So you Want to Be a Lineman

Today’s episode is for anyone who is looking to become a Lineman. I see lots of talk on Facebook and other Lineman bulletin boards from people asking about getting a job as a lineman. If this is you, listen up. I can’t tell you exactly how all companies run their hiring but I can tell you there is a process to hiring Lineman. I have worked for a couple of different utilities and the processes were similar. Today you will receive some guidelines on what to expect when you put your application in for a job. Hopefully these guidelines will help you out and increase your chances of getting hired. You will also hear a about a couple of things that if you do you will almost be guaranteed not to get the job.

If you want the best shot at securing a job to support your family there are things you need to think about. I have seen many people get hired on, some come and some go. I have certain things that I look for when I consider hiring someone; I also have some red flags that I look for. I have a pretty good record as far as making the right choices, I have made some bad hiring decisions also, and I’m not perfect. One or two couldn’t make it, you can’t find out everything before you hire someone.

Let’s start at the beginning and the hiring process, there are four main steps, the first being when you put in your application. Hiring is very competitive, just to move forward into the later parts of the hiring process you have to be selected from a group of applications, it is common to have 100 applicants apply for one lineman job, we can’t interview 100 people so this group has to be weeded down to a more manageable number. The first step is to make sure someone selects your application to look at and moves you into the next step in the process.

The first thing I do is look at resumes to see what kind of work you were doing in their previous jobs. You don’t have a resume? My advice is to get one. “But David, I want to be a lineman not work in an office, why do I need that?” Anything you can do to get someone’s attention and get you out of the stack of applications the better. You want to give the person picking people for the next level some kind of idea of what kind of work you have been doing. If you can’t do a resume, get you wife, girlfriend, pay somebody to do it. When I see an application with no resume it pretty much goes to the bottom of the pile.

You don’t need a professional resume Make sure it is neat, about 50% of resumes I see have errors or messed up formatting. Your resume is the company’s first impression of you. Make that impression a good one by at least having something that is neat and all the words are spelled right. Just put down the places you have worked and what kind of experience you have.

This matters because if you are a chef or a bank teller or work in Starbucks you might not be a good candidate to be a lineman, I am not saying it can’t be done, I’m sure there are some people out there that have made the move. I am just talking about increasing your chances of getting hired. I look for ex-military, construction, any type of outdoor work. Remember, employers are looking for the people they can expect to succeed in the business. These types of people have good track records of working out. I can’t speak for all companies but I like people who have graduated from some type of Lineman school. At least they have some idea of what they are getting into.

Now we move on to the next step, the physical test. This comes after all of the applicants have been weeded down to a manageable number. If you get a phone call and they have selected you to go to the physical test please make room on your schedule, nobody cares if you have to work or babysit or whatever, this is all a test, if you can’t make it that day you probably can’t make it on callout either so you are probably out already before you get to the next steps.

The first part is usually run by Lineman, some type of physical test are to see if we can weed out the poser’s right at the start. Before we actually did the physical test I actually had a helper that was just hired on tell me they never had a shovel in their hand before. If you never had a shovel in your hand in your life, I am not sure I want to work with you. This process was added to prevent that type of thing.

You will be working outside doing task that lineman do on a daily basis to see how well you catch on. We always pick a hot day during the middle of the day if possible. The tests they give you are going to be hard, that is the idea, to see if you can make it. One of my favorites is, you are given an extendo stick and are asked to open cutout. Now the cutout is all the way at the top of the pole, so high that you have to hold the bottom of the stick about chest high to hit the cutout ring. You Lineman know how difficult that makes it, there is usually some breeze going on which compounds the problem and makes it harder. Most guys give up after 10 minutes if they can’t get it open but I have seen guys go 30 minutes and not be able to do it. Don’t be the guy that gives up. No matter what the task, you let them tell you to stop. Linemen don’t like quitters.

Another test might be to dig a hole with a shovel, it might be a very large hole, or they might give you a ruler and tell you to dig the whole a certain depth, this is to see if you can follow directions. So if you get to the physical test listen to exactly how to do the task, that is part of the test.

