IT Employment

Answers to your HR questions

The TechRepublic audience responded overwhelmingly with questions for an HR recruiter. Here are some answers.

Last week I asked for questions that you would like to ask an HR recruiter if you had the chance. The response was simply overwhelming. So much so, that it was hard to narrow the questions down. In attempt to be fair, I chose general questions that would affect the most people. I will be doing this again soon, however, so I'll try my best to get to all questions eventually. (I will also be interviewing a former career marketing expert who has an insider's understanding of the business and who now investigates, writes, and makes presentations on scams. Hopefully, we'll get some gritty tips on how to get around the unscrupulous job scammers.) Many thanks to Soheila Ataei, who is currently SVP, HR at Scripps Networks.

Note: This blog post is also available as a PDF download.

Here's the first batch of Q&As:

1. What is the best method for an older job seeker (55+) with experience (at least 5 years) to present him/herself (on resume, letters, during the interview, etc.) to maximize their skills and minimize the reluctance of the potential employer regarding their age? I am older, keep my certifications current, attend local and national conventions, happily read technical and industry books and publications [daily and in digital form whenever possible], as well as relate well and socialize with my younger managers, peers, and supported users. How do I best communicate that physical age does not impede my ability to perform my job functions with a smile and eager attitude?

The application form does not necessarily reveal the age of the applicant unless you list the date you graduated college. If you believe you're being screened out due to your age, I'd recommend limiting the extent of prior experiences to those jobs that are directly related to the open position. Any applicant, regardless of age, aims for getting past the screening process and making it to the interview process. During an in-person interview, the hiring manager is looking for the "fit" and for connecting with the applicant. You will be far more successful if you focus the conversation on your skills and accomplishments and how your prior experiences make you a great fit for the position. If the interviewer senses your lack of confidence -- due to age or any other factor -- chances are you will not be invited to the next round. So, keep up your credentials and walk into the interview with a smile and project a confident and comfortable impression even if the hiring manger is half your age.

2. I have been getting the feeling lately that there are a lot of HR departments and "Jobbers" (you know, placement firms, headhunters, contract mills, etc.) that are putting out "phony" position postings for what reasons I do not know. Do they do this and why?

Internal staffing professionals as well as reputable external agencies and search firms are overwhelmed with the volume of applications. In many cases, by the time the posting becomes available to the general public, finalists have been identified through employee referrals, etc. This is the primary reason why career coaches always recommend using networking alternatives, such as LinkedIn, when responding to a job ad.

3. What are considered bad reasons for leaving a previous position? Are things like layoffs or a lack of challenges considered bad reasons for leaving a company?

Honesty is always the best way to respond to this question since your application will more than likely be scrutinized through a verification process. In the current economic climate, layoffs are impacting many first-rate employees and RIF and layoffs are not being held against an applicant in any way. Similarly, resignations do not reflect negatively on an applicant.

If you resigned from a job you did not find challenging in order to accept a better opportunity, it will demonstrate your ambition, as well as your marketability, so that would be a positive reflection on you. The only time employers question resignations is when it may suggest poor judgment in selecting positions and a lack of reliability, otherwise known as job-hopping. After all, if you were the hiring manager, would you hire someone you could count on, or someone whose past behavior predicts a short stay?

4. How do you get experience if no one is willing to hire you so you can obtain the experience they are looking for?

The reason why so many grads start work in entry-level positions is to gain the required experience that would qualify them for their desired position later on. Not much has changed in terms of employers' expectations and standards when it comes to hiring practices. The best way to gain experience is to start in an entry-level position and work your way up if you're looking for employment. You would not want an inexperienced mechanic rebuilding your motor in order to gain experience -- even for free -- would you?

5. Given that there seems to be an overabundance of talent, what is/are the most important factor/s to distinguish one candidate from another? (We've hashed through this as IT staffers and IT hiring managers, but to hear it from a HR rep may be helpful to those in the TR community looking for work.)

The single distinguishing factor, after all other criteria are met and recommendations are received, is the candidate's ability to connect with the decision maker. A smart hiring manager will ask herself, "is this someone I can trust with my XYZ assets, and is this someone I would enjoy managing/working with day in and day out?" If the answer is yes, the candidate will stand apart from the rest of finalists.

