Finding sales talent — never an easy task — is even more difficult these days, and not just for home improvement contractors. In 2006 and 2007 “sales representative” was cited as the most difficult job to fill in an annual talent shortage survey of some 37,000 employers conducted by Manpower Inc., a leading international employment services company.


But unlike employers in most industries, home improvement contractors, who usually pay straight commission or commission plus a small base salary, rarely rely on traditional recruiters for help.

“We've talked about using those kinds of sources for commission-based sales jobs, but they're difficult to work with because, generally, [recruiters] are going to take a percentage of a yearly salary,” says Lance Schepps, senior vice president and managing partner of HomeWorks, in San Rafael, Calif., which fields 45 reps. For a 100% commissioned sales rep, that figure will be “nebulous,” he adds.

Marie Warner, president of Warner Sales Architects, in Belmont, Mass., agrees. “You can negotiate and come to a proxy of what [commissioned salespeople] will earn, but I've found that hiring managers tend to be understandably reticent to do that.”


One way around that, HomeWorks and some other Renewal by Andersen affiliates have found, is attending career fairs like those staged by Salestrax ( a recruiting firm that combines fairs, online postings, and traditional recruiting in customized packages, according to its president, Gary Upah.

A company pays to participate in the fair, not per candidate hired, thus sidestepping the commission-only compensation problem, Upah says. Companies at any given career fair are limited by industry, Upah adds, so an employer “isn't sitting in a room full of competitors looking for the same type of candidate.”

Upah also “stokes the interest” of career fair attendees in briefings on participating companies before the parties meet. As a result, a candidate from a different sales background who wouldn't respond to an ad on a job board might hear about a home improvement company and find its opportunities interesting, he explains.

“Everybody out there uses job boards to the point where they have somewhat lost their effectiveness,” Upah points out. Because the search for good candidates is so competitive today, “You need proactive recruiting versus the reactive recruiting of posting a job and hoping that the right candidate will come your way.”