With over 7 years of experience in the transportation industry, John is a leading driver consultant on the ATS team. His focus is to find high-quality, professional, safe drivers – whether they are independent contractors or company drivers employed with ATS.
If you’re seriously considering a career in trucking, then you might be asking yourself:
What does the hiring process look like?
Will I have a formal interview?
What kind of background check will they do?
What is orientation like?
If you’re too worried about the hiring and orientation process to even apply, this hiring guide is for you. We’ve seen too many potential drivers make the mistake of not asking enough questions before they get to orientation. They leave orientation early — and unhappy — because the trucking carrier wasn’t what they expected. We’re here to make sure that doesn’t happen.
After being founded in 1955, ATS has been hiring drivers since 1958, so we know a thing or two about what it takes to get hired as a truck driver.
If you don’t know what to expect from the hiring process or truck driver orientation, this article is your guide. Here you’ll learn everything you need to know about the recruiting and hiring process — from your first call to orientation — so you can say goodbye to that fear of the unknown that is keeping you from hitting the send button on your application.
Do You Have What it Takes to be a Truck Driver?
Being a truck driver requires you to meet a specific set of requirements. Before you even begin filling out applications to drive for a company, you must have either a high school diploma or a GED. Then you will need to earn your Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).
There is a list of requirements you must meet to get a CDL. For starters, you need a current driver’s license in your state. While you can get your CDL at 18, you can only drive intrastate. You must be at least 21 to drive outside of the state you are licensed in. Keep this in mind when looking at trucking schools.
You’ll need to pass a number of tests to earn your CDL, including a written test, a skills test, a vision test and a road skills test. Requirements vary by state.
To prepare to pass these tests, most people enroll in trucking school. Trucking school may cost several thousand dollars and last several weeks.
If you want to haul specific freight (like hazardous materials) or drive specific equipment (like a tanker), you may be required to get additional CDL endorsements.
Can You Get Hired Right out of Trucking School?
The answer is, it depends.
Some companies will not hire you straight out of trucking school. You will need to find a trucking company that will hire you with no experience. Some of these companies will even provide CDL training if you can’t afford to pay for it yourself.
If you’re just getting started as a truck driver, you may have to complete an in-house training program, or a driver finishing program before you can get started with the company. The course can last several weeks. You’ll learn everything you need to know about the company, their equipment and safety regulations.
Other trucking companies will require you to have several months — or even a year — of over-the-road (OTR) driving experience before you work for them. Be sure you do your research before you start applying.
How to Apply at Trucking Companies
Once you’ve earned your CDL and either found a company that doesn’t require experience or you have a few miles under your belt, you can start the application process.
Applying for a trucking company typically begins by putting in an information request on a trucking company’s website. A recruiter from the company should contact you fairly quickly — sometimes within hours — to answer any questions you may have about the company and its driving program. This is the start of the interview process.
Driver recruiters will have a list of questions for you to answer as they determine what career path you are searching for. You should come armed with a list of questions as well as negotiables and non-negotiables. Don’t just think about pay. Consider home time, career goals and equipment quality.
If you’re new to the trucking world, you might not know what to expect yet or know what you want. We encourage you to ask as many questions as possible. Talk to other drivers you may know, too. As they say, there is no such thing as a dumb question. It’s better to ask everything that’s on your mind than to be shocked when you arrive at orientation. Your recruiter will help you narrow down your options and really hone in on what you desire out of a trucking career.
You can have as many of these conversations as you want with recruiters to ensure every question you have hiding in the back of your brain is answered. Some drivers decide in one conversation that they want to apply, while others take months. Be sure to talk to several trucking companies before making your decision.
You may want to freshen up on your trucking terminology before you get on the phone. It’ll help you converse better with the recruiter instead of Googling terms as you talk. (We’ve all done that before!)
Remember: Be open and honest with your recruiter about your goals and your requirements for a position. They can’t help you find the best career fit if you aren’t transparent with them.
Fill Out the Driver Application
Once you’ve determined that a trucking company is the right fit for you, it’s time for you to fill out an application. Applications vary from company to company, but they will all require you to provide enough information to perform the necessary background checks.
Some drivers will fill out an application before they even talk to a recruiter. If this happens, you can expect a recruiter to call you fairly quickly to discuss your desires and your program options.
