IT Employment

How do you know if you're hiring the right person?


I have been doing quite a bit of interviewing of candidates lately (I have several vacant positions to fill), and I must say that for technical level positions, I haven't seen a big change in the quality of interviewing skills over the last decade.

Perhaps I am being naïve here, but I think it is safe to say that in terms of having access to materials and information regarding how to interview, the environment has never been richer.

Unfortunately, (at least for the last crop or two of candidates that I have gone through), they are not taking advantage of the materials available to them. Let me list a few of my observations in order to help those who might be job-seeking, and then I'll get to the crux of this article, which is: How do I know if I am hiring the right person?

Observations on job interviewing:
  • Write a cover letter! If you can help it, never let your resume stand alone. Use it to tell me those things that you can't put into your resume because you are concerned about its length. Tell me how your particular skill set applies to the job you are seeking -- and for goodness sake, tell me how you have used a particular skill if it is not obvious from your previous work! For instance; if you list Oracle SQL as a skill and you have not held any positions where it is clear to me that you may have used it -- how am I going to know how well-versed you are in it? You can do that in a cover letter.
  • It's okay to be humble but don't degrade yourself. I appreciate honesty as much as the next guy, but don't talk me out of hiring you!
  • Listen carefully to any questions asked of you and answer THOSE questions! I don't have time for anecdotes, ramblings, or non-speak -- you are trying to land a job not run for political office.
  • Practice wearing your suit -- especially if you don't wear one everyday. If you are uncomfortable in your clothes, it shows. Think about the last time you saw a little kid at a wedding dressed in a suit or tuxedo. It's obvious they are uncomfortable. Guess what? If the last time you wore a suit was at a wedding, funeral or graduation -- put it on prior to the day of the interview. Otherwise you look just like that little kid I just described.
  • Be prepared to explain gaps in your employment, why you left your jobs, and why you can't seem to work in one place for more than 6 to 12 months at a time. Don't leave me wondering.

Okay, enough of those. I could go on forever with what not to do. Let's focus on you as the interviewer and what some best practices are before going into your decision-making criteria.

Some interviewing best practices
  • Try not to interview alone if you can help it. Interviewing as a team allows you to do some watching and listening that is a little more detached than if you are asking the question, and it can also give you legal cover if necessary. Better to have a witness, if something bad happens.
  • Make out a list of questions and ask the same questions to all participants. Not only is that more fair to the applicants, it allows you to judge the candidates across the same set of criteria. That doesn't mean you can't ask a follow up or more probing question on a topic -- but you want to try to compare apples to apples.
  • Check those references personally. If the person is going to report to you, reference checks can give you the opportunity to learn a great deal about the person you just interviewed. Don't delegate the reference check and make sure that you do a thorough check. There are plenty of resources on the Web if you are not certain what to ask during the check.
Good signs and red flags for job candidates

Now, the big question -- how do you pick the best person for the position? This can be kind of a personal thing, and you will have many people who have been interviewing for a long time tell you their gut tells them (myself included), but I don't rely just on my gut. Here are some things to look for that are not position-specific and will help you make the right decision:

  • Consistency of answers. If you find yourself confused between the candidate's answers to your questions and what the resume and cover letter/job application say -- that's a warning flag for me.
  • Explanation of why a person left a position and any gaps in employment. If a candidate can't tell me why he or she left a position or if I think they're lying about it, that's another red flag. I will check on those during my reference checks and make sure that the information jibes with what I have been told.
  • Reference checks. If a former employer gushes about the employee and offers unsolicited positive comments that is generally a pretty good sign you have picked a winner.
  • Evidence of the skills they claim. Candidates should be able to clearly articulate that they have the skills listed in their resume and/or cover letter.
  • Demeanor. If candidates rub me the wrong way during the interview, I am going to question whether I can work with them on a day to day basis.
  • Strong work history. Stability is important, yet movement between jobs can be valid. I would not expect a contract employee to necessarily be in one place for a very long time; however, if they changed contracting firms like they do their underwear -- that's a red flag.
  • Shows initiative. I look for examples where the candidate shows initiative and works until the job is complete. I look for someone who is a self-starter and can learn by themselves. Being both good at what you do and also self-taught is a plus in my arena.

Choosing the right person is an art (although many in large organizations might like to make it a science). I am not much of a believer in personality inventories, IQ tests, and other measures to determine what kind of employee a candidate is. Perhaps I am old-school, but I think that speaking with people and trying to get to know them and their skills and abilities is the best way to judge if they are a good fit for the position you are trying to fill. The only area where I think testing is appropriate is to judge technical skills, and even in that area you need to be careful to devise tests that are appropriate.

