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As Facilities Roles Have Changed, So Has Recruitment

As Facilities Roles Have Changed, So Has Recruitment

Decades ago, facilities management (FM) simply entailed making sure equipment was operating well, buildings were maintained, and campuses were attractive. Fast forward to 2017, and FM still includes those aspects but has also evolved into an innovative and complex environment of technological and operational advancements.

While facilities teams back in the 1900s (yes, that’s right) worked mostly in boiler rooms and other “out of sight” areas, they now have much more exposure. Mid- to senior-level facilities executives work in partnership with the leadership of their organizations to strategically allocate resources (staff and financial), analyze strategies, and implement initiatives related to sustainability, capital programs, energy management, and other concepts. Organizations have lofty objectives, and they demand much more from their facilities teams, making recruitment much different than before.

Jim Lord, Managing Director with Helbling & Associates, has been a search consultant in the facilities sector since 2000. He says, “Facilities management has changed drastically in the last ten to fifteen years. Numerous new technologies have been developed, the talent pool has tightened due to the ongoing retirement of baby boomers, and organizations are aggressively seeking fresh, innovative talent that can leverage the many advancements transforming the sector. All of these factors are combining, creating a strong need for upper-tier professionals, which in turn, is demanding that recruitment be aggressive and proactive to secure the right individuals.”

Skill sets in demand

“The necessary skill sets to be successful in mid- to senior-level facilities roles is where facilities recruitment has changed the most," emphasizes Lord. "Institutions, corporations, and other types of owner organizations want facilities professionals who have strong business acumen and financial aptitudes, and who understand how to analyze life cycle operating costs and returns on investments. They want individuals who have the abilities to develop and manage budgets, and who consider facilities from a business standpoint. While these capabilities are preferred, not far behind are intangible, soft skills that are especially attractive and consistently mentioned by our clients. Those traits include well-developed leadership capabilities, and the ability to communicate effectively and build relationships with communities, board members, end-users, and teams. Individuals with all of these attributes can be challenging to find.”

Wes Miller, also a Managing Director with Helbling, adds, “The robust recruitment within the facilities sector stems from many factors spanning the need for effective utilities management to the implementation of sustainability. Additionally, many healthcare and higher education institutions as well as entities in the for-profit sector are embarking on major capital construction programs that entail considerable investment. They want their projects to be cutting-edge and progressive. Therefore, they need professionals who understand how to oversee and manage projects of significant size and scope and who have strong knowledge of the latest technologies and advancements that can save money and make a project successful over the long term. Owners are savvy, they know the modern building methods that are out there, and they want to capitalize on them.”

As executive search consultants who specialize in securing facilities executives for diverse organizations, we frequently see the following technical and soft skills as requirements or preferred attributes for mid- to senior-level facilities roles. Therefore, if they are relevant, we recommend including these qualifications in position descriptions and consider them during the entire recruitment process beginning with employment ads through final assessment of candidates.

Technical skills and experiences:

  • Understanding of and expertise with strategy development and execution leadership.
  • Solid business acumen and strong financial aptitude with demonstrated successful management of budgets and ability to work within an organization's financial constraints.
  • Knowledge of latest technologies that impact facilities and construction, ability to analyze the effectiveness and ROI of such concepts, and lead their implementation.
  • Solid understanding of energy management, systems reliability, life cycle operating costs, deferred and preventative maintenance, and sustainability.
  • Comprehension of and experience with computer maintenance management systems.
  • Ability to adapt strategies and approaches to changing trends and conditions.

Soft skills and experiences:

  • Innovative, change-agent mindset.
  • Inclusive and empowering leadership style.
  • Continuous improvement mentality.
  • Ability to create or maintain a culture of adaptability and accountability.
  • Adeptness at building and leading high-performance teams.
  • Ability to hire, train, motivate, and empower staff.
  • Ability to develop and maintain strong relationships with senior administration, boards, analysts, shareholder groups, government entities, end-users, and local communities.
  • Proven communication skills (verbal, written, and presentation), within a department and a community of end-users. Organizations seek professionals who are as comfortable in the board room as the boiler room.

