Beyond the Résumé—Preparing for a Career in the Automotive Specialty-Equipment Market

SEMA Member News—July/August 2014

Beyond the Résumé—Preparing for a Career in the Automotive Specialty-Equipment Market

Ask professionals across the industry what they need in an employee, and they will give an assortment of answers depending on their niche and role within a company. Some employers look for a certain skill set. Often, this expertise is very specific and, as a result, elusive in the applicant pool. Tray Smith’s mail-order company, H&H Classic Parts, is like many retail businesses in that it depends on a strong sales team. Finding the right fit is not always as easy as it sounds, however.


The SEMA Show Student Program gives future employees of the automotive specialty-equipment market a head start on their career paths.
The SEMA Show Student Program gives future employees of the automotive specialty-equipment market a head start on their career paths. 

“We’re looking for sales people with knowledge of classic cars and trucks—right now we could spend a couple of years training new hires to sell our products,” Smith explained.

Beyond experience in a specific job function, other companies have found that applicants sometimes lack more basic skills.

“I have trouble finding people with outstanding computer knowledge,” said Jennifer LaFever of Roush Yates Engines.

LaFever is the company’s quality-assurance manager, and her team is comprised of individuals who use specific coordinate-measuring machine software to inspect parts. While it can be difficult to locate applicants with knowledge of these programs and quality standards, she also struggles to find individuals who know how to use common applications efficiently.

“If you haven’t already, take a course in Microsoft Excel,” she urged.

Though these perspectives give students a starting point for choosing a career direction, a rapidly changing industry means that the needs of companies are also in flux. Looking ahead, Smith and LaFever both pointed to technology as a challenge for businesses and prospective employees.

“I think your best bet will be to learn about all the new technology,” LaFever said. “All tasks and jobs will become more and more technology dependent, which means you need to be great with computers.”

Smith affirmed the wisdom in that advice.

“This is my nineteenth year in the industry, and the biggest change I’ve seen already is how we’ve gone from everything being handwritten to the computer age,” he said. “We need constant training to keep up with the technology that helps us be competitive.”

Once students have developed the skills and gained the experience to make them marketable, the time comes to start applying for positions. Preparing an application is much more than simply sending out resumes. Attitude and interpersonal skills are as important as a list of accomplishments; employers want to know that they are hiring loyal and committed team members. As Meyer Distributing’s human-resources director, Kristy Neukam is seasoned in the art of interviewing.

SEMA Scholarships Committee“We do face-to-face interviews, which helps us see how genuine people are and get to the core of what they are looking for in a career,” she explained. “We want to bring people aboard who are in it to develop their skill set and knowledge, not just until they find something better.”

LaFever offered a few tips about how to connect with future managers:

  • Bring a positive attitude: Speak only of the positive in your interview. You can even spin negative experiences or attributes to be positive.
  • Show enthusiasm: Be enthusiastic about what your future manager is saying. Ask questions of the person interviewing you. Smile. Be inquisitive.
  • Be a go-getter: Not having a gap in your employment history is good. List education in the field you are applying for, even if it was just a one-day course that you took at a community college.
  • Tailor your résumé: Your résumé, and especially your objective at the top, should be modified for each application. Include relevant information, such as military or scouting programs. These types of experiences tell your future employer that you have certain qualities without even listing your particular skills.

The SEMA Education Institute staff thinks that some of the best teachers are the individuals who live and breathe the industry each day. One way for students to continue the career-path conversation is participation in the SEMA Show Student Program, where they will spend time learning from pros. Educators and students attend the SEMA Show together, integrating the student’s field of study with actual business and trade-show opportunities in the automotive aftermarket industry. By attending seminars and working alongside exhibitors and association staff, students actually begin to establish a network of industry contacts and potential future employers. To register, contact Juliet Marshall at