In the end, I try to look for employees that I believe are superstars or that can be superstars given the appropriate freedom and direction. I have no fear of being outshone by an employee. The more they shine, the better I look as a manager. Also, I try not to settle -- particularly if a position has been vacant for a long time, and I am feeling the pain of it. I won't say I've never settled because I have succumbed to desperation a time or two -- but generally I have come to regret those decisions.

66 comments
Bob Gately
Bob Gately

Everyone wants to hire for talent but if we can't answer the five questions below with specificity, we can't hire for talent. 1. How do you define talent? 2. How do you measure talent? 3. How do you know a candidate???s talent? 4. How do you know what talent is required by each job? 5. How do you match a candidate???s talent to the talent demanded by the job?

IT Generalist
IT Generalist

How does it effect your job interview process if you answered "NO" to "contact my current employer" on job application although I am not sure if every employer would ask such a question. It's not that my manager don't like me, its just that I am not sure if it's a good idea to tell him in advance that I am looking for another job and to expect calls regarding my employment. Of cource I will tell him once I get the job and give him the 2 weeks notice but having people call him regarding my employment while I am at my current job don't think is a good idea.

david.camp
david.camp

There are a variety of methods that can be used to elicit honest responses to the questions employers want to know and applicants don't want to admit. I teach a course called deception management that among other uses, teaches this stuff. It is out there and is available. SOme of the suggestions in this article are somewhat incorrect. e.g. haveing a panel (group) interview has good points, but should only occur later in an interview series, otherwise it creates a situation of fear causing increases in deceptive answers. There are others but limited time etc ...

gescobedo
gescobedo

CUSTOMER SERVICE Skills are by far more important than technicall skills. The technical skills can be taught or learned; you can not change someone's personality. I already made that mistake once and it turned into a nightmare.... lots of stress...

kovachevg
kovachevg

Yes, you are old school and yes, you've reluctantly settled because you were forced by the circumstances. But don't you think you "settled" because of a lapse of judgement that may have been indicative of labor market transformations that didn't register with you? During the past 17 years globalization rushed in with a bang. Outsourcing was tremendously accelerated by the bubble burst and people needed new skills. You get new skills by switching jobs (you don't count college courses as experience, right? :) old school ... ), with or without formal education in between or in parallel. So, it is very natural for dynamic professionals, and even more so for IT folks, to switch jobs every 2 to 3 years. Talented people seek a challenge and it doesn't come around if you keep doing the same thing over and over again. Unless you have a large organization to facilitate career growth, it sounds unrealistic to be able to keep a star technology person for more than 3 years. My last note is on your reference checks. Yes, you can look at the unsolicited compliments of a previous manager as a good sign. However, you need to pay attention to some fine details and ask yourself: - Are these comments relevant? If most of the "eulogy" focuses on people skills and comfort zone performance, then they tell you nothing about how this person performed technically. Maybe someone else did the work and he was just on very good terms with the boss. I've seen this scenario several times. Bottom line is, if you hire someone for his technical skills, make sure that he performed those to your satisfaction. Go to the technical lead of his previous team, esp. if that person is not the reference the interviewee gave you. Oh, and negative remarks should not always be considered negatively - maybe those are actual opportunities for career growth you can effectively exploit after you hire that person; - Am I passing judgement on someone who views his freedom seriosly? A job is a job and is just as expendable as the person occupying it? As a manager, you should be aware of this explicitly. People smartened up after the bubble burst. When they hear the word "merger" or "strategic partnership", or "operations restructuring" they look realistically at their role in the company and say "boy, I am gonna get that pink slip in a few weeks/months, I better pack my bags before that happens 'cause it won't look good on my resume if they lay me off". Jobs are as plentiful as it gets nowadays and many mangers will have to "settle" even though they don't like the diminished loyalty of 21-st century employees. If you want people to stay longer and be loyal to you, you will need to earn their loyalty, not presuppose it. And that certainly cannot be done by passing judgement on their decisions to quit a job that threatens their financial stability. Belive me, it happens way too often nowadays. Companies don't respect employees and lay them off without notice when a new CEO orders down a 20% cut in operating expenses. Loyalty is NOT earned that way!