Value of Non-Traditional Candidates

As FM continues to advance and the talent pool shrinks, organizations will increasingly realize the advantages of expanding recruitment parameters to include non-traditional candidates. In doing so, they will improve their recruitment practices, ensuring that all potentially qualified candidates are identified and considered. 

Job candidates can be considered “non-traditional” for a variety of reasons. Typically, they are professionals who are involved in a different industry than that of the hiring organization and who offer different experiences, corporate culture mentalities, management styles, skill sets, and personality characteristics that may not have been initially considered. Institutions and other owner entities are finding that these types of professionals can offer fresh perspectives and make valuable contributions in helping their organizations move forward with their challenges and initiatives. 

Miller explains, “Many of our institutional and other types of owner clients are looking to transform how they are operating from a facilities perspective. They want to be competitive so it is important to realize the other industries that may have the talent they seek. Typically, clients are aware of the limited talent pool, especially within their industry peers and similar organizations. They have also come to the realization that those entities don’t always have professionals with the capabilities they want. Therefore, they are open to considering candidates who are outside of their respective sectors and who have the appropriate experience and fresh perspectives to add value to a role and a dimension to their team.”

As an example, some institutions are attracted to facilities candidates from the corporate sector because they find these professionals have applicable knowledge and experiences as well as the mentality they seek for their more high-level facilities roles. Most large, private, for-profit organizations are advanced in a variety of areas simply because they have more financial resources, and they have sharp focus on efficiency and streamlined operations. Candidates from this sector can offer institutions progressive management styles and “tried and true” perspectives of technologies, systems, and processes.

“When we are speaking with a client after successfully completing a search in which a non-traditional candidate was secured, they frequently express how pleased they are with their decision and remark that the secured candidate was able to make significant changes and impact operations in a relatively short time frame,” says Lord. “I also hear similar experiences from candidates. The professionals we place are high-performers who enjoy challenges. When I recruit someone from the corporate or for-profit sector and place them with an institution or non-profit organization, they quickly see the opportunities that await them. They are motivated and excited about the changes and positive impact they can make just based upon their knowledge and prior experiences.”

Attracting upper-tier professionals

Highly qualified professionals are typically passive and not exploring new career opportunities. If they are, they may be entertaining a few of them. Therefore, it is necessary to have well-defined hiring practices that are efficient and effective, and that make a positive impression on potential candidates. 

Lord says, “All candidates have their own individual career aspirations, motivating factors, and personal situations so you have to truly get to know them to discover what hot buttons are prompting them to make a career move. Having said that, most professionals do share common reasons why they are open to exploring new opportunities and how they assess them. It is beneficial to monitor these commonalities as a basis for recruitment and then customize strategies from there to secure the right professional.”

The following are common factors that candidates consider when presented with new career opportunities. Addressing each of these aspects during recruitment and differentiating your organization is important for attracting and securing preferred candidates.

Your organization:

  • Overall vision
  • Organizational values
  • Financial status and outlook
  • Differentiators
  • Leadership
  • Reputation
  • Current and planned strategies/objectives that relate to the role

Prospective role:

  • Autonomy
  • Challenges
  • Team and structure
  • Objectives with specific performance metrics outlined.
  • Impact on organization and how initiatives will be supported
  • Advancement opportunities.

Cultural Fit:

  • Mission
  • Values
  • Organizational structure
  • Environment
  • Work/life balance


  • Salary
  • Performance-based incentives
  • Benefits

FM has undergone tremendous changes over the past two decades, and recruitment strategies must follow suit to secure the most qualified mid- and senior-level executives. While it demands time and effort to recruit them, upper-tier facilities executives can be one of your organization’s greatest assets as it adapts itself to succeed in the continuously changing and advancing business environment.

As published in Facility Executive (February '17)