May 01 2006

IT Hiring Rife with Challenges

Lee Copeland, Editor in Chief
Photo: Welton Doby III

Lack of versatility, unrealistic salary expectations and not enough experience top the list of challenges that small- and medium-sized businesses face when it comes to hiring IT staffers, according to a recent BizTech poll.

Luckily, identifying experience and salary requirements should be rather straightforward. If a candidate’s salary demands bust your budget or if a resume sports 15 years of Cobol programming exclusively when your company needs a network administrator, there’s not much room for negotiation or compromise. Yet, when it comes to ascertaining an applicant’s versatility, that’s not an easy call to make, but 47 percent of readers say it’s the necessary trait that makes hiring most difficult.

To me, the versatility quotient comes down to a willingness to undertake myriad tactics that support the organization’s unique strategy. Unfortunately, a lot of folks — particularly those looking for jobs — don’t adequately comprehend or want to take on all that’s required to keep the business running smoothly. Many like the predictability of rigidly defined work requirements.

It pays to have a plan going into the interview. In Help Wanted: IT Managers, you’ll find out what your peers say are the best questions to ask IT job candidates. They recommend grilling interviewees with questions about how to juggle workloads, problem solving, staying aligned with management and addressing specific technology challenges unique to your organization, which will help pinpoint whether candidates are truly versatile. If they can’t handle the bombardment in an interview, they probably can’t do it on the job either.

But job interviews reveal only so much. A savvy interviewee knows what to say and what to leave out. There’s no one question that will recognize whether the personality behind the skills set is versatile enough to fit with the vision of your organization.

One frustrated IT manager summed it up perfectly: “We need people who are team players and can help with the vision of the firm. Many times [candidates] are technically able, but personality-wise, they lack the vision required.”

Nowhere is alignment with the company’s vision more important than at an SMB that’s growing. Usually, that means that you don’t have enough staff to fill all the gaps, provide cover or handhold new workers. Those without versatility and vision can impede growth and dampen morale.

To weed out those personalities who won’t execute toward your company’s vision, Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, authors of “Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done,” recommend taking a look at what kind of energy and enthusiasm the candidate expresses for actually getting things done. While asking questions is important, you must also listen for what the person wants to talk about. Is it the thrill of execution or higher level strategic planning? When you ask them how they would solve a problem, do they ask probing questions to further their understanding or do they make assumptions?

Charan suggests getting the candidate to describe in detail things that they have done, how they have done them and who was involved. “It’s very important to see how specific they are,” says Charan. “The key is finding out whether they understand how to engage in a dialogue in the beginning. Over time, once trust is established, not as much follow-through is required. But it’s important that they understand that.”

Lee Copeland
Editor in Chief

What’s the biggest challenge to finding IT staffers?

Most candidates lack the versatility to be successful at a small/medium company 47%
Most candidates lack strong IT credentials and experience 19%
Most candidates have unrealistic salary expectations 13%
We’re not hiring 10%
Our location is not attractive to candidates 8%
Hiring isn’t a challenge for us 3%