hlhowell
hlhowell

I have worked in many capacities, but never refused to work with anyone except one guy I interviewed who had not done any reading, or course work on his current position. In today's world, study is vital, especially in any high tech (and the one I was working for was bleeding edge), so someone who had done no course work or current reading for their current position doesn't have a chance of keeping up. During my career, I have gone back to school 5 times. I study new processes, new systems, new hardware and new techniques every week or two. It takes that to keep even, and a bit more to get ahead. This year I expect to add VR and MMORP programming to my skill set. I am 61 and retired, but I love the technology and the challenges. To be successful in todays market you have to love what you do, and you actually have to do it. Now, I may never go back to work (never is a loooong time), but if I do, I expect to work with people with current skills. I also have to have those skills. So, it is study that keeps me there. Personality counts in sales or support, it affects management style, but, results are where the rubber meets the road. If you cannot make the toys dance, the instruments play and the puppets sing, everything else is just so much hot air. Of course the successful manager must be able to motivate others to do the tasks, and that is a separate skill. I have been a success in nearly everything I have tried, but I tried a lot, so I just kept trying until I got success to some degree in lots of things. Even Alexander G. Bell had that philosophy, which is why he said "Invention is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration". Whoever you hire, if they try, and you guide, they are the right people. 10& may be laggards, 80% somewhere in the bell curve and 10% in the high end, but all shops have room for all kinds. A shop of all top 10% seldom excells. That is because who you regard as top 10% probably isn't a rounded enough group to handle all the situations that come up everyday. So, think about where the new person fits, and if they are somewhere in the bell curve, is that the piece you need? If so, you have a match. We're all good at something. If that something is what you need, then things will work. If not, then the question, indeed the only question, is will they acquire the needed skills. Regards, Les H

dmennie
dmennie

This seems like the same tired old prattle that employers everywhere use to justify the fact almost nobody interviewed has a real chance of getting the so-called "job" in question. I call your attention to the stated need for a "superstar" and other ridiculous requirements/preferences when the vast majority of jobs are simply a way for most people to earn some money and maintain their diginity -- assuming the corporate culture that's part of the deal is not too oppressive or irrational. Yeah, every hotshot employer thinks they are entitled to pick from just the top 5-10 percent of this year's graduating class. So what are the other 90 percent suppose to do? Rob banks, sell drugs, steal hubcaps? The bottom line is that corporate America takes itself far to seriously given the monumental screw-ups and outright fraud its CEOs and others earning the big bucks get involved with on a regular basis. The obvious solution: Get really really picky and selective about the next programmer, technician, or secretary hires. dgmennie

mismeshal
mismeshal

Simple, you can know the right person if you know wha you are looking for. I know this might seem too generic but it is true. You should know the person you are looking for in terms of: 1- Personality, cocky .. simple .. outgoing .. quite .. funny .. follower .. idea generator .. analytical thinker .. (for you to deal with) 2- Core skills, depends on your job (for you to depend on) However, there are things that can never imagine or expect. Like how long is the person going to stay in the firm? Is the person really as good as he/she sounds or it is just a play? Personally, I didn't like my first interview because the interviewer was asking questions like 'imagine that ... ' or 'if you were doing this and this .. then something happened what will u do' or 'life is black and white, what do you think?' or 'if a client asked you to do 5 things, 4 of them are things you know. What will you do?' My answer was not giving an answer immediately ex. for the last question I said 'I know 4 of 5 things, can you tell me why? I am good and if you know 4 things why can't you know the fifth' He didn't like the answer and said 'identity blah blah, do you know what it is? I said no then he said ok what will you do?' I said i will ask my colleages, he said none of your colleages know, I said I will ask my manager he said she doesn't know, I said i will ask other departments or other friends in other companies, he said NONE OF THEM KNOW, NOW TELL ME WHAT WILL YOU DO?, I said if no one knows then why is this client asking me something that nobody knows what it is, he followed saying 'tell me what will you say to the client? are you going to tell him that YOU will do it or you will ASK someone to do it for him' I said does it matter to the client? i mean if it is booking a hotel room there is no need to say it. He said 'YES THE CLIENT WANTS TO KNOW IF YOU SPECIFICALLY ARE GOING TO DO IT'. I said simply, then I will not say that I will do it myself. He said THAT is INTEGRITY. and I am all !!??! Why can't you ask simple questions. It doesn't have to be this long turn to get to what u need to know. I think that I wrote too many things and I dont think it will be easy to read.. so sorry :P

Geekmaster
Geekmaster

Work history can be hard to explain. For example, what if you worked for a manager who was extremely difficult and after several years you finally just had to leave the job? How do you explain that without sounding like you are hard to work with?

