Experience is the real gauge of a quality superintendent.
Construction projects don't run themselves, and a good superintendent is a critical layer between project managers and field operations.
Like many skilled construction jobs, superintendents are in demand. Here’s what contractors are looking for in a superintendent today according to Brian Binke, president and CEO of Detroit-area construction executive search firm The Birmingham Group,
Potential employers look for substantial periods of employment — at least one to two years — even though many construction workers are known to be somewhat transient as they move from project to project. This stability shows that the superintendent is a good candidate for large jobs that could last a few years.
If forced to choose between a superintendent with trade experience and a formal education, more clients would choose the former, according to Binke. Someone who started in the trades, he said, has more credibility in the field.
"It is easier to rally support from field workers by someone who really understands it," Binke said. "Subcontractors and workers can see through someone who doesn't know what they're doing and might try shortcuts if they can get away with it."
Sure, superintendents need to be firm when necessary. But they also have to be likeable. He or she has to be able to get along with upper management as well as laborers in order to inspire loyalty and confidence. And, let's face it, no one wants to work with or for someone they can't stand.
Familiarity with the project type
Construction companies usually start looking for a superintendent when a need arises on a particular project. This means the contractor is almost always looking for someone who has experience with a specific project type. For example, a company that specializes in $1 billion hospitals will be looking for a superintendent who has experience being the superintendent on $1 billion hospitals. Of course, a superintendent with experience on a complex project like a hospital is well positioned to win a job on a more straightforward project type like a warehouse or retail center, too.
Honesty about past experience and training is important in a candidate. Hiring contractors are on the lookout for people who try to fudge their qualifications. They have ways of determining who is being honest without talking to previous employers. The trick? Open-ended questions.
"Ask them what the safety training they've had looked like," Binke said. "Ask them to talk about the work they did on previous jobs. If they haven't done it, they can't describe it."
Kim Slowey is a writer who has been active in the construction industry for 25 years and is licensed as a certified general contractor in Florida. She received her BA in Mass Communications/Journalism from the University of South Florida and has experience in both commercial and residential construction.