Mar 13 2008

Seek Out the Passionate

Consider these tips when looking to hire the right IT staffer.

If you’re looking to fill an IT position, you may find that most applicants have the same credentials or experience. Some will just plain lie on their résumés. At times, because of salary constraints or availability, you may be required to gamble and hire a beginner or an intern. So how can you tell who’s looking for a career in IT instead of just a paycheck? How can you discern who’s taking creative license with their résumé from someone who is truly interested in IT but lacks professional experience or academic credentials?

Certain types of questions can help you see past the written page. If you’re looking for a diamond in the rough, these three open-ended queries may help you find the hidden potential you seek.

1) What have you done lately?

The first thing to ask is what projects your candidate has worked on recently. If you’re looking for a Web developer, then he should have some examples on the Web to show you during the interview. If he has only one or two items, or if all his work isn’t online yet, you may want to pass. If you’re hiring a networking specialist, ask him to describe a recent project — what he did and how he did it. A top candidate will go into great detail explaining the minutia of the project. But if, for example, your candidate doesn’t know what DHCP is, perhaps because he worked as part of a team, that’s your sign to just say no.

With this question you are looking for familiarity with terminology related to the job for which you’re hiring, and an easy understanding of the subject and ancillary fields of discipline. This question will help you weed out the exaggerators.

2) What is your favorite operating system and why?

Taking a gamble on a student or tech hobbyist can be very rewarding. However, because of the lack of credentials or work experience, you may need to pursue an unorthodox line of questioning to assess his or her talent and potential. You might ask, what is your favorite operating system and why? Or, what kind of video games do you play?

Such questions will help you judge how much technical knowledge your candidate has gained without any professional experience. From the latter question, you’ll learn about hardware experience; for instance, if he or she has replaced video cards or upgraded memory. You’ll also learn about experience with such network tasks as router configuration, IP configuration, Ethernet wiring or Wi-Fi. Maybe your candidate has done code hacks to give his gaming a little extra kick. Even graphics and Web-design experience can be considered if he’s built forums, “clan” Web sites or custom skins for his games. 

If your candidate does this in his spare time, he will love doing it at work and will have a good foundation of skills to build upon.

3) Are you passionate about IT problem solving?

If your candidate is eager to tell you about his interests, listen up. This is one way to discover whether he is suited to explore the vast terrain of IT solutions that he may encounter or if he is simply looking for a job. Someone who is enthusiastic about IT, communications and technology in general will have diverse interests in addition to the discipline for which you’re hiring.

For small businesses and organizations, an IT generalist — someone who can troubleshoot everything from minuscule errors in code to the most mundane cell phone interface — is a must-have. A techie who is passionate about the broad array of technology is a jack-of-all-trades. He probably disassembled equipment as a child and has now moved up to tearing apart PDAs and computers, parsing code and querying databases just to see what happens. When a problem arises, such a person will have the desire and the experience to know how and where to look for a solution, even if it is beyond the scope of his job description.

You will probably be working with this person eight hours a day, five days a week for the next three to four years, so choose someone who is excited about his or her career. It’s difficult to work with someone who is disgruntled about his profession, let alone all the headaches that are part of his daily routine.

Once you have found the right person for your position, the onus is on you to develop his skill set and keep him motivated and interested. The rest is easy.

Martin Szalay is the director of IT at Food Warming Equipment in Crystal Lake, Ill.