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How to Hire Over the Road Truck Drivers: Job Skills

How to Hire Over the Road Truck Drivers: Job Skills

By: Joanne Cleaver

How can you successfully hire over the road truck drivers, or OTR truck drivers? It's a pressing question, considering that as baby boomer drivers retire, employers are challenged with recruiting younger candidates to move into the drivers’ seat.

To fill the hiring gap, first examine your offerings. Experienced recruiters say OTR drivers will stick around when they know they are part of a company culture that is based on a model of teamwork. As well, drivers want to join companies with career opportunities that keep their careers on track, on the road or off.

The following recruiting tips and information will help you hire OTR truck drivers to meet your business needs.

Key OTR Truck Driver Licenses and Technical Certifications:

  • A commercial drivers’ license (CDL) is the essential state-issued license. Renewal periods vary by state.
  • The “Class A CDL” indicates that the license is for driving a truck with an automatic steering system. 
  • Specialty licenses, such as those for handling hazardous materials and different types of steering systems, may be required for specific jobs.
  • Expect to conduct a driving test on the appropriate truck.

Additional OTR Truck Driver Background Checks and Screens:

The trucking industry is highly regulated by state and federal departments of transportation.  A thorough background check and screenings include:

  • Moving violations, going back at least 10 years.
  • Driving while under the influence; most employers have a zero-tolerance policy and do not hire drivers with any convictions for driving under the influence for work or on personal time. 
  • Operating under the influence: some employers also screen out candidates who have convictions for operating boats or any vehicle while under the influence. 
  • Compliance Safety Accountability records, available through the federal Department of Transportation, provide historic records of each driver’s and each company’s performance and safety. 
  • Physical fitness, to comply with regulations. 
  • Additional health screenings are recommended, such as indications that a candidate is at high risk for sleep apnea. 
  • Records on driver health, safety, and working conditions compiled by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which is a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 
  • If the route crosses into Canada, a license and background check to comply with that country’s regulations. 
  • Additional factors that may be required by your company’s insurance provider; check with your financial or operations manager for details.

Recruiting Tip:

Consider developing specialized tests for your company. John Fritzius, general manager at Motor Carrier Service Inc. of Northwood Ohio, has a customized ‘functional capacity test’ developed by a physical therapist, that emulates a day’s worth of driver activities in 45 minutes that candidates must pass. 

How to Source OTR Drivers:

  • Signing bonuses are both common and controversial. While many employers offer $2,000 or more just to win drivers, other employers feel that bonuses undermine employee retention.

Recruiter Hiring Tip:

“Referrals from current employees work well,” reports Dallas-based Frozen Food Express Mark Rhea, director of driver resources. Employees whose referrals result in hires receive bonuses, says Rhea.

Key Job Skills to Look for in OTR Truck Drivers: 

  • Independence
  • Collaborative communication skills with dispatchers and schedulers
  • Consistent and truthful in reporting and logs
  • Mechanical aptitude for both troubleshooting and long-distance collaboration with mechanics at the home site 
  • Ability to manage and continually learn new communication, GPS and monitoring technologies

Recruiter Tip:

Drivers are really multitaskers, says Duff H. Swain, president of the Trincon Group, a Columbus, OH, consultancy that advises transportation employers in the training, safety and recruiting of OTR drivers, among other topics.

What to Cover in OTR Truck Driver Interviews:

Ask interview questions that encourage the candidate to reveal their hopes, expectations and aspirations about the job.

  • A thorough discussion of expectations around home time is an essential part of the in-person interview.
  • Some employers are reorganizing their logistics to minimize the amount of time drivers must spend on long hauls.
  • Be sure to ask the candidate how he or she handles unexpected situations such as mechanical breakdowns.
  • Discuss the candidate’s feelings about real-time monitoring, such as communications systems that constantly stream feedback about truck location and activity.
  • In the final in-person interview, consider inviting the driver’s spouse or partner to the interview so he or she can understand the scope of the job and ask questions about benefits and scheduling home time.

Recruiting Tip:

Ashley Distribution Service, the Arcadia, WI–based division of Ashley Furniture, is evolving its hub-and-spoke regional distribution system to require mainly one to three day drives, says Kevin Mullen, Director of Transportation Safety. If your company is reorienting its operations to ensure more home time for drivers, be sure to outline this to candidates in the interview.

How to Retain OTR Drivers:

Employee retention can start from day one, says Swain. Top drivers want consistent feedback about their technical performance and also want to be kept abreast of evolving career options off-road. “Tell them, ‘You have the skills to make a future here,'” says Swain.

Potential OTR driver career advancement may include:

  • Company paid or subsidized training for additional and/or advanced certifications
  • Team leadership

Related home-based jobs include:

  • Dispatcher
  • Safety, maintenance and training technical positions
  • Operations and logistics management

Recruiting Tip:

Motor Carrier Service (MCS) closes the deal with candidates by outlining how they’ll be oriented in the company way. Hired drivers are given a week-long orientation that includes a 45-minute interview to review how their first week went and how the new hire feels he or she fits in. Candidates are asked for their feedback about the MCS operation and they also discuss in detail the expectations around teamwork and accountability. 

MCS also regularly conducts internal employee surveys and most recently, learned that 97% of its drivers are satisfied with their jobs. The company loses less than 20% of its OTR drivers annually, compared to an industry average turnover of over 100% .

“It’s about being treated with respect,” says Fritzius. “And respect goes both ways." 

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