6. What should I put in online applications that REQUIRE a current salary and/or expected salary to be entered?

As a general rule, an application form -- hard copy or online -- must be filled completely and accurately; otherwise, it may not be considered by a busy recruiter. If the salary question is a required field, and you cannot bypass it, be sure to answer the question of salary history truthfully. Recruiters don't like to spend time on an applicant who may not fit their salary range. It is acceptable if you ask for a lower salary from what you were last making if the job you are applying for is smaller or in a different field. If your salary requirements are significantly lower than what you were earning in your last position, it would raise a red flag for the recruiter. It could be viewed as a sign of desperation, which is not a good place to negotiate from.

7. It stands to reason that the prime candidate doesn't always work out. In these rare instances, instead of putting out another general call, do they ever call back the remaining members of the top 5? top 3?

Employers may reach out to other finalists if the selected candidate does not work within the first few months on the job. If the lapse of time is more than a few months, in most cases, the employer may want to restart the process in order to identify other suitable candidates. Additionally, they may decide that the failed experience is the result of their poor choice or a selection criteria that is not meeting the needs of the position. My suggestion is to not hold out for a second opportunity and just move on. If you got that close to a job offer, chances are another offer is right around the corner.

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About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

23 comments
ericjobsearch2009
ericjobsearch2009

Two days ago, I received an email with a job offer. The employer asked to call in to discuss the salary and start day, is this a risky way to dealing a job offer? Most companies I dealt with in the past, the HR send you an offer and I have 10-15 days to reply.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

I think this segment may benefit from an anonymous HR staffer giving the answers. While I appreciate Ataei's time in answering these, there is no way questions like "why do people ask for 5 years of experience in Windows SQL Server 2010" is going to get addressed without the protection of anonymity (think of how many applicants Ataei's staff has probably rejected...think there may be one or two or two hundred suit-happy wingnuts among the bunch...even if baseless/fruitless, it is $$$ out of the firm's pocket to defend these). At least, addressed in a forthright manner. There is potential for this to be a great feature on TR. Hopefully, that potential is realized.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Barely a substantive answer in the lot. 4 was completely avoided, It's entry level positions where numpties are asking for 2 - 3 years experience. The answer to five is a flat out lie. The overiding criteria is cheap. Never expected an answer to how do you get five years experience in VS2008, but the one that most asked directly or by inference. What makes HR competent to screen IT candidates. All the other questions are trivial compared to that.

daveevans28
daveevans28

It feels like Soheila Ataei side stepped around the question of gaining experience. The answer sounds logical, but it doesn't help those of us in that position. To the people in this predicament, I was advised to volunteer with a non-profit organization, and so I did. I'm now getting a better view of network admin duties than I am in my current job of just building PC's.

FloCell
FloCell

What type of background checks do most companies perform?

tardius
tardius

Sorry, Toni, but these responses have a very bureaucratic "The system is infallible" tone. I think people who asked a variation of question 4 are getting rejected at entry-level due to lack of experience, which really leaves that question unanswered. And question 5 matches my orginal question, but assumes that the HR is passing the best candidates along. How do they know? HR remains the preisthood separating the commoners from the king. Is there a better system?

lcave
lcave

There are other ways to find out someone's age. For instance, were you in the Military? What conflict? Is it prudent to lie and say no?

maus_69
maus_69

I have been a hiring manager at more than one MNC over the years. Most do a drug screen, credit check, and criminal records check, at a minimum. Depending on the level of the position, may also check your university or other educational credentials. Some smaller and even larger companies do no checks at all. It raises a huge red flag for me when someone seems concerned that we will ask about criminal background, just FYI. At no firm where I have worked, small or large, would we have hired a person with a criminal background into the IT department. There is too much sensitive financial, employment, proprietary, etc. data to which IT people have access. The risks would be too great, especially when the candidate pool is large.

noelynot
noelynot

Another problem with entry level positions is that, in many instances within IT, there just aren't any. If you look at Systems Analyst postings, most want between 2 and 5 years experience, even though the position is advertised as Systems Analyst I. It seems the only entry level IT positions that I see are Help Desk, and even most of the Tier 1 positions are asking for a minimum of one year of experience.