richard.gardner
richard.gardner

Hmmm... I always fall down when describing my technical abilities - in a technical interview I always compare my abilities (for example) to a knarly old DBA rather than a vicar, so if someone asks me how good my DBA skills I say I am not an expert but they are pretty good - it seems people read "not an expert" to mean "knows nothing" and don't even listen to the rest. However, I am just being honest - in truth I can handle anything that is thrown at me, but it would take me a while to work out how to configure (say) DTS or a server farm. Any other answer I would see as a lie, but I'm beginning to think all the competition are liars so maybe I should join in. Any thoughts?

huoml
huoml

Few follow up might help (me!, between jobs! :-) ) Hope you do not take offense to these Qs. 1. What do you make of a candidate who is uncomfortable in suit ? Not good for the technical job that you are hiring for? or just that interviewee fidgeting in the suit distracts from the whole interview process? 2. What do you mean by 'Try not to interview alone' ? 3. If I was interviewing for the technical position you are hiring for, what kind of questions would you expect from me? thanx, -H

Big Ole Jack
Big Ole Jack

Yeah sure, go ahead and contact my current employer. I may as well walk around the office with a big sign on my head that states "Presently interviewing for other work". What dolts in HR assume anyone would ever answer anything but no to this kind of question? Also, say an employee left on bad terms, was terminated, or doesn't trust his former manager to give a fair reference. Should someone's career be destroyed because he doesn't want a prospective employer contacting a former employer? I know it's illegal to badmouth people, but not allowing a former employer to be contacted also sets off all sorts of warning signs and creates an environment of suspicion about the candidate. Most firms have adopted a no reference policy to protect themselves legally and I think thats a good idea.

Wayne M.
Wayne M.

There are only a few cases where an employee will check yes; one being an across the board lay-off. Other than that, I would not expect anyone undergoing a job search to allow his current boss or company to be contacted. Check No and don't worry about it.

sharpj
sharpj

Just another pespective here. I'm a DoD IT guy for the past 20 years... yes, many different areas, bosses and projects, but what get's my goat is the "new process" they use for "selection"... first step is a machine read resume, looking for the right words and phrases, followed by a panel of 3 fisrt line mgr's review, all of which can ascertain who you are if they know your current and previous boss(es) and job positions... so much fluff to placate the union, then they hire/promote whomever they want, based on what they read... no interview, no face to face, just a form or email telling you that you were not selected. This system is at best archaic and at worst, one that causes us to exagerate or flat out lie about our abilities and experiences. I'd be ecstatic if someone asked me a bunch of question about how I would handle a situation, solve a problem or where to go to find resources.... just my .02

Beoweolf
Beoweolf

You make a very good point! If you are NOT selfishly looking out for your career, then you have no one to blame but yourself. In an episode of StarTrek: NG (yes, I am a closet Geek - still), Will Riker was once asked, by a rival, why he was staying with the Enterprise and Captain Picard...he was way past due for a ship of his own. His answer was brief and to the point "Motivated Self interest". He was staying on ... only because it was a symbiotic relationship. He was still learning from the Experience and his efforts made a major contribution to the shared mission. If, when either condition was no longer relevant; then its time to move on - either by choice or 3rd party, outside influence.

dwain.erhart
dwain.erhart

Personaly, I cannot stand an interview. I go along with the madness. But it is something I have to force myself to endure. Interviews make me nervous. I make an effort to be honest when I am the one being interviewed. However, I find some things to close to an invasion of my privacy. Most of us have had experiences where an instructor or teacher gives us a test. Some of those tests are written and designed to tell the instructor what you know or have learned. Others appear to be written to ascertain your test-taking abilities. Job interviews often fall into the latter category (I say often to cover myself - when in my experience it is nearly ALWAYS that way.) For example: I interview for a position, I am rarely asked how to setup a server, map a network resource, write a snippet of code, give an example of disciplinary action for an errant employee, etc. Rather, I am asked about goals, aspirations, personal issues, values, ethics, etc. Personally, I think this shoots wide of the mark. Interview me, you have my resume, look at one aspect in the resume and ask about it. If I say (on my resume) I setup a Microsoft server, ask me about it - was it a domain controller, file server, email server, IIS server, SQL server, Sharepoint Portal server? Once you ascertain that, ask about any problems I encountered - find out how I handled them. You will then know whether I can adapt to a situation or whether I am merely reciting words I found in some online forum. Find out how my mind works and whether it fits your paradigm. Couple it with my experience and you will know whether I can fit in or not. I have news for you, I see many job postings that list a specific programming language, OS, topology, system, application, hardware, or whatever that eliminates the potential employees from even applying for the position. While this practice may provide a bit of a jump start for your particular project - it may not be as simple as it seems. Remember EVERY new employee will take time to get oriented and trained to your specific issues and workplace idiosyncrasies. So the question you must ask yourself is "how well will this person fit in?" Along with another question "does this candidates experience/education, skillset, mesh closely enough with what we are looking for to meet or exceed our expectations?" Instead, we ask inane questions that may just as well sound like "What is your favorite color?" Or "Are you a soccer fan?" We act as if someone is going to come to our door and list the EXACT skillset doing the EXACT project we are currently involved in. (This should be a clue that we are not very innovative in our project goals in the first place.) We then scratch our heads in bewilderment because the potential employees either lied or did not have the skills we so desparately needed. Come on.

