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IT Recruiting: How your Business can Assess IT Candidate Skills

IT Recruiting: How your Business can Assess IT Candidate Skills

By: Dona Dezube

It may be an employer’s job market, but it’s still tough to fill jobs that require both IT and business skills. If you’re looking for a recruitment strategy for your small business that will attract “hybrid” candidates, expect a lot of competition from other companies.

“The days of the computer programmer who sits in the back of the office with headphones on writing code are over,” says John Reed, executive director of Robert Half Technology, Menlo Park, California. “Companies want people who can go to meetings, gather information and talk about what clients want to accomplish. Written and verbal skills are at a premium.”

The challenge grows exponentially for small and medium-size companies that don’t have on-staff IT experts to help assess candidates’ skill sets. Fortunately, work-arounds exist to help even the most IT-challenged companies find the right hybrid professionals.

Qualify your Resume Search
When you’re looking at hybrid professionals, you’re probably going to have to focus in one direction or another. “If you’re hiring someone with an MBA who knows the business side of things, they’re not going to know everything technically,” says Thomas Verghese, managing partner at Saxon InfoTech, Inc., Columbia, Maryland. “Technical people tend to get specialized in a single vertical and pick up business skills on the job by working on a project.”

Decide which is more important in your open position--the MBA or the tech knowledge -- then pick carefully as you search resumes to attract top talent.

As you review resumes, look for six things that will tell you the job seeker is right for your hybrid position, says Jack Molisani, president of ProSpring Technical Staffing, Long Beach, California:

1. Is this person’s skillset what you need? If you need a programmer, are they a programmer?
2. How senior are they?
3. Do they have experience in your industry?
4. Do they have the IT and business tools to get the job done?
5. Have they done similar things to what you need them to do on this job?
6. Can you afford them?

Get Specific During the Interview Process
Once you’ve narrowed your list of potential employees, tease out details in the interview process about their experience; ask detailed interview questions about prior positions, focusing on how they split their time between technical and business tasks, Reed says.

Verify what the job seeker says via reference checking with previous supervisors to reference check these five questions:

1. What did they do on a typical day?
2. What was their role on past projects?
3. What kind of technical aptitude do they have?
4. How is their business sense?
5. Describe the role you have in mind for the employee. Would they do well in that role? Where would they likely struggle?

Trust, but Verify IT Skills
While most companies have someone who can “talk business” to gauge a candidate’s business acumen, not every company has a technical professional to “talk IT.”

Even if you do have technical pros on staff, they’ll have to find the line between validating skills and experience and over-testing job seekers during the interview.

“If you ask questions that are too simplistic, you risk insulting the IT candidate, or worse, suggesting that you don’t have the IT knowledge to recognize his or her skills level,” Reed says.

You can evaluate IT skills in a number of ways:

Have a tech person on your staff do a technical screen of the candidate resumes and conduct technical interviews. Be clear with your IT employee that he or she is there to assess the candidate’s level of technical aptitude, not to discuss pay or other subjects.

Check presentation and communication skills while you’re vetting IT skills. Come up with an IT problem (how would you build a firewall to maintain data security for us?) and ask the job seeker to explain how they’d solve it using a whiteboard. (And don’t forget the importance of the candidate’s social skills.)

If you don’t have the staff to vet job candidates, you still have options:

Use an outside company to verify tech skills. Testing companies like Prove It!, Brainbench, ReviewNet Services, and eSkill Corporation tell you where candidates are strong and weak and how they compare to others who take tests covering popular technology like .net, Novell Netware and JAVA.

Borrow an IT expert. Saxon InfoTech has a deep staff it can turn to for interview help, but when it needs to hire in new niches, it reaches out to its network to find someone in a different company in the same industry to help in the interview process.

Fake it. You can ask IT questions and nod your head while listening to answers you don’t understand, Reed says. “However, that’s probably the least effective way to test someone’s skills.” Still, it can be done. Google “.net interview questions” and you’ll find plenty of things to ask a .net job candidate. Take time to research your interview questions, jot down notes about the correct answers and then listen for key phrases.

Hire someone who’s been there, done that. Choose a candidate who has  a proven performance record of accomplishing the task you need done and you won’t have to worry so much about technical competency for a small or mid-size company implementation or build-out.

“Someone who’s performed one or two implementations before will know where the issues were, can identify areas of improvements, and when they roll out, they know how to cut costs or judge a timeline,” says Marty Guillamun, executive director of national delivery for Digital Intelligence Systems Corp., McLean, Virginia.

Whatever you do, don’t make a hiring mistake by letting it push you into a hasty candidate selection. “Sometimes you get frustrated that you can’t find the right person and hire the wrong person,” Verghese says. “But if you hire someone and you’ve made the wrong selection, letting them go hurts your reputation.” It also impacts your bottom line with added turnover costs.

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