7 tips to choose the right truck fleet to work for

Whether you’re a company driver or owner-operator, choosing the right carrier to work for will go a long way toward determining your future success. And in an industry as diverse as trucking, there is no shortage of options to choose from.

Clouding the selection process are myriad pay methods, deductions, and job expectations that can be difficult to untangle.

We caught up with Wellington Motor Freight’s Michael Zelek, director of human resources, and Jessica Mata, driver recruitment and retention manager, to ask what drivers should consider when choosing a carrier. The company has a retention rate of about 96% this year and isn’t shy about referring prospective hires to other trucking firms if the fit isn’t right.

Here’s what they like to see from prospective hires:

1. Ask the right questions

“Of course, money talks when you see big numbers on job ads, but it’s always good to address the situation as a whole,” said Mata.

She recommends drivers go into an interview with a list of “deal breakers”. Ask about perks beyond compensation, including health benefits. Match the offering with your own expectations and look for a company that fills the most boxes on your personal checklist.

“Will they give you the work/life balance you want, or are you looking to stay out and hustle? If so, can they keep you busy?” she asked.

Drivers should also consider the distance the company is from home, what shift schedules will look like, and how long they’ll be expected to be on the road between home time.

“Is the truck dedicated? Do they have good equipment? All of those can help make or break a deal,” said Mata. “Ask the right questions early on.”

Zelek added drivers should ask about the company’s retention rate — and don’t be shy about asking how much the company’s highest earners and average earners brought home on their T4s.

“They all have the answers,” he said of employers. “It’s whether they choose to disclose it.”

2. Beware the pitfalls of ‘Driver Inc.’

It may seem obvious, but there can be confusion about whether a driver is being hired as an employee or independent contractor. Many fleets use the so-called Driver Inc. model, which misclassifies employees as independent contractors when operating company equipment.

It can be perilous to the driver, Mata pointed out.

“I think that drivers should educate themselves about Driver Incorporated and how it can burn them,” she explained. “Even when it comes to buying a house – things outside the realm of trucking.” Someone who struggles to prove they’re really self-employed could find it tough to secure a mortgage.

Zelek said drivers will sometimes say they can earn 30% more under the Driver Inc. model, but “there’s a reason for that. You’re giving up a lot, and in most cases, you’re committing tax evasion.”

Mata added drivers who don’t have WSIB coverage are also putting themselves at risk if they get injured on the job.

“Driver Inc. takes responsibility away from the company,” she said. “When hired as company employees, [drivers] know if something happens to them on the road, they’re covered.”

Wellington truck
(Photo: Wellington Motor Freight)

3. Research the fleet as closely as they research you

Drivers are often led to a prospective employer through word of mouth, but that shouldn’t be their only source of information. Mata suggested taking advantage of a wide range of online resources, such as company websites, Google, LinkedIn, Indeed, Glassdoor, Facebook and Instagram, for further information.

“Make sure the company you are applying to has values that line up with yours,” she said.

Also reach out to current drivers of the fleet you’re considering. Mata encourages candidates to speak to other drivers on social media.

Zelek added potential hires should ask questions of dispatchers as well as those conducting road tests, which in Wellington’s case are also current drivers.

4. Trust your eyes

Image isn’t everything, but Mata said it offers a lot of insights about a trucking company.

“We can all say that our heads have turned when we saw a shiny new truck or an impressive wrap on a trailer roll past us on the highway,” she said. “It’s things like these that prove the company is investing in their future.”

Consider whether a company is running newer equipment, and ask how they service it. Do they have dedicated maintenance professionals? How does the office look? Is the yard secure?

5. Talk about communications

“Lack of support is one of the many reasons drivers leave their employees,” said Mata. “Whether that be miscommunication, missing information, or just simply an inability to reach a real person when the need is there.”

She suggests asking about things such as 24-hour dispatch or on-call support.

6. Think about the future as well as the present

Driver turnover in the trucking industry is high, and attractive signing bonuses contribute to the problem. While frequent job changes can raise red flags with recruiters, there are sometimes legitimate reasons behind the moves, said Mata.

“We always see resumes of people who jump from job to job in less than a year,” she said. “We get it – sometimes a job is tougher than it looked on paper. Trucking is one of those industries that you learn the hard way if you fit in or not.”

Mata encourages drivers to join a company with a five-year plan in mind. Set goals. “Are you looking to work hard and save to buy your first home? Do you have children or grandchildren you want to spend weekends with? Are you thinking about retirement? Make sure that the opportunity you take will sustain you in your future.”

Look beyond what the company is doing today as well. Is the fleet thinking about going in a different direction, or does it plan to add new commodities or lanes to its business model?

7. Don’t forget questions specific to owner-operators

If you’re an owner-operator, it’s important to understand the true compensation package. Deductions can kill a career in a hurry.

“A good rate can become crap if you have to pay for plates, insurance, and holdbacks,” said Zelek. “Ask what other people earn doing the same type of work. Know what’s covered, and if the freight you have is ongoing or on a one-year contract. Owner-operators have a lot more on the line than company drivers.”

Know what the company’s expectations are, and how refusing loads will impact your profitability, he added.

Avatar photo

James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at james@newcom.ca or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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  • Unfortunately,Jessica doesn’t know what she’s talking about. This is the problem when it comes to recruiters who have never driven. She talks about a company that has a “shiny wrap” on their equipment as investing in their future? A seasoned driver knows better. A wrap means nothing. Why even mention it?
    She talks of a “5 year plan”? When a driver is paid mileage the only plan looking forward is “How good was my last run?” and if you string a months worth of poor runs together,it’s time to start looking for a new position. Refering to my previous point. Drivers change jobs (or look to change jobs) in the Fall and spring,based on the fiscal calendar which freight cycles move on. So,if a driver has jumped jobs in a 6month window,then it’s most likely a recruiter that’s “oversold” the job or the company has changed the drivers routine (based on pay,a change in routine is enough to conclude that the pay just isn’t adequate for the work performed.) Basically a “bait n switch” scenario. An ill-informed recruiter simply sees “6months” as a red flag. If the abstracts are clean and a company needs an experienced driver,they’ll hire the candidate everytime. Lastly,when I see smaller companies like Jessica’s who have a “recruiting and retention” manager whom are constantly hiring yet the company doesn’t appear to grow,then I know their turnover is most likely above 50%. If they want to hide that,simply bury the recruiter within the safety department and the retention rhetoric is easier to sell. This article doesn’t provide any tangible advice. It’s simply a promotional piece for Wellington,trying to get its name out there.