Tech & Work

10 ways to vet possible IT employees

Hiring new IT employees is both art and science. Here are some ideas for vetting candidates.

One of the most challenging tasks for the IT department is finding quality staff members. You may think you've got an upstanding citizen who would be a great fit, but something could easily be lurking in the background...some deal breaker that might not show up for months. When that happens, you find yourself back at square one, again searching for the ideal candidate.

What if the standard interview process isn't enough to weed out those that won't fit? That process has worked for decades for countless businesses. I firmly believe, that practice is used up and new tools are necessary to help vet possible IT staff. I have come up with ten ways to help you make the most out of the process. Not every idea will work for everyone looking to hire a new employee; but anyone who is about to go through this process should at least give this list a glance to see what you might be missing.

1. Prepare a test

Testing is a method to get a quick base-line of a candidate's knowledge. With this route you can hone the testing to perfectly fit your needs and/or the job specifications. But don't just limit the test questions to servers and desktops. Since the candidate might have to deal with other humans, toss in a few questions to gauge the candidate's ability to successfully navigate the waters of human interaction.

2. Start with remote support

Remote support is a great way to judge if a candidate has the skills for the job. Agree to a trial period where that candidate will do nothing but remote support so you can keep said candidate within reach. Having the candidate remain in the office you will be able to quickly gage if the candidate has the chops for the gig. If so, finalize the hiring process and start sending the new employee out to calls. If not, thank them for their time and send them packing.

3. Create a problem

Sandbox repair is a great way to throw a candidate into the mix and see what kind of skills they have. This sandbox should at least contain a server, a desktop (or two), and a printer. Break something on that isolated network and see how quickly the candidate can resolve the issue. Depending upon the level of technician you are looking to hire, the problem on the sandbox could be simple or very challenging. Just don't make this a Kobayashi Maru.

4. Do the background check

Background checks are a sure-fire way to get immediate red flags about a potential employee. These are fairly standard procedure, but one that is often overlooked by managers and owners. Those background checks will help to give you an insight into various types of behavior from that employee's past and present. Do not, however, be fooled into thinking this is the one-stop-shop of vetting techniques. This should be considered a first- round process which would lead into the next pieces of the vetting process.

5. Involve others

Vet by committee is an outstanding means of getting your department's input on the prospective candidate. The one thing so many companies forget is that new employees will have to work well with the current staff. That new employee could be an absolutely brilliant engineer; but if they can't get along with your existing department, that genius will be wasted. This process also makes your staff see that you do, in fact, value their input – so it's a win-win that you wouldn't have going through the standard vetting process. The only caveat to this process is to make sure your staff understands you do have the final say.

6. Set up a short-term apprenticeship

This is really a temp-to-hire take on the process. Should a prospective employee pass the first stages of the process, bring them in for a trial period to make sure they are a solid fit for the day to day business of the department. This trial period could offer a small stipend to compensate for driving, parking, lunches, etc. It's not the usual fare, but it's an outstanding way to see how someone fits without you losing your shirt.

7. Shadow another employee

Shadow senior engineer is another inexpensive way for a candidate to be vetted. After the initial interview, have the applicant come in for period of time that will allow for them to work along side a senior engineer. This will not only give your senior staff the chance to get up close and personal with the person, it will also give the candidate a chance to get into the nuts and bolts of the day to day work flow. Once they've gone through this process, if they return for the next phase, you know they are definitely interested.

8. Check the social networks

Social networking is a bit of a tricky route to take, but it's one that can help you to get a much more complete picture of a prospect. What you do not want to do is require the applicant give you their Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest information. Instead, just casually look them up and see what you find. This is the double-edged sword of social networking in general – everything is always out there.

9. Put together an informal gathering

Department gathering is a unique way to see how well candidates interact with your staff. This should be done away from the office, in a social setting. Allow the staff to get to know the candidate – even covertly grill them on their skills and knowledge. This could lead to a lot of bonding as well as your staff finding out pieces of crucial information that will help lead you to the right solution. “Hey boss, she's a Linux guru!” You never know what your staff can find out.

10. Let a pro do it

Third-party vetting is where you turn when you either don't have the resources or time to do a full vetting of a possible employee. There are plenty of on-line vetting services (such as HireRight), but I highly recommend you use a local company. Yes, you will pay for this service, but should an employee not work out, you have somewhere to turn. This should be your last-ditch effort – not your go-to process.

The hiring of new employees shouldn't be a daunting process. At the same time, it shouldn't be something you brush over lightly. You want not only to get the best employee for your needs, but also fit that incoming staff member with the best job. With a thorough vetting you can avoid a lot of the traps others fall into. Just understand this – even with the most complete vetting process, things fall through the cracks. You can run an applicant through every wringer you have and still wind up with a dud.


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website

Dave Man
Dave Man

Obviously, he has zero experience hiring IT people and his only classification is for help desk or server admin people.  


> Set up a short-term apprenticeship 

I guess the employer is only interested in unemployed folks?  Why would someone with a JOB decide to take on an "apprenticeship" just to get another job?  And I thought that unemployed folks weren't cool these days.

Jonathon Dogue
Jonathon Dogue

One has to question the veracity of a man whose claim to fame is a a surprisingly large number of self portraits and a book about Zombies as a credible source for rational approaches to hiring.