Undergo a Driver Background Check
The information you put in your application will be used by recruiters and a safety team to conduct various background checks. Recruiters and typically a safety team will look at a variety of factors. You’ll need to have a CDL and be authorized to drive the commercial motor vehicle required for the job. You’ll need to meet physical and employment requirements.
While every trucking company has different guidelines for what they will and will not allow, they’ll also consider:
Your truck abandonment experience (abandoning the truck in an unauthorized location without notice)
Involuntary discharges (termination)
Motor Vehicle Record (MVR) charges (driving history)
Drive-A-Check (DAC) Report (employment history)
Pre-Employment Screening Program (PSP; a screening tool from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration)
Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) score (traffic, moving and safety violations)
As you’ve probably already guessed, it’s an extensive process. Trucking carriers want to not only ensure that you are authorized to drive the equipment and haul the freight they carry, but they also want to make sure you can do it safely. If you have too many job changes, a bad record with previous trucking carriers, involuntary discharges or a CSA Score that is too high, your application may not be accepted.
You’ll typically receive a response on your application within 24 hours. You will receive an approval, a rejection, or a request for more information.
Of course, there are some exceptions. If you have certain disqualifications now that might be an issue currently, but aren’t later down the road, your recruiter may talk about your future options.
For instance, perhaps the company you applied to requires 12 months of driving experience but you only have eight months, your recruiter may keep in touch with you so you can drive with the company in four months. You may also have a moving violation that will be removed from your CSA score in a few months that will qualify you for the job at that time.
Keep in mind that a reputable company will have high standards. Don’t be intimidated by this. They not only want to keep you safe, but they also want to keep other drivers on the road safe. A low CSA score allows a trucking company to book freight at a higher cost. This means that you, the driver, will see more money on your paychecks at the end of the day.
Once your application has been accepted, it’s time to put in your two weeks’ notice at your current company (if applicable), schedule orientation and make travel arrangements to your orientation destination.
This is when you’ll get a great feel for how the company will treat you. Some companies will pay for you to fly or drive to orientation. They’ll put you up in a nice hotel and cover your meals. Others may pay your way but will provide less-than-ideal accommodations. Some trucking companies may not pay anything toward your transportation or accommodations.
That’s another reason why you want to thoroughly research the company you’re planning to work for. You want to find a company that truly values you and puts you first.
Be sure to stay in touch with your recruiter after you’ve scheduled orientation. You may still have unanswered questions or new questions may pop into your head while you’re lying awake at 3 a.m. unable to sleep.
What to Expect From Truck Driver Orientation
Truck driver orientation typically lasts a few days, depending on the carrier. Some carriers may have you complete some aspects of orientation virtually, which may significantly shorten the length of their in-person orientation. However, every trucking company is required to send drivers to orientation per Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations. Certain material must also be covered per DOT, including specific paperwork, a drug test, a physical (if you don’t have a med card), safety information and hours of service.
Trucking orientation is conducted in a group with fellow driving recruits. While every orientation is different, you may be expected to take a road test and undergo securement training and testing. You may also listen to presentations about the company, their values and the driving program. Contracts, permits, driver expectations, communication strategies and safety procedures should be covered as well. Prepare to meet the people you’ll be working with, including your driver manager.
You are not technically hired until you finish orientation, receive your certification and sign your contract. You can consider orientation part of the interview process. You may be sent home from orientation for a number of reasons. This typically only happens if you fail or refuse a drug test or if your expectations of the trucking company are not met. Additionally, your DAC Report may come back late. If it reveals anything unsavory, you could be sent home during orientation.
All that’s left to do is get your truck and hop on the road! During orientation, you’ll have the opportunity to pick out your truck. Ideally, the carrier will have different truck brands for you to choose from. You’ll be able to inspect your truck with a fine-tooth comb.
If you’re receiving your truck at orientation and getting out on the road immediately after orientation ends, be sure to bring the supplies you need to be in the truck for a few days before you can get dispatched back home. Most carriers will try to dispatch you back home immediately, but sometimes it takes a few loads. Be sure you also bring important papers with to orientation so you can fill out the necessary paperwork for employment and payroll.
Keep On Trucking!
Now that you know what to expect from the driver hiring and orientation process, it’s time to do the research on several trucking companies of interest that are hiring in your area.
Look at reviews, attend virtual information sessions, talk to other drivers and scour company websites. Document your research. List the pros and cons of each company. Make a list of questions to ask recruiters.
Once you’re satisfied with the information you’ve gathered and you’re ready to make a decision, all that’s left to do is fill out an application!