The Ultimate IT Hiring Guide: Make a solid hire every time

Demand for IT workers with specific skills is strong. Increased regulatory requirements, mounds and mounds of data to collect, analyze and store, security concerns, booming technologies that businesses are hurrying to deploy – all these trends are leading to an uptick in the IT job market in 2012. 

But hiring managers are finding it tough to hire professionals with the skills needed to implement emerging technologies. A recent Robert Half Technology survey of 1,400 CIOs found 65% are having a hard time finding skilled IT people.

Naturally, it takes time for workers to develop expert-level skills and experience. Increasing demand plus a workforce that’s still learning new technologies means many companies are competing for workers in a small pool of qualified candidates.

If you are one of the many IT leaders looking to increase your headcount in the next year, consider these strategies to hunt down the best and brightest and make a solid hire every time.

#1 – Get organized.

List the minimum requirements and your ultimate goals and objectives for the position. Prioritize needs to make sure you focus on what matters most (weigh technical skills, soft skills, personality and career match). Once you’ve done this, create a new job description or update the old one to reflect needs as they are today.

Note: If you’re working with recruiters, it’s a good idea to give them separate descriptions of your acceptable, preferred and ideal candidates. If you give them a description of your ideal candidate only, they may overlook someone who could do the job – and you might end up with no one to interview.

It’s up to the hiring manager to understand what kind of person will be most successful in a position – after all, the manager has the inside perspective, not the job applicant. If your job description is incomplete or doesn’t accurately reflect the true nature of the role, the applicants won’t know it and if hired, they will come into the position with expectations that differ greatly from your own. Training and vigilant management won’t necessarily make a warm body a good fit after they are hired.

On the other hand, training is a perk you can offer to attract and retain new employees. Consider whether the company can provide training to someone who has a solid background and relevant experience that would otherwise be a good fit.  Given the current shortage of qualified candidates, managers would do well to open themselves up to training and mentoring new hires.

Once you’ve got a good job description, you need a realistic idea of what the company will expect from a new hire.  Figure this out by examining the positive and negative aspects of the corporate culture as honestly as possible. Ask yourself: Will this person have to follow a rigid work schedule? Will the candidate have to follow a dress code and behave in a certain way to fit in with the company’s culture?

While some people may be fine working in a traditional office environment, there are a growing number of people, especially the younger crowd, looking for more flexible, less formal workplaces. You’ll need a strategy for dealing with this potential negative if your company has a more traditional atmosphere and structure.

No matter how hard both parties try to make it work, perfectly competent people won’t perform well in a mismatched position at a company where they don’t fit the corporate culture. Consider what personality traits and natural abilities are best suited to the job and the work environment. After all, the person you hire will be performing the tasks you’ve outlined in the job description seven to eight hours a day, five days a week, at least.

Zeroing in on the most important skills, experience and personality traits of the ideal candidate will help you weed out unqualified applicants and conduct more focused interviews.

#2 – Recruit constantly.

Use creative and aggressive recruiting techniques centered on networking, whether you are hiring immediately or not. Networking will get you better quality candidates than posting job ads on non-specialized job search websites. However, to attract the right kind of applicants quickly and cheaply, post immediate job openings on technology job boards.

If you are targeting recent grads, connect with internship programs, career offices and job fairs at colleges and universities. While you’re there, talk to undergrads about the skills and experience they will need if they’re interested in working for your company after graduation.

Speaking of recent grads, how do small shops lure them away from sexy jobs at large corporations? Many of us graduate with high expectations for our first gig, but not everyone is lucky enough to get the high paying, high-profile work we set our sights on. And that type of job may not be right for everyone.

That is precisely what SMBs should point out to first-time job seekers – oftentimes, small and medium-sized businesses are the best places for young workers to start their careers because they offer:

  • More learning opportunities. Small staffs must work together – and take on new skills when necessary – to get the work done. Broad technical experience is invaluable.
  • Opportunities to participate directly in growing the company. The knowledge that their efforts will have a direct impact on the success of the company can be a powerful recruiting tool.
  • Greater visibility. A smaller staff means their accomplishments will stand out.

To identify seasoned professionals, it’s best to network via personal and business contacts and social media. Also, talk to people at professional conferences, seminars, wherever you come in contact with colleagues. As a long term strategy, make a point of touching base with at least a few people each week to build a pipeline of viable candidates.

Hiring in haste can lead to bad hires: Don’t wait until a position opens up to begin the recruiting process. Make recruiting an ongoing activity. Your team should have their feelers out too. Having a list of people to call in the event that a position opens up unexpectedly gives you a head start on the hiring process.

#3 – Do the legwork.

Now that you have a clear idea of what type of worker you’re looking for and have the names of some people you’d like to interview, you can start digging deeper to narrow the field.

Take a look at the resumes you’ve collected. Do you see any red flags?