jas2004
jas2004

Yes, I was "lucky" enough to put myself in a position to get to a 2nd interview and ultimately a job offer. I am an IT veteran and had a previous career as a Mech. Engr. All I can say is, to get to that last step, you have to go through the required channels of putting your best foot forward with a completed application, resume AND cover letter, cast yourself as being as flexible as possible when it comes to job duties, and be gracious in "defeat" when it is obvious you are just not the right match for a job. So much of getting a job is matching you to their culture and in some cases, it is may be an (unknown at the time) blessing to you that you didn't make the cut. I worked at a site for 5 years that was great for year 1-2, changed cultures during years 3-4 and by year 5, was ashamed to be associated with my fellow workers. Yet, everyone had their best face on for the next "victim" when it came to hiring my replacement. Also, don't take any rejection personally. Always consider yourself worthy of a job. You just haven't found the right fit yet. I know that doesn't pay the bills but it helps your outlook.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

How is that going to provide even an estimate to someone's age? Look at Vietnam or Iraq. Both stretched over seven years (so far). You don't know if a serviceman was there when the balloon went up late in his 30-year career, or if a greenie served there last year for six months before receiving a hardship discharge. My National Guard unit was mobilized for Desert Storm. Guess my age within five years. Show your work. No peeking at my profile.

FloCell
FloCell

The reason I ask is because I have been in the IT field for 13 yrs and recently laid-off due to the poor economy we face. I have a felony conviction for "unauthorized use of a vehicle" back in 1993. I unknowingly purchased a vehicle that had title and registration paperwork tampered with. I was young back then and naive and could not afford a lawyer. I have no other offenses since. Yes, I am concerned but this has been more than 17 years? I've worked in many several datacenters and have had access to valuable data in the past 13 years with no problems. Could this keep me from future employment? I was under the impression that most background checks only went back 7 years?

noelynot
noelynot

Would you say this applies to persons with DUI's or other traffic related convictions (failure to pay tickets, etc.)?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

an entry level position. Only a complete idiot would employ someone with no experience to do it. You can't learn it at school, you have to build up to it in the real world. By the way like many others, I started on the Help desk. Those who can, learn and move on, thoe who can't find another career, before they do too much damage. There are some who stay, because they enjoy it, but they are stranger than the rest of us combined. Help desk / support was the goad that made me become more valuable.

drbayer
drbayer

If you were a part of Desert Storm, you have to be a minimum of 37 - it ended in 1991, and you had to be 18 to join the military. Most people enter the guard post-college, so add 4 years. Add time for basic training and other activities, and it's a good guess you're at least 42. If you're looking for +/- 5 years, I wouldn't guess anything under 47. In all actuality, I would guess most participants of Desert Storm as early 40's now. That's old enough to start having issues with less-than-fair employment practices, so it's a valid question.

dpereira
dpereira

Anyone who gets hired here has to pass a background check. The closest I came to considering someone with a past offense was a person who had a marijuana possession charge from 1973. I figured 30+ years with no further offenses shouldn't be a deterrent.

noelynot
noelynot

I wasn't trying to narrow the question to these two offenses, just to illustrate offenses other than robbery or violence. But I do have a follow up for you. You would not consider a candidate who had only one offense, and that offense was two or more years ago? Just curious.

dpereira
dpereira

Either one show a lack of judgement and/or responsibility. Not good qualities for a position that requires trust.

IC-IT
IC-IT

I would rather take a chance on someone with a prior DUI than someone that doesn't pay there fines.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Then used all teh knowledge I'd gained to make room for as much development as possible. Stuff what your employer wants. Every issue is a learning exercise for you to apply the skills you want appky. So is every solution, the way the solution is applied. Stay in Help/support you are only sitting on your arse, no laurels anywhere.

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

Lots of people get stuck at the help desk because they aren't allowed to learn the hands-on stuff to be a systems admin or engineer. If you're in a company that's big on cross-training, then good for you. But most people get pigeon-holed at the help desk and can't get out because they don't have the real world hands on. I started straight out in PC tech support and got to get my hands on server administration and then some systems engineering. I doubt most entry-level folks had it as good as I did.