How to Spot Shady Hire-and-Fire Shops and Questionable Pay Structure

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You put your time in, got your education, and suffered through endless filter changes and gopher runs as a helper just so you can impress a contractor enough to lock in an apprenticeship or entry-level spot with the company for the long haul.

A job as an HVAC tech sounds pretty good right about now; so good that you’re ready to jump on any offer that comes your way.

Maybe you spent so much time worrying about what you can do for somebody else that you didn’t bother to think that your time and skills are worth something too. Maybe, just maybe, its time you give some thought to what a prospective employer can do for you.

As a new tech, you may be happy just landing a job. You’re probably thinking that if you start getting picky you’ll have fewer job opportunities and fewer chances to get your foot in the door and start your career. But there are plenty of reasons why interviewing a potential employer may be the best career move you’ll ever make.

The last thing you want to do is get in with a contractor who doesn’t value you and doesn’t view you as a long-term investment in their business. Now’s the time to dig a little deeper into the company to get to know their business philosophy, their track record with employees, and their commitment to investing in their workforce. Bottom line is that you want to be sure your employer will have your back just as much as you have theirs.

Not every contractor is in the business to be an upstanding employer. Yeah, it sucks, but it’s the reality of the industry. Horror stories about contractors from hell litter HVAC discussion boards. Sure, some of them are from disgruntled employees, but many of them are real life examples of how you can get screwed if you don’t scrutinize a potential contractor just like you can bet they’ll scrutinize you.

Sales-Based Companies …

The term “sales” can sometimes be code for low pay, with some employers changing hourly pay to commission and pressuring technicians to sell new systems instead of fixing existing ones. Some technicians also told stories about getting a job with a sales-based company that dropped commission rates over time until they were earning little more than minimum wage.

Of course, not all sales-based HVAC companies operate in this way, but it’s always worth your time to ask a contractor about his expectations regarding sales and your pay structure (hourly vs. commission-based).

Companies That are Always Hiring …

According to many tech, it’s best to be wary of companies advertising that they are always hiring. One service technician told us, “If they are always hiring, then they are always firing.”

Talk to your fellow techs and you’ll likely get a feel for the “hire and fire” contractors in the industry. And then stay away – stay far away.

Companies That Aren’t Upfront About Temporary Employment …

Many states have specific laws requiring employers to tell you if they plan to hire you on a temporary basis. But some companies, knowing that doing so greatly reduces the number of applicants, fail to let techs know that they’ll be kicked to the curb once peak season has ended.

They get around the whole “temporary employment” thing by instead telling them that they were canned because they underperformed. Some technicians have talked about how these companies would set them up to fail … and then fire them. For example, one technician said that the company he was working for changed the sales goals to unrealistic levels that he couldn’t meet. Another tech said that his employer sent him on jobs that were far away and then told him he took too long to get there.

Profile of a Quality HVAC Contractor …

So, what does a good HVAC contractor look like? For most techs, it’s a company that encourages employee growth through opportunities, recognition, and education.

Positive reinforcement, a motivational work environment, a fair pay structure, and plenty of opportunities to develop your career are all hallmarks of a good contractor.

There’s so much BS in the industry that it’s easy to forget that there are plenty of good guys, too. Get to know these shops so you have a clear picture that it is not only possible, but well within your reach to hook up with a good outfit where you can grow your career.

Interviewing Your Prospective Employer …

Be prepared to ask questions during your interview. You have every right to ask employers upfront about their pay structure, sales goals, and opportunities for growth.
  • What are you looking for in a successful employee?
  • How would you describe the company culture?
  • What is your management style?
  • What are the challenges facing your company and industry?
  • What is the company’s growth plan for the next five years?
  • Does your company offer continuing education opportunities?
  • Are there opportunities for advancement?

Word travels fast in the industry, so don’t hesitate to ask around about the shop and about their reputation in the industry. Don’t take every tech’s word as gospel because some guys are quick to trash a contractor if they got canned or if they didn’t get along with the boss. But you’ll want to keep your guard up if you come across throngs of former employees yelling foul about their previous stint with that contractor.

You didn’t work hard to complete your education and training just to bounce from one job to the next and from one shady contractor to the next. You are ready to give your best work to an employer and, in return, you want an employer who will appreciate your enthusiasm, dedication, skills, and strong work ethic.