Even some high profile executives at major U.S. firms have been caught lying on their resumes in recent years. The Yahoo! CEO Scott Thompson is the most recent example. Therefore, it’s necessary to examine resumes for these signs from TheLadders.com that people are fabricating their skills and experience:

  • Their resume has conflicting dates, large, unexplained gaps between employment, and frequent job hopping
  • They aren’t who they say they are: Their social media presence doesn’t jive with their resume or their claims aren’t backed up by an Internet search (verify their background on social media sites, LinkedIn, and Google)
  • Their claims are just too good to be true – they have exactly the experience you are looking for, or tout an accomplishment that is highly unlikely, and
  • They use way too many adjectives – you want resumes written in plain, simple industry-appropriate language, not ones with big words and flowery language.

A resume caveat: If the resume is poorly written – but their technical skills are in line with what you’re looking for – don’t throw it out immediately. Consider giving them a second chance to interview face-to-face. The individual may just be really bad at selling themselves on paper. After all, you’re hiring a technician, not a salesperson.

Though important, just verifying the applicant’s employment history is not enough; if at all possible, find former bosses and colleagues not on the person’s reference list who are willing to speak to you candidly and confidentially. When checking references, ask questions like:

  • How is the candidate at taking direction?
  • Does the person need a lot of guidance or can he or she work independently most of the time?
  • Is the applicant a leader or a worker?
  • In what type of position do they think the applicant will be most successful?
  • Does the candidate demonstrate a willingness to learn, grow and improve?

#4: Ask the right IT interview questions.

Of course, the interview questions are just as important. While the interview’s your chance to compare what the candidate’s like in person vs. on paper, it’s also your chance to ask targeted questions aimed at uncovering the qualities that don’t necessary shine through on a resume.

A great way to go about this is to ask behavioral interview questions. Behavioral interviewing is a technique used by interviewers to predict how people will behave in the future, based on how they’ve behaved in the past. For example, say you are looking for candidates who have a genuine passion for their work. In addition to asking, “How did you come to realize this was the career path for you?” you might also say “Tell me about a project you are particularly proud of and how you contributed to its success” to get an idea of how they truly feel about their job and how much energy they devote to it.

A mix of traditional and behavioral interview questions will help you determine which candidate is the best fit, technically and personality-wise. Here are 104 IT interview questions[1] that will get the candidate talking:

Identifying personality traits and culture-fit

  1. What interests you most about this position? Or, why do you want this job? Salary increase? Title? Location? Or the work itself?
  2. Describe your ideal job.
  3. Describe your ideal work environment.
  4. How did you come to realize this was the right career for you?
  5. Talk about what you do to handle the pressure of working under multiple deadlines.
  6. When your workload is heavy, how do you make sure you complete your work on time?
  7. How do you go about providing accurate project estimates?
  8. What apps do you use to be more productive?
  9. What role do you think a [insert job title] should play in a company?
  10. Describe your troubleshooting process. Walk through an example of how you used your technical knowledge to successfully troubleshoot a problem.
  11. How did you solve the biggest technical challenge you’ve faced on the job?
  12. In your professional life, what is the most difficult situation you’ve encountered and what did you do?
  13. Describe a change that you initiated and what you did to implement it.
  14. Describe a time when you were able to improve a system, procedure, design, etc.
  15. What have you been told is your greatest strength? What do you think it is?
  16. What is your greatest weakness?
  17. How do you stay motivated at work? What gets you excited to come to work every day?
  18. How do you make a decision if there is no precedent or guideline available?
  19. Talk about a goal you set for yourself and how you achieved it.
  20. Give an example of a decision you made that was unpopular – and what you did to see it through.

 Identifying workers with interpersonal skills

  1. What type of people or users do you like to work with?
  2. How do you handle conflict? Or – what do you do if you disagree with someone?
  3. How do you cope with being told “No”?
  4. How are you at saying “No” to someone when necessary?
  5. How do you handle a user who calls repeatedly about the same issue?
  6. How do you handle requests with vague requirements?
  7. Talk about a time when you had to work on a project with a person who was difficult to get along with. How did you handle it? What did you do to get through it?
  8. If you’ve been given instructions for completing a task, but come up with a better way to do it, what do you do?

Identifying workers who are willing to learn new skills

  1. How do you keep your technical certifications up-to-date?
  2. How do you keep up with industry developments?
  3. What technical websites do you follow? Where do you go for technical help?
  4. How do you plan to develop yourself to become an essential member of our team?
  5. What new skills and experience are you looking to gain?

 Identifying team players

  1. What do you think makes a team successful and why?
  2. Can you work outside of normal business hours?
  3. You discovered a mistake that you made but so far you are the only one who knows about it. What do you do?
  4. If you know you aren’t going to make a deadline, what do you do? What do you tell your manager and/or your client?
  5. Tell me about a project you worked on recently and what you were responsible for.
  6. Tell me about a project you are particularly proud of and how you contributed to its success.
  7. Give an example of a time when you were able to motivate employees or co-workers to achieve a goal.

