala, CEO of CIMC Intermodal Equipment, said the company has created a series of incentives for factory workers that includes $100 per quarter, an additional day off and a lunch with company executives for perfect attendance. Participation in the program began at about 25 percent and has more than tripled in just three quarters.

The program was created to prevent absenteeism that CIMC saw at other manufacturing companies. In financial terms, the added cash results in a pay increase of more than 50 cents an hour.

Another benefit being offered is English language classes at the Southern California factory that help workers whose first language is Spanish.

“Our assets are our employees,” Sonzala said. “We have to be employee-centric and treat them well.”

Mark George, CEO of IMC Companies, also stressed the personal touch when it comes to recruiting drivers.

“Relationships are paramount,” he said, explaining that the company’s success in recruiting is in large part due to word of mouth between its drivers and their peers who are told that IMC is a good place to work.

He also stressed the value of programs such as the company’s top 35 managers who annually spend half a day with a driver. “Every time I spend a day with a driver I come away impressed with how hard they work.”

IMC also has a yearlong management training program that acquaints future leaders with every part of the company beginning with the tire line, followed by chassis, customer service, safety, sales and finally accounting.

Other key factors in assessing job candidates are experience and education. The importance of either education or experience depends on the job, Lord said. Companies generally carries more weight. For example, he said, a track record of bringing in new business or candidates that can show accomplishments and skills such as communication and leadership are attractive. “The top candidates are usually those with experience that is germane to the job, supported by accomplishments that have brought value to the company and the individual’s career,” he added.

Prelipp stressed the importance of experience, as well as a company’s willingness to train workers because the supply is so short.

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