I find that interviewing IT candidates is more successful if I divide the hiring process into two parts: evaluating a candidate's technical capabilities and assessing their communication skills. Although credentials, in and of themselves aren't necessarily the best indicator of technical competence, certifications such as MCSE, MCSD and relevant work experience should be a main focus of an initial conversation.
As for the soft skills part of the hiring process, I've learned two key lessons in my many years of hiring Windows systems, network and database administrators. Pay attention to communication skills and don't forget that people will always look out for No. 1.
Hiring process tip: Pay attention to the candidate's communication skills
During the personality review, try to find out what motivates the candidate: Will she fit into the organization? Am I going to enjoy working with this person? You might have found the most intelligent Active Directory engineer on the face of the planet or the woman who knows everything to know about Vista, but if she can't communicate, how can you expect this individual to assimilate into your organization or have the wherewithal to handle an emergency situation? Keep in mind that communication skills are much more than language; they are also interpersonal skills, common sense and written communication.
So how do you identify someone with the appropriate soft skills? It isn't an exact science but the following help me assess a technical candidate's soft skills during the interview process:
Hiring process tip: Don't forget that people will always look out for No. 1
Situation analysis: Give the candidate a real-world IT situation and ask him how he would use his technical expertise to solve the problem. For example, if you are interviewing a potential Windows systems administrator you might ask how he plans to use the new PowerShell functionality to be more efficient in his job. Find out how he would communicate in an emergency situation by asking him to give you a step-by-step action plan for communicating the problem to colleagues. See how he communicates under pressure. If he can't formulate a response or won't admit he doesn't know the answer, steer clear. Organizational fit: Employees who work well together are most likely to stick together and cooperate with one another in rough times. It is critical to understand your organization as a whole and determine how a new employee might fit into your existing team dynamics. It is not necessary for everyone on your team to become friends, but figure out how a candidate's personality and work style would fit into or complement others on the team.
Different people are motivated by different things, but I have learned that the common thread is that people will always look out for number one. Even if you're the best boss in the world, working at the best company in the world, people look for ways to achieve or satisfy what is important to them -- whether it be money, the possibility of a promotion, learning new technologies or working on a challenging project. If you can look at a candidate at the end of the interview process and clearly understand his or her motivations, you are well on your way to determining if the candidate will be a good fit.
I use the following questions to help me determine an IT candidate's motivations for taking a job with my company:
While there are never any guarantees, waiting for the person with the best technical expertise, good communication skills and appropriate motivation could be the secret to your success.
Will the candidate be motivated to stay with my organization? If I am hiring a Windows systems administrator, I might have more luck with a candidate that views the position with my company as a challenge or opportunity to take the next step in his or her career. If you can't clearly assess why a candidate would be motivated to stay with your company, it could be a sign that the person might just want the job out of the need for a job and not because they are excited about the opportunity you are offering. Is the candidate just seeking more money? I hired a candidate that told me during the interview process that the reason for leaving his current employer was because he wasn't being promoted as fast as he would like. Three weeks after he started at my company, he abruptly left. I later found out that his previous company had lured him back with that promotion. Understanding why the candidate is sitting in your office and had his or her resume out in the market place can help flag people who might not be interested in a long-term position. Are there events established during the hiring process that cater to the candidate's self interest? One of my favorite techniques is to establish incentives within the employment offer. If I am hiring an Active Directory expert to lead a migration, I might put a $5,000 bonus in the offer letter that is contingent on the successful completion of the migration. If it won't work to do a specific project, build an evaluation time period after which the candidate will receive a performance review and a potential compensation increase (i.e., "A performance review will be conducted after three months, at which time compensation will be evaluated.").
Russell Olsen is currently the CIO of a medical data mining company and previously worked for a Big Four accounting firm performing technology risk assessments. He co-authored the research paper "A comparison of Windows 2000 and Red Hat as network service providers." Russell is a CISA, GSNA and MCP.
This was first published in June 2007