Want advice on how to land a job in solar?

Here’s a great anecdote that isn’t strictly solar-related.  It’s about people, and in particular the kind of people we look for on the GAI Solar team. Recently we were in the shop on a rainy day and I saw my program manager talking to a “walk-in.”  He pointed to me, and the guy headed my way.  Our visitor hoped to land a job in solar. He asked me if we were hiring.

We’ve got a busy year shaping up. I don’t have an immediate opening, but I might soon.  While a job on a solar crew requires some unique skills, there are also significant overlaps with other job fields.  So I asked him, “What’s your background?”  Without hesitation, he answered, “Well, I’ve been in jail a few times but it was never for a felony.”

I was temporarily speechless (which my team will tell you is rare.)  This was not my question, and obviously not the answer I expected.  We talked briefly and he moved on, promising to bring a resume at a later date. 

The odds that this candidate will land a job in solar (or possibly any job) are not too good. I have some strong candidates we are also talking to.  Do you know the biggest reason why I pushed him way down the list?  There are several reasons to choose from, but one rose to the top easily for me. (Hint: it has little to do with jail time.)

The reason he didn’t land a job in solar

It is simply this: when his answer failed to highlight the value he could bring to the crew, the company, or to me as a business owner, he demonstrated that he isn’t thinking about a job in the context of adding value, only as a means to a paycheck.  Any job hunter who can’t make the connection between the paycheck they seek and the value they add is likely going to be a high-maintenance employee who can potentially poison an otherwise positive team culture.  

How should you start the conversation?

If you want to land a job in solar, your first thoughts should be focused on how to sell yourself.  Do I have solar experience?  Do I have construction experience that applies to the solar field?  Have I taken any solar-related job training?  Am I a fast-learning, hard worker who takes direction well? (More ideas can be found here from the BLS)

Our goal is to create an atmosphere where team members are given opportunities for personal growth in the context of furthering the capabilities of both individual and company, and then make those employees feel appreciated for their contribution to our success as a group.  This is nothing new – ask any successful sports coach.  Every player needs to know their position inside out, but be willing to adapt in all situations to help the team win.

What you get with a focus on contributing

When our team members focus on contributing to a project’s success, they work together more seamlessly.  Each knows their job and in general what their teammates are doing.  When they finish with a task, they look for ways to keep the project moving while waiting for other tasks to finish.  When an experienced team with a great attitude is working to their potential, it’s like watching good choreography.  And our customers are the first to notice.   Team cooperation never fails to impress a customer, and it leads to a great solar project!  That can only happen consistently when the people you hire are focused on adding value first.

Does that mean I don’t care about background checks and a history of run-ins with the law?  Nope.  There are a lot of solid people out there who have made poor choices earlier in life.  The difficult thing is to determine whether it’s a case of incurable poor judgement or if they have put their past in the past and are ready to double-down and contribute to a team effort.  That hiring decision will always involve risk.  But a positive first sign is a focus on being a contributor.

A solar installation in process, where each crew member is performing a different task. Photo by Green Alternatives, Inc. @2020

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