Retired pupil transporter Louk Markham has amassed school bus plates from across the U.S. as well as Canada.
Summer seems to be a good time to be working on a story on interviewing best practices, with quite a few transportation directors I am talking to currently in the throes of the interviewing process. Many are looking to hire more substitute drivers, a pool from which they will eventually select permanent drivers.
I’m trying to identify for this story some of the key best interview practices to help our readers. So far, some of my sources have emphasized that, while possessing the skills and abilities to be a good driver, technician or administrative assistant as well as caring about safety and the kids are, of course, essential, two major qualities that they screen for in candidates are a positive attitude with values that match those of their organization and a strong personality.
Pete Meslin, director of transportation for Newport-Mesa Unified School District in Costa Mesa, California, shared a story with me that he had heard a while back about an interview practice that Southwest Airlines once had, in which they weeded out candidates they didn’t think would be the right fit based on attitude.
The supervisors brought all the hopeful pilots-to-be in one room for a screening and training. They then explained that since they would be outside for part of the interview process, they might want to get comfortable for the eight-hour day ahead of them and change out of their formal job interview outfits into some shorts and T-shirts they provided, available in all sizes. The people who didn’t want to change were dismissed, because the organization valued being comfortable and having fun while working.
Meslin likens that anecdote to working at Newport-Mesa: “If you’re a reserved person who's comfortable in a suit, you’re not going to enjoy working with us because we have a lot of fun serving students and sometimes we have to get dirty doing it.”
He added that, to him, this anecdote also shows that a candidate having a good attitude is critical.
“If you don’t have a good attitude we don’t want you, no matter how skilled you are,” he said. “We can change skill level through training. We can’t change attitude.”
Additionally, Orange (Calif.) Unified School District's Pam McDonald, director of transportation, and Ellen Johnson, transportation supervisor, look for candidates with, as they put it, “a bit of an edge to them.”
“A person who works for a transportation agency, [such as] a secretary or driver, has to have some strong virtues,” Johnson says. “You have to be able to hold your own. If you are a school bus driver and you don’t exhibit those characteristics, the kids will chew you up and spit you out. You have to have an air of authority about you, or you can’t control 80-plus kids behind you.”
She added that that makes for a very interesting, challenging group of employees to supervise, but it instills confidence in the driver’s ability to handle whatever comes their way out on the road and call for support when they need it.
This “edge” is also important for office staff members, McDonald explains, because without a backbone, “the bus drivers, since they’re so independent, will walk all over them.”
I am looking forward to learning more about what you look for when hiring new candidates, whether drivers, mechanics or office staff. Please feel free to share any interesting interviewing practices that have worked for you in the comments section below.
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