rocky
rocky

Would there be a need to mention that the manager was a challenge? You simply had achieved and contributed to the former organization all that you could (under the circumstances - but you don't 'say' that) and you had grown as much as you could (tolerence and patience) and now you are looking for an opportunity to continue to grow in your profession. You don't have to mention that your achievment was to tolerate an abusive or not-to-bright manager and, having learned self restraint and diplomacy, you are now ready to continue on your career progression by including having a more positive work environment and competent management and you are looking for new and fresh opportunities. ;-) What the heck; have some fun with it!

Wayne M.
Wayne M.

Don't say anything about a previous boss. Just say that you are looking for opportunities for technical growth that are not currently available to you.

Beoweolf
Beoweolf

Diplomatically...thats the way to explain a personality clash. However, if you have a string of similar experiences, it might be time to re-evaluate your expectations. A recent discussion with an acquaintence; as he explained his most recent exile from yet another contract position was filled with examples of stupidity of his co-workers, disparaging remarks against any number of people that, though degreed, credentialed or greatly more expereinced than he ... were incompetent, stingy when it came to helping learn the job or too ugly, too fat, too ethnic. You start to wonder if he might not be happier working in a family business? At least then everyone would look just like him, think like him and have his best interests as their primary focus? Perfection is elusive, how you handle diversity, difficulty - yes, even tyrannical managers, is part of being a professional. So much of what we do is ultimately judged on perception that we must develop a way to cope with unreasonable situations and difficult personalities as a pre-requiste for the job. When we see "users", generally it isn't when they are happy or generous. Our job is to ease stress, fix the problem then move to the next "thankless crisis" ... If you need a routine dose of happiness, the career path might involve a Santa Claus outfit, a mall and seasonal employment.

WebBrat
WebBrat

Perhaps you would be comfortable saying something like, "I keep my DBA skills at a basic level and feel comfortable I could handle anything that is thrown at me." Then give examples of such actions in the past. That way you would be putting your skills in a positive light.

highlander718
highlander718

normally you don't use words like NO or NOT in an interview. Like in "I am not an expert". You better say instead : I am very good, very savy, worked with for many years, can do this can do that. So, no need to lie really it's just a matter of formulation.

wizard1620
wizard1620

Reading most of the posts here I thought that I might interpose my understanding of both sides. On the management side I find mostly control "people" those that only want the type of person that they want, if they really know what they want. Standards for skills are nice to have but they exclude 80% of the field because we all, after a few years of experience, don't follow the same rules. One company works this way and another that. Hiring the "right" person usually means the one you have a repore with and can somewhat cover the skill set. More than not arrogance gets in the way because of personality conflicts (who will work longer for less and can be replaced easily and can be manipulated into doing two or three jobs for the same money). As a manager "hiring" should be a trained activity because it is an on-going continuous process for any company. You will always try the make a science out of it and will still hire the wrong person because you will leave out the human equation. The persons coming in to inverview are just that, persons, usually in need of work because of some action not necesarily of their own choosing, and as such are not worried about what company to hire into as to any company to feed the family. Managing "people" requires that the company back the person with some care for their welfare. If not then you have the types of companies today that can't retain even bad employees because the person knows that they are not important to any extent than a warm body to fill a chair for a time. This segways to the interview-ee. This person that may not even have a suit takes their time and money (that they may not have) and tries to put their best foot forward. To do this many practice and read and try to keep up with the new ways. This is what should be. But most important is your personality and that takes some time to work out. This means that the younger you are the less personality you have because of the lack of time and experience. Haveing a personal trainer for such things will help a great deal but then you must have the money to get one. The catch 22 if you will that we all have faced. Can't get the job without the experience, can't get the experience without the job. This has been business a usual in America for a long time and is a planned action by the companies. This means that you should go to work for one of you family for a while until you can get past the "you must be this tall" to get a job requirement. Leading to the vetren workers. Companies today have gone to the McDonalds style of managment. Don't hire anyone fulltime with benees, don't hire persons smarter than you, don't hire persons that have degrees above the 2 year level and lastly don't hire your replacement. Seeing these very things over the last 10 years personally I do know what I speak of. Overall if you are healthy and between the ages of 20 and 35 you will be used to make the company rich and then tossed on your kister. Unless of course you know someone that has money and likes you, then you have a chance of plying your skills till they or their girlfriend don't like you anymore. So managers, quit worrying about the "uncomfortable" suit, it has nothing to do with the skills of the person, you just think they should "feel" better in it for some reason. And you job hunters remember the gaunlet set before you is for a reason, to exclude all those that don't "comply" with the paradigm of thought of the moment (the earth is round, really it is!!)