To me, the author appears as yet another in the new breed of hipster aristocrats that are infesting our country (and many others)

These creeps spend far too much  time on social engineering (little more than political prejudice cloaked as honest HR) to populate companies with dogmatic sycophants and too little on the substance of  what gets the job done, all to bring us one step closer to their ideal of a new Rome. We need old world mentalities like a hole in the head.


I think the author might want to read Joel Spolsky on the problems of hiring _good_ people. It is easy to hire desperate people and these techniques seem good for weeding out the best.

Item #1 on Spolsky's list (assuming you want A+ workers and not C workers with a B manager), the best employees are not usually looking for work.

If you have two candidates who seem useful and you cannot decide between them, hire both. Seriously. Do the numbers and calculate how long it takes to read resumes and interview people. 

Where most people get it wrong is they talk the talk but don't understand the verbiage. IF employees are your most vital resource, then you should probably put as much time into hiring them and managing them as you put into calculating profit/loss statements or vetting a new supplier. Seriously.

And if you can actually make money off an employee (seems like the only goal imo), then hire them.


And don't forget, IT is more than just a support person. If you want a network admin or a system developer, don't jerk them around with low-level issues and idiot interviewers.


Sounds like a plan to eliminate all of the really good candidates. The really qualified candidates would not bother going through multiple interviews, a test, and a sandbox test for a temp job that might become permanent.

The informal gathering where the purpose is to find out if the candidate is a fit usually turns into an inquisition. Everyone knows the purpose of the gathering and it would be rare to find someone able to fell comfortable in that situation.

Frankly, I have never been a fan of technical tests especially where the person taking the test doesn't know the scope of the test. How do they prepare?

Rather than most of the suggestions, I would discuss what they have done in the past and talk in detail about their successes and perhaps their failures. If you do not understand the technical details enough to tell if they do or do not know their stuff, have a technical SME sit in on the interview.


I wholeheartedly agree with almost all of these, Jack...we've used almost all of these with great success.  #2, #6, and #7 are pretty much impossible to accomplish unless you have a candidate in total desperation mode.  Taking themselves out of the workforce into a low-pay/no-pay trial period isn't something many pros are going to be willing to do, and especially not if they have other options that don't involve being placed under a microscope.  You can feel out your candidate's real-world abilities using #1, #3, and #9.


"Since the candidate might have to deal with other humans ..."
   Rare is the tech position which requires zero human interaction.

"If not, thank them for their time and send them packing."
   The comment "send them packing" causes me to question your ability to interact with humans.

I could continue to target each of your suggestions but my top notch skills at human interaction impel me to spare your feelings.


<Part 3 of mutli part reply>.  Go back up and read parts 1 and 2 first, if you see this as the first post I have made.

So you need to go back to the beginning, before you met those 200 applicatins, and design a way to put each of them into a comfortable mindset that allows them to really feel free to show you who they are.  Disarm them by not being at some "across the table" scenario.  Get a drink, go for a walk in the park and chat.  Or do it like the movies, you walk down the hall chatting about their resume when suddenly a IT guy runs in and says "emergency, our firewall has been breached!".  Get the apolicant to help (or whatever their skills are, tailoryour fiction to suit).  Some of this sounds silly, but then again it's the drones who don't use their imagination to achieve desired outcome.  The real imaginative people are the ones that move our socieity along further than the status quo, or in this case, can find a great new employee.  The idea is to use your imagination as a hiring person to give the applicant power.  That power enables them to b e themselves, to feel safe in expressing their abilities, and that is how you will get a true sense of who to select. 

<end of Part 3>


<Part 2 of multi part reply>

The addition of somebody who is a great fit to your company is more importan than shaving 5% off your annual expenditures, or any other direct financial fix-it.  You can't measure the impact, but adding a quality person to your tetam is important enough that a 45 minute interview is not a worthy investment of your time.  To find a great addition who will stick around for the long haul, you need to be willing to put a day or more into them.  Not feasible, got 200 applicants?  ok, find a balance, and compromise if you must.  Do your level 1 interview, or test or whatever, filter down to your top 10, and get more into it on the 2nd and 3rd intreview.  Sound familiar?  Stil ending up with the sam e schmucks that you always do?  In the end you may still be stuck with only the people who are good at telling youw ant you want to hear, and can handle the anxiety of interviews, but not be good fits for the actual job or team, which is what really matters (obviously). 

<end of Part 2>


<Part 1 of multi-part reply>

I'll need to post my reply in two or more parts, as this new (and absolutely awful) comment function of TechRepublic just plain sucks.  It doesn't let you post more than your character limit, yet doens't tell you wnat taht limit is.  I mean, really?  Anyway, here's part 1:

With respect, I don't really think the most important aspect of hiring is addressed here. 

Ask yourself, what is wrong with the interview process?  Rather, than process of betting a potential employee?  Or rather, let me provide the answers here. 

First, the entire hiring process is flawed when you place people in a situation where they are not themselves, because everyting that happens, from the answers they give to the steps they take during test or what not, is tainted by their uncomfortability.  And no, there is no equivalent to job application stress - overcoming it is not an indication of your ability to handle "real job stress". 

So if you want to actually get a REAL sense of what a person is capable of and how they can fit, you need to make them comfortable.  Some people understand this, but offering the applicant a glass of water is laughably not how you go about it, but thanks for trying. 

<end of Part 1>


"I like" for points 2 and 5. 


@RMSx32767 The wording of comments to other tech pros doesn't mean he'd literally do so.  The gist of the statement is what matters.  

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