Who's the Boss?

In all my discussions with my peers as an IT hiring manager, there seems to be some agreement: The one thing they hate about their jobs the most is the hiring process—speaking with recruiters, putting out feelers for new people, posting on job boards and even having the interviews themselves. It’s a horribly inefficient process where you have to take a step out of your normal workday, projects or initiatives to find that person to fill a position that is difficult to fill in the first place. When do we really get everything we want in a candidate?

In IT, it’s a tiring, exhaustive process since there is no definitive benchmark in information technology for what you need or have to know. It’s definitely a "what you know" industry that has yet to have any type of a real, definitive way of saying someone knows what he says he knows. The dance during the interview process is one that tries to stump, stumble or ultimately validate your "opponent" in an attempt to make him part of your team. It’s no wonder human resources departments have their heads spinning—there is no real template for computer-based jobs! For example, if I’m looking for a programmer, he doesn’t necessarily have to have a degree in computer science. In fact, more and more, I don’t even want that because I can get a committed programmer who has learned on his own. It’s not to say that I wouldn’t take a computer science degreed programmer, but what did he learn? My better programmers don’t have a degree, but they can code in two or three programming languages. We code in C#, so the human resources department looks for a programmer and sees the C but not the C#. These are two different languages, but human resources thinks it is one. I also want someone who has some systems engineering background but it’s not totally necessary; however, having database skills is essential. Do I have the human resources people’s heads spinning yet? Is it my fault I get the wrong people or is it the human resources department's fault? I’m sure this has happened to everyone else. It’s no wonder everybody hates the IT departments—the right people never get put in place, we will put anyone in just so we do not lose head count.

Does it sound like I’m throwing blame around? Sort of, I guess; but I’m not really blaming anyone. It’s the industry, not the people, and there just hasn’t been any way to change it. I can’t blame our human resources department for bringing me bad candidates; they don’t know my industry, they don’t know what I’m looking for and they definitely don’t know what I’m willing to tolerate. I don’t even know what I’m looking for in total because there is an art to hiring for IT. There are some candidates I will hire on a lesser skill set because I get the feeling they will go above and beyond to learn (meaning, not on my dime). There are some candidates that I know will work out but only because they have the skill set that I’m looking for, but boy, do they have hygiene issues! So many variables, so many ways in which we hire with all the personalities and skills involved. It’s not just a chess game—it’s a three-dimensional chess game that requires total attention. That is why IT managers hate to hire. They already have too much on their plate and too many variables to deal with in making systems and processes work, let alone having to hire someone.

Making hiring managers an intricate part of the hiring process is essential to making a good hire. Pre-screening techniques need to go beyond the standard to match A to B, and hopefully you will get AB. I can’t give you a list of qualifications and think that you will match it all up, but what I can do is take you to lunch and discuss how I interview, how I hire. Human resources departments should really sit in on the interviews that IT managers have with their candidates and see for themselves how they hire their people. They don’t necessarily have to know the technical jargon, but it does help. Companies that give their hiring managers a whole bunch of resumes and say, "Look these over and tell me which you want," also miss an opportunity to work alongside their hiring manager. Both can learn from each other on how a good hire can be attained through teamwork. The hiring managers need to be able to communicate those needs to their human resources departments in a way that they can understand. Only then will the right people get put in the right place, and then maybe some people will like their IT staff.

First published on Human Resources IQ.