kevansknoblock
kevansknoblock

Certainly for the positions for which I am hiring, I'm interested in finding people with good analytical skills and good judgment - including some self knowledge. Asking questions shows me you are paying attention to what we've told you AND that you are thinking carefully about whether you will be a good fit with the company. So ask... 1. See if you can follow up on information they provided...why did they configure the environment that way? Why did they select that application/vendor/re-structuring plan? This gives you a chance to demonstrate active listening (paraphrase back the information you thought you heard and then ask for confirmation - then follow up with your question.) Not only does this show you are paying attention and interested but gives you a chance to probe into how decisions are made. If you can't take this tack, trying asking whether they have ever considered an alternative application/company etc. - and use this as an opportunity to provide information and illustrate your experience and value. 2. "Who determines the task or project priorities? How is this done?? (Or ?What are the criteria?? Or "How are your project teams set up and managed?") - In smaller shops and project 'matrix' organizations, you may have a mix of support/maintenance and new project work. Find out if you will be asked to work on more than one project at a time. Are projects aligned with strategic objectives or popu-up like fungi after the rain? Will the users (if you work with them) be dedicated to the project, making it a priority, or giving it attention on top of their 'day jobs.' 3."What is the orientation/training plan for this position? What is the timeline?" - Are they going to just throw a bunch of books at you and ask you to self train? Send you out for 2 mos. of external training? Do they have an internal formal training program? Have they even thought about this? (I'd be leery if they answer along the lines of "We'll just have you shadow so-and-so until you both feel you are ready.") Look for information included about teaching you the business and the organization/culture NOT just for technical skills and tools used in the job. 4."How long has the position been around? How many past incumbents have there been? Why did they leave?" - Is this a thankless high turnover job? Are folks being promoted out of this job internally? Or are you walking in to fill the shoes of a long time incumbent and were they glad to see the backs of these folks or sorry to see them go. 5. "How will my performance be evaluated in this position? How are performance goals or measures set?" - My company has a robust, formal 360 performance process that includes feedback from co-workers, formal goal setting and specific time lines. Some candidates are dismayed by this and some are pleased. 6."How are policies/standards set? In what way, if any, would I contribute to that process if I were to get the job?" - How loosey-goosey are they - or how rigid. Will you be a "mushroom" for the first 6 mos. or the rest of your tenure? 7. Ask (before the interview with the scheduler) if there might be time for a tour of where you'll be working. If there will be, and you are still interested after interviewing, ask for one. You may be oblivious to physical comforts but it tells you something if your team is housed with other units or by itself. Are they in a warren of poorly lit cubicles or a large collaborative 'pit'? Are the regular employees wearing jeans or jackets? Is everyone quietly working alone, heads down - or is there a lot of chatter and prairie-dogging over cubicle walls? None of these is right or wrong -but you need to know if you are an introvert who craves quiet interviewing for a big loud collaborative team. Do not ask in the first interview "How much vacation/leave do I get?" "How big are the raises?" "What is the bonus system?" "How do I get your (the manager's) job?" "Do I have to wear a tie/skirt?" There's a time and a place for these but it's frequently with HR before the interview or in a 2nd interview with a manager. When they open a conversation about compensation and benefits, THEN you can ask - and by all means you can initiate if it hasn't happened by the time they are making an offer. Personal peeve: For heavens' sake, when asked why you want the job - DO NOT give an easy commute/proximity to home as your only or first reason. Almost as an afterthought, you can mention something like 'work/life balance' or 'eco-friendly commuting.' (Forgive me if the ?do not ask? list seems obvious but I hear them all the time - I suspect because I've asked for questions and, not having prepared for this, these are all the candidate can come up with on short notice.)