During one of these physical tests I had a young guy; this guy looked like an athlete, tall and lean, dark hair. He was probably about 25 years old. He walked in cocky and his body language was telling me this kid is going to do great. Before we started he was telling me he always wanted to be a lineman, he knew one of my Lineman friends, and his father was friends with another one of my friends. In the first test he was given, someone demonstrated how to put together a cutout and L/A on a t-bracket. Then he would have to do the same after watching them. Well, the cutout ended up being installed upside down. The trim wire looked like a spider web. I was thinking maybe he will be good at other things. Next, climb a ladder about 15 feet and belt off. He climbed up the ladder, I could see he was scared, well I got scared too because I though he was going to fall off the ladder. At this point I was thinking if you can’t climb a ladder 15 feet up, you have no chance at climbing a tower or a tall pole. Next, dig a 2 foot hole 1 foot by 1 foot square. 30 minutes later he wasn’t finished. When I told him I was not sure he was cut out to be a lineman he was insulted, his body language changed to, you don’t know what you are talking about. Sorry, you’re out. I need people who are going to support me, not someone I have to take care of for the next 20 years. I saw another kid who thought he was a shoe in walk up to the supervisor after 10 minutes of test and say “this is not what I thought it was and is not for me” he turned around and headed for the parking lot.

Another guy, very heavy set, about as far away from being athletic, he looked like a waiter or something. He didn’t say very much, just listened and did what was asked of him. When I first saw him I was thinking, no way this guy can make it. Well boy was I wrong, he caught on to everything quickly, and if he didn’t know he would ask questions. He could dig with a shovel like a backhoe, for 30 minutes he was digging never complained. We put him about 2 feet up on a pair of hooks, took to it like a squirrel. He turned out to be one of the best linemen I have ever seen. The moral of the story is we won’t be judging people by how they look but by how they work.

The physical part is all about seeing what people are made of, we are going to be working with you for years maybe, if we have to pull your weight we don’t want you, it’s as simple as that. You can be taught how to do line work but you cannot be taught how to give effort or not give up.

If you make it to the physical test, practice a little bit beforehand, get a shovel, do some digging. Climb a ladder, go up high as you can, when you get to the test, don’t be cocky, don’t tell them I know so and so because they really don’t want to hear that. They will be judging you on if you can follow directions, how long it takes you to do something, if you ask questions first or just screw it up then ask questions. Are you going to give up on a task or stick with it? Linemen want someone they can coach, not someone who won’t listen or tell us how to do something. I will let you in on a secret, most lineman including myself are looking for someone that works harder than we do. That takes the pressure off of us. Be that guy in the physical test, put you head down, listen to what we want you to do and don’t complain. We have enough complainers already.

After the physical test comes step 3, the interview. I have been involved with many interviews in my career, hired lots of helpers, and actually had to go through interviews myself to get promotions. Interviews trip up a lot of people. Most Lineman including myself weren’t born communicators, we work, not talk. But now a days you probably will have to go through one. Here are some keys to getting through the interview process.

Let’s start at the beginning, when you walk in, please shake everyone’s hand that will be doing the interview and also tell them your name, it’s a sign of respect. During the interview please be yourself, don’t try to tell them what you think they want to hear. Tell them what you really think. The people in that room will be able to tell if you are bullshitting them or blowing smoke up their ass, don’t try it. The people doing the interviews have probably been there awhile so they have heard plenty of BS before and can pick up on it very quickly.
You will be asked a series of questions, try to have an answer for every question. Most of the questions are not yes or no answers. I saw one person just answer with yes or no to every question, that interview lasted about 5 minutes, do you think he got hired? The interviewers don’t want a 15 minute answer, just a couple of sentences. Remember, tell them what you think, not what they want to hear.

I had another person come in to the interview, he had his little notebook with him. He proceeded to start asking us interview questions before we ever began. His questions were much more detailed than the ones we were giving. He was taking notes. Let me just say that there will be time to ask questions at the end of the interview, we will tell you when that time is. Do you think we hired that guy?

