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5 Winning Strategies for Successful Hiring

One often-overlooked and seriously undervalued aspect of IT management is recruitment. Although many factors that contribute to any organization's recruiting ability are beyond the control of most IT managers (e.g., compensation, company culture, physical location), the hiring process is one area in which IT managers can separate themselves from their peers. Hiring well is essential to building a high-performing IT staff. The good news is that simple and straightforward strategies exist to help you take control of the hiring process.

Strategy #1: Know What You're Looking For
The first hiring mistake that most IT managers make is not knowing what they're looking for in a prospective employee. You need to make the key decision about whether you want to fill a job or hire a talented person for the long run. If you need to hire a person to complete a set of specific tasks, focus your hiring on particular skills. If you want to hire talent, focus your hiring on the set of core skills that a successful employee on your staff needs. Being clear about what you're hiring for will guide you as you recruit, so that you can target people to interview and formulate effective interview questions.

You'll run into problems if you're not clear about what you're hiring for: An employee you hire for her talent might need extensive training to tackle tasks that need to be completed today, whereas an employee you hire for a specific job might not have the right skills to grow within the organization or to adapt when job needs change. Although talent and specific skill sets aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, if your hiring requirements lie in one of these areas, make sure to identify it early on.

Strategy #2: Write Thorough Job Descriptions
A detailed, accurate, and complete job description is an important factor in attracting desirable job candidates. In addition, a well-thought-out job description will help you better evaluate rèsumè submissions because the process of writing a detailed and accurate description will force you to think critically about the skills and knowledge you need in a successful candidate.

Begin by creating a "must have" list of knowledge, skills, and education, training, and experience for your open positions. This list establishes the minimum requirements that qualified candidates must meet. Create a second list with "nice to have" criteria. This list will help you decide among similarly qualified candidates.

As you receive rèsumès, put each into one of four piles:

  • Not qualified, not interested. Rèsumès that don't indicate that the candidate meets your minimum qualification requirements.
  • Not qualified, but you're interested. Rèsumès that don't indicate that the candidate meets your minimum qualification requirements for the open position but might be qualified for other existing or potential positions on your staff.
  • Minimally qualified. Rèsumès that indicate that the candidate is at least minimally qualified for the job.
  • Quaalified. Rèsumès that indicate that the candidate possesses all of the "must have" criteria and some of the "nice to have" criteria. These are the people you want to target for interviews.

Strategy #3: Check Facts in Rèsumès
Some job seekers lie, exaggerate, or otherwise misrepresent education and work histories on rèsumès. Similarly, job titles are frequently inflated. In the last few years, even people who landed high-profile jobs— including politicians, businesspeople, and major college football coaches—have been proven to have lied on their rèsumès. You can protect yourself from this problem by spending a few minutes fact-checking rèsumès. Verify degrees or college attendance by contacting the registrar's office at the institution a candidate claims to have attended, check job titles and employment dates with the HR departments of previous employers, and verify certification or licenses the candidate claims to possess. Although the current litigious atmosphere surrounding personal information and employment will likely prevent you from obtaining performance information, you shouldn't have trouble verifying basic facts. Also, depending on your job's requirements, your organization's values, and local laws, consider running criminal and financial background checks before offering particular positions to a successful candidate.

Strategy #4: Use Multiple Independent Interviewers
Rather than relying solely on your own judgment, create an interview loop for each candidate composed of people with different and diverse experience. Be sure to involve a mix of interviewers with technical and business backgrounds. Doing so will help you get a more complete evaluation of a candidate by balancing out innate bias regarding personality and other factors and by bringing in a variety of perspectives on the candidate's ability to succeed on the job. Use a minimum of four interviewers in addition to yourself. Assign each interviewer a specific area of competency to assess and ask him or her to rank candidates according to specific information gleaned during the interview. At least one interviewer should be specifically assessing the candidate's long-term potential.This practice has an additional benefit of helping candidates assess your company and the position. Have each interviewer compose interview feedback immediately, but don't make a hire or no-hire decision until the next day—ideally, without discussion between the interviewers until after each makes his or her recommendations.

Strategy #5: Ask Questions That Really Matter
Microsoft and Google have received significant media attention about using Mensatype logic problems when hiring employees. The idea is not to find out whether a candidate can solve the problem at hand but rather to evaluate how he or she goes about solving such a problem. The danger in relying too much on this type of interviewing is that it can easily become a game of outsmarting the candidate rather than a method to determine whether the candidate is qualified for the position. Instead, before the interview, create a list of questions that differentiate minimally qualified candidates from ideal candidates. For example, if you're hiring for a database administrator who will be performing backups, ask candidates to describe how they would perform a backup in as much detail as possible, or ask about techniques they've used in the past and how well or poorly the techniques worked.

It's important to assess the extent of candidates' awareness of their technical skills and their ability to articulate this awareness. One effective line of questioning is to ask candidates to assess their knowledge in a specific area in which they claim to be skilled on a scale of 1 to 10. Then proceed with a series of detailed questions on that technology. Even if a candidate's knowledge exceeds yours, you'll likely be able to detect when the candidate isn't confident in his or her response. The goal is to determine how self-aware and honest candidates are about their knowledge. It's helpful to let candidates know that you aren't expecting expert knowledge, so that they don't lose their confidence within the interview process. Focus your questions on the requirements of the job.When candidates get to a point where they're no longer confident in their knowledge on a particular subject, ask them how they would solve a problem related to the subject with the knowledge they possess. You can use this information to determine whether a candidate has the appropriate knowledge and skills to meet your expectations for the position.

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