apotheon
apotheon

Still, nobody has replied to huoml with an answer to the questions posed. 1. I'd like to know the reasoning behind stating that a candidate should look comfortable in a suit, too. It may just be the fact that looking uncomfortable can reduce the appearance of confidence, and most people equate confidence with competence. Regardless of whether that's a good thing to think of someone who appears less confident, it's something people often think, so it's best to maximize your appearance of confidence (without straying into the realm of "arrogance", of course). 2. Some hiring managers hold interviews with more than one interviewer in the room, so they can tag-team questions. 3. That's a good question. It's all well and good to tell people to have questions to ask when they're interviewed, but too often prepared questions end up being answered by the interviewer anyway. It can be an interesting challenge coming up with questions on command at the end of an interview when the interviewer has already told me things like what the business cycle is like, what kinds of philanthropic activities are pursued by the company, what opportunities there are for furthering formal education while working for the company, and so on. So . . . every time someone says "Always have questions to ask!" my first thought is "Why don't you tell me some questions you'd like to be asked when interviewing?" Without that information, it's a bit like telling someone to never make the wrong choice when deciding on a type of car to use for work without ever saying anything about what defines "right" and "wrong" in this case, or how to tell the difference.

jeng
jeng

Does anyone have any examples to share on how they 'test' a candiates skills? I'm looking for some specific examples around hiring helpdesk staff. Beyond asking the right questions and looking for detailed answers, what does a technical test look like?

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

AND my boss knew about it... other than that, it's "no"

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

well, maybe not insane, but definately overly optimistic. Outsourcing, consulting, downsizing and the view of IT as a 'luxury' by many companies has led to ZERO loyalty of businesses to their employees. IT is ALWAYS volitile, even in good markets, we are the first to be laid off.

Why Me Worry??
Why Me Worry??

I was very puzzled and confused as to why they are wasting my time on this, even though I did well on this IQ test. Nevertheless, I didn't get the job because I was asking for more money than they were willing to pay. What next? Will they start testing us on our ability to lift a 100lb server with nothing but out bare hands? Stop the insanity!

gbarosio
gbarosio

Hi, IMHO rather than testing technical skills to helpdesk candidates I would try to setup a knoweledge database where helpdesk employees get the information from, unified. The helpdesk is the very first face of every IT organization, and if the message (let's say support) is not organized then you are probably going to face problems. In general terms, I would hire Helpdesk technicians with brilliant comunication skills, service attitude and overall team players. This would be my ideal scenery. If this is not the case, then you are probably looking for firefighters, and that's another way of driving a Helpdesk. Not a bad one, but for sure not scalable. Just my thoughts, nothing else! ;-) Regards, Guido Barosio

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

The only way to be sure that the candidate is technically and personality wise a good fit is to get them into the office work with their colleagues. The longer you can do this for, the more confident you will be that they are a good fit. Contract-to-hire positions of several days are great. You can interview over the phone, if they meet you immediate expectations bring them in for a few days. If this is not feasible (because of the initial bringing on-board cost), then get them working on a real problem during the interview. As an IT guy, these are my favourite type of interview. I am much more comfortable demonstrating my problem solving skills than trying to impress an interviewer by answering their questions along the lines of 'tell me how you dealt with a difficult colleague'. Give me a whiteboard, coloured marker pens and a problem that you may have me working on when you hire me, and I'll work for you for free as long as you are supplying the food and coffee. Les.

RalphY123
RalphY123

We present the job candidate with a simple scenario. A user calls and you need to assist them a problem on Excel. We attach a computer to a projector and explain the problem the user is having. We tell the job candidate, that they're connected remotely to the user so that they see what is actually happening. Then we ask them to solve the issue. We give them a software problem and a hardware problem. Both are fairly simple to solve. It allows to understand what & how the applicants think when solving an issue. It is stressful since everyone is watching them.

Beoweolf
Beoweolf

With as many Free, low cost or "teaser" simulation exams for virtually every discipline available online today - it isn't hard to find a set of representative test questions for any candidate. Even if you feel uncomfortable using borrowed questions, you could just as easily pull a few scenarios from your own experiences (hopefully ones that you successfully resolved!) then use those as a questions for the candidate. The key is not so much whether the candidate can solve every issue you present-(What?); the test is to listen for examples of his or her thought process, how the candidate arrives at his answer. Can he explain why he started at point "x" then narrowed his focus to a logical conclusion? Even if his answer differs from your solution or is actually incorrect; in my book, a logical thought process gets points over a mechanical right answer. As an old Mathematics instructor use to pound into my head, show your work. Getting the correct answer is less important than developing, displaying logical, correct solution strategies.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

I listed that period as "freelance consulting" on my resume, and then explained that during that time, I was working full time out of the field, but kept my skillset fresh by doing volunteer work and the occasional short-term contract in my spare time. It also helped that my old manager pulled me back for a project... Nothing says "This guy is good" better than going back to work for an old company after 5 years.

