The numbers are in and the news is good. According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. payrolls added 146,000 employees in November 2012 (the latest figures available as of press time) with overall unemployment falling to 7.7 percent.
While the majority of commercial fleet managers are happy where they are, according to an online survey of its subscribers conducted by Bobit Business Media, publisher of Fleet Financials, many are already looking for or are planning to search for a new job opportunity sometime this year.
Job searches are being conducted in a number of ways with association websites being the most common (73.3 percent), followed by more traditional approaches such as letting industry friends and colleagues know they’re looking for new opportunities. A casual survey of popular job posting sites such as Monster.com and Careerbuilder.com list hundreds of fleet-related positions throughout the country in both the private and public sectors.
While this might be a good time to be looking for a job, fleet manager candidates must still cultivate the right combination of skills to stand out in today’s competitive job market. And, it isn’t enough just to be a “car” person anymore either.
Staying Competitive in the Market
In the online survey of fleet managers, most felt they were up-to-date in their fleet knowledge, but had more to learn.
A fleet manager with a large east coast pharmaceutical company noted that establishing a network of fleet manager colleagues who are willing to share ideas and best practices is “extremely valuable” in keeping up-to-date in today’s market.
Going hand-in-glove with building a personal network is belonging to one of the fleet professional associations as a way to stay relevant in the competitive job market, because they provide education, including certifications, and are the means to build professional networks. The majority of fleet managers surveyed belong to a fleet industry association.
Another fleet manager in the healthcare sector added that industry-based reference media (including magazines such as Automotive Fleet, Fleet Financials, and Automotive News) is a way to stay ahead of the industry curve.
The overwhelming majority of fleet managers surveyed cited industry publications as the key way they stayed up-to-date with fleet industry trends and best practices.
Other ways included attending OEM fleet previews.
Professional credentialing, such as the certified automotive fleet manager (CAFM) program is another way to stay relevant and up-to-date, though the fleet managers surveyed were decidedly mixed about the benefits of professional credentialing. Just over 20 percent of the respondents have a credential, and said that it hadn’t helped their career. Another 22 percent said they have no interest in pursuing one. However, 31 percent of the respondents who have a credential believe it has helped their career and another 25 percent are in the process of pursuing one.
The days of having to be a “car” person to stand out is over, but it probably doesn’t hurt. Having strong skills in both interpersonal communication and finance are probably more crucial today.
Fundamentally, as a fleet manager from a large communications company noted being able to show a potential employer that money has been saved through the way a fleet has been managed is the most important card a job seeker can bring to the table.
What Employers Are Looking for in a Fleet Manager
Looking for a new position can be a full-time job in and of itself, but, oftentimes, job seekers focus only on what they can offer and not what a potential employer needs.
When reviewing a resume, most companies are looking for a consistent work history and experience in the fleet industry, according to the senior fleet director at a large manufacturing and service company. “I am looking for a results-oriented flavor to the resume,” he said. “Cover letters can be good or bad. A good one will have something specific to my company and the position, while a strictly generic cover letter could be a deterrent to hiring.”
For the senior director of another pharmaceutical fleet, financial and business acumen are key qualities that he’s looking for when reviewing a resume. He added that he doesn’t place much of a premium on cover letters. Instead, he values thank you notes after an interview that are sincere and relevant to the topics covered during the discussion.
In both cases, specificity trumps the generic and can improve a candidate’s prospects to secure an interview or even the job itself.
The fleet director for a large west coast utility fleet noted that the skill sets needed for a large fleet versus a small fleet are very different. In a small fleet, the fleet manager has to be technically competent — more of the traditional “car” person. In a large fleet, the fleet manager must have better administrative skills and an understanding of the big picture instead of focusing on day-to-day details, which would have to be delegated to a subordinate.
While membership in professional organizations can help fleet managers stay up-to-date on the latest fleet management techniques, listing memberships on a resume can be a double-edged sword.
The manufacturing and service fleet director noted involvement in fleet industry organizations is important. “Not just attending conventions, but learning from and contributing to those organizations. If a candidate does not take part in any industry organizations, then I would question his desire to learn and expand his skill sets. On the other hand, if an individual is involved with several organizations, I might question the focus on his primary job,” said one fleet manager.
While resumes and cover letters, industry involvement, and professional credentials may get a candidate noticed, it’s the interview that’s make or break time for the job seeker.
The utility fleet director noted that when he is interviewing a candidate, he first determines whether he or she is technically competent, intelligent, and articulate. The last is a key component for him, since, in his large operation, the fleet manager will only have a limited amount of time with employees. Being able to communicate effectively is vital to keeping fleet operations on course.
Specific fleet experience/skills hiring managers will undoubtedly be on the lookout for, particularly in large fleet situations, are operational experience; experience spec’ing, acquiring, and disposing of vehicles; knowledge of DOT and regulatory compliance; and financial aptitude. For smaller fleets, there will be more emphasis on technical know-how.
While these are all-important qualities, examples of how the candidate worked for the team rather than for individual wins are also critical for many companies. Other personality qualities that are crucial for many corporate fleet hiring managers is honesty/integrity, a good work ethic, team orientation, and the ability to promote change without spin control.
Fleet management can be taught, but finding a candidate who fits in both culturally and professionally cannot. The old adage that companies hire people who they can work with applies in today’s fleet management landscape, as well as to any other profession.
So, companies are looking for trustworthy and professional people to fill their ranks. Coming off as untrustworthy or in any way unprofessional is a sure way to be disqualified from consideration for a fleet manager’s position. Other “deal breakers” include unexplained gaps in employment history. Being “me-first” oriented is another turn-off for many companies. Fleet management necessitates a team-orientated approach.
There are other, less obvious, ways to indicate a lack of qualifications for a fleet manager position. For instance, if a resume and cover letter are full of typos and grammatical errors, it not only speaks to a level of unprofessionalism — it also indicates a lack of an ability to focus on details.
So, how do hiring managers decide between two equally qualified individuals?
Here it really is a matter of the individual and the priorities of the fleet department and the company.
In general, companies are looking for fleet manager candidates who can work with others and who are willing to learn and implement new processes.
Being Relevant, Staying Relevant
If there is one word that could describe the future of fleet, it’s “change.”
Keeping up with technology will undoubtedly be the key to staying relevant as a fleet manager in the next decade and beyond. And, this doesn’t mean just the latest computer software to create a spreadsheet (though that’s important, too). It means being able to use technology to increase fleet performance and efficiency. Fleet managers who expect to be working through the next decade need to cultivate their imaginations as much as their financial acumen to find solutions to offset rising fleet expenses such as fuel.
Being adaptable is probably one of the key elements to staying relevant in the fast-evolving technological age we live in. Settling in and running a fleet as it “always” has been run is probably the fastest track to the unemployment line.
The next generation of fleet managers will have to continue to focus on thinking strategically and viewing the fleet in terms of the big picture and not as a separate piece of the puzzle.
The Image of the Ideal Fleet Manager
For today’s hiring managers, what does an ideal fleet manager “look like”? Tellingly, even with the breakneck increase in the evolution of technology, fleet managers of today resemble their professional ancestors of a generation ago.
Today’s fleet manager has strong financial acumen, is a team player, is engaged with the industry, has some technical knowledge about vehicles, is detail oriented, honest, hard-working, professional, curious, and forward-thinking. Cultivating these skills and qualities give job seekers an edge in the market and hiring managers a large pool of qualified candidates to choose from. FF