Human Resources News & Insights

Do you know the right questions to ask an IT applicant?

Some HR managers just run a cursory check on qualifications and pass along candidates to the company IT boss or the exec who oversees technology. That’s usually a mistake.

Tech people tend to ask candidates tech questions — the candidate’s qualifications and competencies in appropriate hardware and software. Of course that’s important. HR, however, can provide a valuable service to IT and the company by first filtering candidates.

Business consultant Mike Gorsage, writing in Inc. com, recommends these two questions to help you select the right people:

1. Tell me about the times you were involved in IT problems with business functions — such as on-time processing of orders. How did you solve it? What did you recommend? If you had been in a position of authority, what would you have recommended?

Here’s the answer you don’t want: “We needed to spend more money or hire more people.” Too many ITers think upgrades or more people will solve every problem.

Of course, sometimes parting with some cash is necessary, but it shouldn’t always be the answer.

What you’re looking for: ideas on how the candidate shifted — or would have shifted — people and resources to fix the problem. IT consultants say, more often than not, IT business functions fail because resources aren’t allocated correctly, not because of too few resources.

You want a candidate who knows that.

2. If you were picking a new system for us, what would be your top priorities for selecting that system?

There are plenty of good answers for this one — it must meet the needs, be within company budget, allow for easy transition from old to new, be backed up by training and service, and so on.

If one of those answers pops us, so far, so good.

The answer (or some variation of it) that would be the icing on the cake: “I’d make sure the system was expandable to accommodate growth, so that we wouldn’t have to go out and buy another new system every time the company grows.”

That shows good business sense. The candidate who provides that answer is aware of what makes a company successful — growth — and IT’s role in that success.

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  1. I would also encourage my fellow recruiters to be proactive in partnering with the hiring IT manager. Take the initiative to learn more about the technical aspects of the job. Find out the hot technical buzzwords and get an understanding of their definitions. Having such knowledge will make you a much more credible recruiter when talking with prospective candidates and should help one get that elusive ‘seat at the table’ by showing some interest in the department manager’s work.

  2. The questions in the article are important, but in my opinion, they fall more under the category of ‘making a decision among the final candidates’. It’s difficult to advertise for and screen IT applicants if you don’t have an IT background. I agree with Chuck that you have to learn more about the technical aspects of the job in order to be effective.

    Most of the open positions in our company are IT related, and in this day and time, an ad from a software company brings in a mountain of resumes. We’re in a specialized industry, and that causes us to look for specific experience, so most of the applicants are not qualified for the positions – but they’d sure like to convince you that they are, and IT people seem to be some of the worst! Over the years, I’ve listened to countless programmers and technical support people exaggerate their experience/duties to make the most mundane IT job sound important, (like, gee… I never knew it took so much talent to back up a hard drive!), or answer ‘Yes’ to everything, just to get a ‘foot in the door’. They know those ‘buzz words’ too.

    We’re a small company, and can’t afford to have them waste valuable time, so getting them screened properly on the front-end is paramount. Fortunately, I work directly with one of the owners of the company, who is an exceptionally talented programmer. So, to cut through the garbage and get to the specifics, he helped me compile (and understand) a list of questions that are directly related to the job. The questions are very detailed, include follow-up questions to certain answers, and are asked of every possible applicant. Whenever a new position opens up, we review the questions to make certain they are all still applicable. This method has helped tremendously in getting the most qualified applicants through the door – which makes it so much easier to narrow the applicants down to actual candidates.

  3. 1. Cold call candidates from database, search engine or passive/referral:

    An honest, professional IT candidate is very adept at knowing if he/she is qualified for the position, or if it fits their specialization, by looking at the job description and the specific industry (financial, insurance, telephony, etc.)

    2. Candidates from job postings:

    90% unqualified, looking to “come-up-in-the-world”. Usually accompanied with “I can learn that really fast”. Sorry– not fast enough for most hiring managers. (HM’s are holding less hands these days.) Even tech savvy professionals can’t “hit the ground running” fast enough for HM’s.

    3. Ask the HM if there’s a specific skill-set/software they’re looking for, or set’s of skill-sets, that’s not even close to the original job description. Ask the candidate if they have that experience– I’ve seen it more times than I care to.

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