HVAC-R graduate has powerful strategy for finding jobs
“From day one, I knew I had to start at the bottom,” says Frank Guerrero of his long-term plan for success in the Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration business. He knew he wouldn’t be there for long.
Frank had started the HVAC-R program at the Rancho Cucamonga (now Ontario) campus in 2014 after several years in well-paying sales positions. “There were always sales quotas and you were micromanaged,” he says. He was ready for something more dependable, something he could control and advance in based on his own efforts.
“I liked working with my hands, fixing things,” he says. “My parents had a small business with a walk-in cooler, and I grew up seeing them hire someone to repair it. I did a lot of research and it really clicked with me to work in air conditioning and refrigeration.”
Frank knew that going back to school might be difficult after so much time had passed since his years at college. “I was young and didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I thought I’d take a break from school.” Before he knew it, almost a dozen years had passed.
He knew it had to be different this time. “I told myself that if I ever went back to school, I want to go and give it 100 percent.” He was ready.
His wife Maria stayed home with their growing family of six children, while he balanced evening classes, work and family. “I missed a lot of baseball games and practices,” he says.
Frank studied during every free moment he found, sometimes on lunch breaks or while his family slept. He fulfilled his promise to give it everything he had. It was more than enough to maintain a 4.0 GPA and earn special recognition and awards at his graduation in April 2015.
“Frank wanted to have a clear understanding of the subject matter, and he made the effort to remember a skill that was passed on to him,” says Cornelius Droog, HVAC-R instructor. “The other students respected Frank because he took the time to help students that struggled until the entire class was at the same level of understanding.”
He was only half-way through his program when he started applying online for positions he knew he wasn’t ready to perform. “It was hard because of no experience,” he remembers. Finally, an appliance store called him about a position installing and servicing appliances. “It was entry level, but I got my foot in the door to get experience.”
The first rule of his job search strategy took form: Never stop applying for positions you want.
“I never stopped applying,” says Frank, who eventually got a call from a small residential air conditioning business whose owner wanted to talk with him about an installer position. “He handed me a test packet of 25 pages to complete,” says Frank. “I spent over 90 minutes on it, then he sat me down to grade my test. He was so quiet. He jumped it right to a service technician position.”
Frank worked there for 15 months until things started to get a little too easy. He was ready for the next level of expertise, and his next rule of career strategy: Learn all you can and keep growing before moving up.
Frank had been applying to another larger company ever since he started his HVAC-R program at SJVC. He finally got an offer and a nice raise. “Every bit of experience I ever learned helped me land the next job.” And he added another point to his strategy: Leverage your experience to maximum potential.
“I’d see this big company’s bright orange vans everywhere and would think, ‘I want to work for them.’” For months, he had sent them applications and finally got the invitation to test for a key position. “It was a booklet of tests, and I had to make a drawing that Mr. Droog (HVAC-R instructor) had really emphasized in school,” says Frank. “I literally filled up the page with every component I could remember. If you don’t build the foundation of information while you’re in school, you won’t have the confidence or the technical ability to land the job you want.”
Frank had to call his current employer and tell him the new company made him a salary offer he couldn’t turn down. Much to his surprise, a bidding war erupted. Ultimately, the new company had the deeper pockets.
At this stage of his career, Frank settled into fine-tuning his skills and knowledge and discovering the power of a strong work ethic. “I never said ‘no’ to any job the boss asked me to do,” says Frank. “He kind of saw me as his go-to guy. Some guys in the trade for a few years have the mentality of seniority and don’t want to do overtime.” That’s not how Frank’s mind works.
“A strong work ethic doesn’t make you the clean-up guy, it makes you the stand-out guy,” he emphasizes. “It’s very important that you’re out there doing the best work you can and doing it right the first time.”
Frank’s final strategy for getting the job you want: Do it right, earn respect; it will help you in the long run.
For the last 10 months, Frank has worked for a large industrial/commercial air conditioning company, who sought him out after his reputation caught their attention. Frank will now have the opportunity to specialize in ammonia systems and increase his knowledge and value to employers.
Frank may have graduated from his HVAC-R program almost 18 months ago, but he hasn’t forgotten the importance of learning. “I want to keep growing as a technician, to get to the next level,” he says. “Every day there is something new coming out, new equipment and motors, especially with this industrial/commercial stuff. I want to be at a level where I can spend a few minutes looking at it and know exactly what’s going on.”
He has another important reason to excel in his education and in his career. “I want to show my kids that if you work hard, you can do whatever you want to do,” he says. “I can’t tell them to do this, and not make the effort myself.”
Frank’s parenting strategy is every bit as effective as his career strategy.
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