How to get the best staff for your car dealership…

Time 13 years ago


How do you tackle recruitment? Get your secretary to place an ad in the local paper and hope for the best? If so, here’s a message: you are missing out on the best people for the job. Just as customers come to you for expert advice, so too should you source word from the experts to tackle your recruitment challenges. 


This month, we’re launching a new recruitment section, to help professionals like you find the best people for your jobs. To mark the launch, we’ve gone out and spoken to the country’s leading recruitment experts. These folks are the best around. All have pearls of wisdom to guide you towards sniffing out the best people for the job. 


All promise to save you time, money, frustration and the sheer despair of seeing wrong person after wrong person. And all have spent their careers doing so. We’re not recruitment experts. These guys are. In the coming months, they’ll help us help you solve your recruitment problems. But in the meantime, here’s some thoughts on that perennial question. How do you get the best people to work for you?



Many people in the industry believe the route guaranteed to get the best people is to use a recruitment agency. Linda Meehan, from Hot Recruitment, explains that agencies save time and boost the quality of the applications that land on your desk. How? ‘We carry out thorough initial screening, analyse CVs and interview candidates – all of which the client doesn’t have to do,’ explained Meehan.


Kerri Farringdon turns the question around. ‘If you were, say, a senior finance director looking for a new job, would you apply to a job in the paper, or would you go to a specialist recruiter in that field?’


Don’t forget, says Meehan, that specialist agencies can call upon powerful databases. ‘We have cultivated these over years – ours is the golden nugget of the company, which gives us access not only to every form of media, but exactly the right areas within that media to get the best results. We can quickly pinpoint the best the market has to offer for each candidate – something that would cost a dealer, if they did it on their own, thousands of pounds.’


Colin Morgan, from Auto Allocations, strongly recommends you choose a local agency. These guys, he explains, are best placed to understand the local dealerships and applicants. ‘I’ll always go along to new clients and meet them face-to-face. This means I understand how they operate, what they’re all about, what they’re looking for.’ 


A good recruitment agency will do this, and help you find more suitable candidates as a result. Speak to fellow local businesses about recommendations, says Farringdon. Word of mouth is worth a great deal in this industry – ‘people will always recommend a good service. If you’re not sure which way to go, try asking around. It’s a good sign if the same names keep cropping up.’


If you’re a main dealer, check out the manufacturer’s own recruitment system. Ben Kilpatrick, from Renault Resourcing, says the maker’s UK-subsidised recruitment tool follows the same rules as a conventional agency, but specifically for Renault dealers. Bringing it in-house removes commercial frustrations such as competition on cost and with other brands. It also raises the profile of a career with Renault, and enables a much more targeted recruitment process. 


As manufacturers improve quality standards, says Kilpatrick, so the need for skilled technicians has levelled out. The recruitment demand today is for skilled salespeople, and a good recruitment agency will appreciate and respond to this demand. It will also ensure it has the knowledge base to manage salespeople in the right way to ensure all parties benefit.


Here’s one to ask yourself, though. Have you considered apprenticeships? Lee Acton, from Autoskillnet, promotes them as a great way of attracting school-leavers into the industry. 


‘It’s incredibly competitive – schools want kids to stay on, and the market for 16-17 year olds is keen. But it is a great way of sourcing those after a career in the industry,’ he says. ‘After a few years, these people are often the ones on a committed and accelerated career path in the business.’



A great way to discover potential apprentices, says Acton, is to take on 14-16 year olds for Saturday jobs or holiday work. If they’re approaching you, it’s because they’re keen to work in your business. That’s one hurdle out the way right away. Giving them work means they get to know the business, the staff, and you get an extended period to judge their potential. Often, the apprenticeship is a natural progression – and a fantastic way of getting top-drawer trainees. 


However, the recruitment process starts before you even think about placing ads and the like. Jimi Matthews, from Perfect Placement, stresses how important it is to know what you’re looking for. ‘Don’t fall into the trap of simply saying that, well, the last guy was awful. You need more to go on, in order to find exactly the right person.’ 


It’s also important you know the timescales you’re looking at, he explains – so you know whether to include people with longer periods of notice with their current employer.

Consider the job ad carefully – all applications will stem from it, so it’s vital you get it spot on. 