I want to tell you about the number one question that trips people up. This question always determines whether an interview is good or bad. It is my favorite and I am always in great anticipation to hear an answer when it is asked. Almost every interview I have been in has had this type of question. I will bet every company across the country has a question like this. It reveals character. The question is “Tell me about the time you had conflict at work, how did you respond to it?”

I have heard some unbelievable answers to this question, but when someone tells me right off “I have never had conflict at work” I know they are lying, who hasn’t had conflict at work.? If you give me that answer I am going to prod you for more information. I have 2 stories about this, keep in mind these are real, you can’t make this shit up.

The first guy was such a nice guy, he talked all about how he was a team player, customers loved him, he always went beyond the call of duty at work to get everything done. He helped his coworkers when they needed help, I was thinking this is such a nice guy. He went on about how he loved his coworkers and the company he worked for was a great company. Then near the end of the interview the dreaded conflict question. He proceeded without hesitation either. “Yes I have had confrontation, I was just fired from the last job I had because I threatened my boss.” In my mind the interview was over as soon as he said that sentence. We let him go on about why it happened and all of his excuses but there was not a chance in hell we were ever going to hire that guy. We just said thank you for coming.

Another guy was a carpenter and seemed like a nice enough guy, he looked like a hard worker and seemed to have many qualities we were looking for. Then the dreaded question. His response was “I have never had conflict at work.” My response was “seriously, you never had had conflict at work?” He thought for a minute and then “well there was that one time that my boss made me mad and I dropped some lumber on his foot.” He wasn’t remorseful about it either. No job for him.

I would never tell anyone to hold back any information or lie in an interview, if something has happened in your past its best to be honest and up front about. It could have an impact on whether you get hired. Just like my dad told me “actions have consequences.” It is best to own it and say you learned from the experience and don’t plan to do it again instead of lying or withholding the information. Because if someone calls your references and they mention it and you were never up front about it, you are out. Just think of a story where someone pissed you off and you got it straightened out, it happens to everyone.

Another question I pay close attention to is “can you work callout?” If you don’t already know, a Lineman’s job is to keep the lights on. The lights don’t always go off during the day, most of the time it is the worst times, the weekend, middle of the night, you have a wedding to go to, your kid has a ball game. You are going to have to make sacrifices in your life to be a lineman, you will be away from your family, you will miss weddings, parties, many things you want to do. You will be handsomely compensated for what you do, but it does grow old sometimes. I know I have said to myself more than once, this is not worth it, even if they doubled my pay, its not worth this BS.
Lineman work a lot of hours, that is a fact, know it up front before you apply. I have only had one person tell me in an interview that he wouldn’t always be available. It went like this “we have customers that expect 24 hour service, if you get this job will you be able to come in when we need you?” His response “well yes, but my wife works too, sometimes at night, I have kids so I probably can never come in after about 9pm” Do you think he got the job?

Every other person I have interviewed said they could work. Usually they work tons of callout until they make journeyman and then things begin to slow down. Back in the day we had to come in most of the time. Times have changed; many companies have problems getting people on callout now. Lineman still have a responsibility to our customers, if you don’t want to work overtime, my advice is this profession is not for you.
OK, hopefully you made it to the last step, step 4. The drug screen, utilities do drug screens, they don’t want people working on high voltage while high. You would thing people would know this and not mess with drugs, well sadly lots of people don’t make it past this last step. Don’t be that guy. Enough said about this subject.

So let me wrap it up by saying if you want to be a lineman keep the following in mind.

1) Start with a simple resume of your accomplishments.
2) In the physical test listen to what’s being asked of you.
3) In the interview, be yourself; don’t tell me what you think I want to hear. Be honest and up front. Have an answer to the question about conflict.

Good luck, being a lineman can be a great life, you get to help people, go to many places, and make good money to support your family. Keep in mind, it’s not for everyone, it takes a special breed to be a lineman. Not everyone can make it. If you want to do it, go for it, if you pass the test and make it you won’t be sorry.