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Hiring a Qualified Detailer: 5 Must-Have Detailer Skills

Hiring talent is one of the most critical aspects of growing and maintaining a healthy business. Finding the right people to fill open roles in your company can be tough – and with the shortage of qualified detailer talent today, finding the right detailer can be extremely challenging. We’ve outlined the five most important skills that a detailer should have. Use this checklist when vetting your next hire.


Hiring a Detailer: 5 Point Skills Checklist


1. Willingness to Develop New Skills

The desire to improve and motivation to learn will make all the difference in your hire’s success on the job. The construction industry is in flux and it is important to find talent that can keep up with new technology and be willing to adapt to new processes. Detailers that are tied to one way of operating and lack the interest or drive to explore new methods of working will stunt your company’s long-term growth. For example, a candidate that may have a ton of field experience with little to no CAD background can be a great hire if they are keen to learn 3D modeling. However, a detailer that has years of AutoCAD experience and resents learning new software can make a transition a painful experience.

From the get go you should suss out your candidate's ability to leave his or her comfort zone and try new things. In the interview process ask your candidate to tell you about a time they had to learn something new and what approach they took.         



2. Possess Good People Skills

Detailers need to be able to handle criticism from their team. Often put in high pressure situations, a detailer’s job is to put his or her work down on paper for everyone to pick apart – no other person in the process has that kind of exposure. For example, a foreman can redo his or her work multiple times and nobody will ever have to see his mistakes, but a detailer’s work is forever documented in a drawing that people can come back and attack him or her with later. An estimator can botch a bid terribly and it is forgiven and expected, but detailers are unrealistically expected to be perfect.

Detailers need to have excellent people skills to manage internal politics:

  • They need to have the ability to earn trust from the field labor as well as management.
  • They need to secure backing from management and be able to distill complicated issues into solutions that management can act on.  
  • They need to have a thick skin and handle criticism well.

All-in-all, detailers need to be able to create quality work that the field will trust along with the relationship skills to interact with the field, learn from mistakes, and be non-confrontational with the field.


3. Have Strong Cost-Benefit Analysis Skills

In addition to being able to create solid relationships within the company, detailers need to have the ability to build relationships with stakeholders outside the company. Detailers are required to work with other subcontractors on a regular basis and these relationships are just as important as relationships with other members of their team.

Take the example of a sheet metal contractor and pipe metal contractor working together, one has to move to make room for the other. Your detailer needs to know when to be accommodating and when to prioritize your company’s work. These are expensive company decisions and while being hard-headed may get your detailer short-term results, if the detailer doesn't establish good relations with subcontractors this will hurt your company long-term. Detailers need to have solid cost-benefit analysis skills to ensure that they can make the right judgement-call in difficult situations.


4. 3D Modeling Experience is a Plus

3D modeling is the future of design detailing and hires with a background in this are going to help you keep pace with innovation. Designers and detailers with a competence in 3D modeling often find it easier to adapt to other technologies, such as BIM content management that allows you to design real-word manufacturing-specific content with a high-level of detail. 3D modeling knowledge is also an indication of a detailer’s progressive mindset and interest in learning.


5.  Patience and Flexibility

“The only constant is change.” Designs change all the time – changes driven by the Owner, spec changes, material substitutions etc.  Detailers need to remain productive in this ever-change environment, which can be very frustrating.

When schedule or company decisions force changes into the detailing workflow, the detailer needs to be fluid and find the “right size” solution to the problem.  For instance, if he or she planned an elaborate modeling and fabrication sequence, and then the schedule gets accelerated to the point where they can’t execute the original plan, they need to quickly change the plan by reducing the detail of their work sometimes to meet schedule, even though it isn’t as efficient.  


Finding a detailer that possesses these qualities can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. But take the time to get the talent you need, it will pay off in the long-run.


What other skills do you value in a detailer? Share them with us in the comments below.

About the Author

Dave Keane is a construction industry veteran with over 18 years of experience in leadership roles at MEP contracting firms. For the past nine years, Dave has brought his passion for operational excellence in prefabrication, estimating, project management, and construction financials to Trimble MEP customers.

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