Don’t mis-sell, but do give an overview of the company and the job, what responsibilities someone will have, what they’ll be doing and the experience they’ll need to bring. 


Remember, applicants may be basing their next career move on this advert. It has to be correct. It’s a good idea to speak to the person currently doing the job, and get their input on just what’s needed.  


Remember why people move, says Kilpatrick – money. Recruitment is thus very competitive and very salary-driven.


‘People move for pennies, despite the investment you may have put in people,’ he explains. ‘Some also use job offers as a way of improving their current position.’

You should therefore be savvy when dealing with recruitment, and don’t become blasé or confident that, once you’ve advertised a job, your work is done.


But what if you go the agency route – how should you deal with them? Treat them like a consultancy, advises Meehan and Matthews. Meehan says: ‘We’ll have a chat to find out just what you want – only then will we go to market. We fully appreciate time is money, and will ensure our approach reflects this.’ 


‘Ask about preferred status,’ adds Matthews. ‘Sometimes, we can offer reciprocal promises, such as the availability of candidates.’


Sarah Aldous, from Top Car Recruitment, observes automotive recruitment is far different to conventional recruitment, and that only agencies with the right experience will appreciate this subtlety. 


‘It is less pushy, more measured: experts know dealers prefer to work at their own pace, whereas non-specialists are a lot more aggressive. There is an unwritten bible in the trade, as to what everyone does, what to look for and so on. Only specialists appreciate this,’ says Aldous. 


‘I know what to look for in applicants, so will only send quality to interviews, rather than quantity. You may not hear from me for a while – but the people I’ll send through will certainly measure up.’


Meehan warns of an undesirable practice. Beware the ‘spray and pray’ merchants. This lot simply take a CV from an internet site, and send to every possible dealership, completely unsolicited. 


Only if the dealer responds will they contact the candidate – who, of course, won’t be screened by the agency, which leads to a mass of irrelevant CVs and can pump up pointless interviews of unsuitable candidates by a quarter. They are to be avoided like the plague – the recruitment industry is trying its hardest to stamp out such dodgy methods, but we should all be on our toes.


When job applications start to come in, be open-minded when viewing them. Kilpatrick says that many dealers simply say ‘I need a salesperson – they’ve got to have been doing it somewhere else first’. This can compound the spiralling salary problem – whereas considering someone with a strong record from outside the industry may just give you a better person with lower salary demands. ‘This is something a good recruitment agency can help you with, if you’re willing to be flexible. Longer-term, this is a smarter approach,’ explains Kilpatrick.


When studying CVs, Michelle Hall, from Automotive HR can’t overstate the importance of a stable work history highly enough. 


‘A candidate with several short-term employers (say, less than a year) could mean a lack of commitment on their part. Look for gaps in employment and ask for an explanation,’ she explains. 


‘Long periods out of work could signal a criminal background. Watch the employment dates for overlaps, too. This could be a simple error – but might also indicate that the candidate is not being truthful about previous employers. Ask the person to explain it, and be sure to call those employers and verify dates of employment with them.’


So you’re ready to call people in for interview? Matthews advises you ask the agency to set it up. ‘This means the candidate has the best chance of being prepared. Some clients, especially those higher up in the company, are used to autonomy – but the agency has the expertise to give everyone the best possible chance.’ 

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And Matthews advises you use B-R-A-I-N. Simply, consider the Benefits of the applicant to your business, the Risk attached with them, whether there is an Alternative already in the business who could be promoted, your Intuition before, during and after an interview (remember, salesmen are there to sell – including themselves)… and how much the business would suffer through doing Nothing.


And to turn all this completely on its head, can you afford not to recruit? Matthews advises you work out the cost of, say, a technician’s ramp sitting empty – two weeks’ work will easily cover a month’s wages for an employee. 


‘I spoke to a dealer once who admitted he was banned from recruiting. I worked out how much the empty bay was costing him, how much we’d cost to fill it – the difference was four times in our favour!’  There you have it. Recruitment. Not as daunting as it sounds… 


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Car Dealer has been covering the motor trade since 2008 as both a print and digital publication. In 2020 the title went fully digital and now provides daily motoring updates on this website for the car industry. A digital magazine is published once a month.

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