 Determining technical skills and experience

  1.  Give an example of a project or situation that best demonstrates your skills.
  2. What skills and experience do you have that will make you an essential member of our team?
  3. What operating system do you prefer and why?
  4. Compare on-site vs. cloud-based software by explaining the advantages and disadvantages of each.
  5. What part of the project life cycle have you worked on?
  6. Specifically, what types of equipment have you used?
  7. Why is documentation important? What should be included in documentation for it to be helpful? Do you have experience writing documentation?
  8. How well do you know laptop repair? Describe your experience.
  9. You suspect that a user’s machine is infected with spyware. What steps do you take?
  10. What is the major difference between FAT and NTFS?
  11. What three disk files make up a virtual machine in VMware ESXi?
  12. How many ways are there to move a file from a Windows computer to a Linux computer?
  13. Compare and contrast REST and SOAP web services.
  14. You have one server that hosts all mission-critical processes and data and it must never go off-line. What might you do to prevent it from ever going down?
  15. What is a cross-site scripting attack and how do you defend against it?

 Database

  1. Describe the difference between optimistic and pessimistic locking.
  2. What is the difference between a delete statement and a truncate statement?
  3. What are the most important database performance metrics, and how do you monitor them?
  4. How do you enforce relational integrity in database design?
  5. When is it appropriate to denormalize database design?
  6. Do you prefer service-oriented or batch-oriented solutions?
  7. What is structure?
  8. Explain what clustering is and how it’s used.
  9. What are transaction logs, and how are they used?
  10. What is ETL and when should it be used?
  11. What is the difference between OLAP and OLTP? When is each used?

Programming

  1. What automated-build tools or processes have you used?
  2. What is the role of continuous integration systems in the automated-build process?
  3. What development tools have you used?
  4. How do you manage source control? What source control tools have you used?
  5. Have you used Eclipse?
  6. Have you used Visual Studio?
  7. How much reuse do you get out of the code that you develop, and how?
  8. Describe the elements of n-tier architecture and their appropriate use.
  9. What percentage of your time do you spend unit testing?
  10. What do you do to ensure quality in your deliverables?

Networking

  1. Name the 7 layers of the OSI Model and describe each.
  2. What’s the port for Telnet?
  3. Define authentication and authorization and the tools that are used to support them in enterprise deployments.
  4. In network security, what is a honey pot, and why is it used?
  5. What is the role of SMNP?
  6. What is the role of the DMZ in network architecture?
  7. Explain how DHCP works. Describe the DHCP lease process.
  8. What is Active Directory?
  9. Explain a “Two-Way Transitive” trust. What does non-transitive mean?
  10. Name the FMSO roles and their functions. Which one is the primary Network Time Server? Which one should you avoid using for a Global Catalog server?
  11. What is the Global Catalog and how’s it used?
  12. What is the default schedule for Active Directory replication?
  13. Explain NTP.
  14. How do you create a Group Policy Object? (GPMC or ADUC)
  15. What is the difference between local, global and universal groups?
  16. You’ve been asked to create 20 new users and update two GPOs as soon as possible. When you go to the Administrative Tools you discover they’re all gone. What do you do? What do you suspect happened?
  17. Define DNS and describe how it works. (Domain Name System)
  18. Should a DC providing AD-integrated DNS be configured on the NIC to use itself for DNS, or another DNS server?
  19. What are the types of DNS records and where would you expect to find them?
  20. What is a SOA record?
  21. Name some of the utilities in Windows Server Admin Pack and describe what they are used for.
  22. What are the names of the Exchange Services?
  23. Why use an IPSec VPN to connect two Exchange servers located at different sites? What does this technology protect?

Storage

  1. What is a SAN and how is it used?
  2. Name the components of a SAN system, from back to front.
  3. List and describe the 3 types of server storage (SAN, NAS, and DAS).
  4. How is SAN different from NAS?
  5. Define and explain the difference between RAID 0, RAID 1 and RAID 5. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

Bonus tip: Before making an offer, pick the top two or three results you want from the new hire over the course of the next year, and if you think they can deliver, most likely you’ve got a winner.

Learn from your mistakes

Ultimately, there is still a chance that a new hire won’t work out even though you’ve been diligent and conscientious in your search for the right person to fill the position. But, don’t beat yourself up – learn from the experience and use what you’ve learned to improve your hiring process. Maybe you unknowingly neglected to ask the one question that would’ve clued you in to the fact that the candidate was a bad fit. Or, maybe you relied too heavily on a recommendation from a colleague who hadn’t worked with the candidate for a long time. Whatever the reason, use what you’ve learned to make a solid hire the next time.

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