Big Ole Jack
Big Ole Jack

How do you even explain such a situation to an interviewer or recruiter when all that have is a one sided negative view about those with large gaps in their resume?

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

...the honor of working at a convenience store for two years during the IT bust. NEVER AGAIN.

Why Me Worry??
Why Me Worry??

They want us IT employees to remain loyal, yet they can terminate us at the drop of a hat for no explicit reason and without warning? That's why I choose to remain as an independent consultant because the only loyalty I have is to myself and my family. I've been naive in the past by being "loyal" and working myself into the ground, only to be slowly forced out of the company because they have a political agenda to upkeep. Loyalty must work both ways, and as you state Richard, if there is no loyalty on the part of the employer, then one cannot expect any loyalty on the part of the employee. Globalization and the constant threat of being downsized or outsourced overseas has taken loyalty in the same direction as the Tandy TRS 80, out the window.

apotheon
apotheon

Do you happen to know whether that's ASCII, direct decimal numeric, EBCDIC, or some other encoding? I'm curious, y'know.

rocky
rocky

I am in the process of hiring a personal assistant. I do need to know that they can do the basic functions of the work and I do need to know that they have the correct "temperment" for the work and beyond that I want someone who has ATTITUDE - positive, entheusiastic attitude about what they do in life and a passion for their profession. I can train for skills as long as the person is tempermentally suited for the work (and I use a DISC diagnostic -Dominance, Influencer, Steadiness, Consciencious) and has a natural entheusiasm for learning more and can arrive at solutions on thier own. Regarding some of the personality diagnostics, I have given and taken the DISC and I share their as well as my profile with my new hire so that we can both have some insights as to what kind of people we will be working with and what areas could be rough and smooth spots. It helps guide me in how best to manage that person. I was doing sales for my own company and deep down I had a feeling of wanting something else but not knowing what, exactly. A consultant friend did a job match diagnostic with templated overlays for various job types and descriptions; I had a 66% match for sales and a 90% match for being the business owner. My response was to hire sales people who were good at sales and go back into the office and develop support systems so they could achieve maximum success. My stress levels went down and I was much happier. Don't send a duck to eagle school.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

Three coworkers just looked over to see what I was laughing at.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

YOUR TEST + ______ SUCKS

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

SEND MORE + _________ MONEY Find the value of each letter. (This was an actual interview question)

Why Me Worry??
Why Me Worry??

But nevertheless, I'm glad I am not working for such an anal twit.

JamesRL
JamesRL

I think I'd ber pretty desparate to work for someone based on IQ alone. Now, my scores are mensa level, but I am smart enough to know that IQ is often a lousy predictor of competancy or a good fit. An old boss taught me a very simple but effective test: Can they do the job ?(skills, competencies) Will they do the job ? (Drive, determination) Will they fit in ?(personality versus the rest of the team) You should figure out number one before the interview. You use behavioural interviewing to figure out number 2 and 3 (tell me about a time when you faced an angry customer/server blew up/juggled multiple conflicting deadlines). I'd rather have a motivated trainable energetic "average" person, than a super smart non-team player slacker any day. James

blarman
blarman

When it comes down to it, watching a person in action is the most effective way to judge their abilities, for all reasons RALPHY123 pointed out. I would also add one other reason this methodology works: it forces the INTERVIEWERS to prepare! I can't tell how many times I've interviewed and the range of preparedness varied widely. As a candidate, the interviewers who were prepared were able to quickly assess my abilities and culture, and I was impressed by how efficiently they took care of business. It was a win-win situation because we both knew what they were looking for, and that when they offered me a job they expressed confidence that I was the proper fit. I have also been on the other side, where the interviewers were placement firms and such who did not know the differences between DB2 and Oracle and were trying to place me as a DBA! These companies did not inspire my confidence because they did not know what they were looking for. They failed to properly prepare. The bigger problem here is that as the hiring company, you risk putting that new hire in an untenable position from the get-go and do them a tremendous disservice when you fail to prepare properly for the interview.

Big Ole Jack
Big Ole Jack

A "test" is no way to assess one's technical skills or ability to troubleshoot and solve challenging problems. I've seen so called "paper certs" who did well on these tests, but faced with the daunting task of rebuilding a domain controller with a failed RAID array, they didn't know where to begin.

Big Ole Jack
Big Ole Jack

They had asked me if I knew of any good Exchange server monitoring tools and I had mentioned quite a few I was aware of. The guy interviewing me was taking notes diligently and then asked me some vaguely worded question about the distributed transaction coordinator. I think I understood what he wanted, but somehow didn't quite answer it the way he expected it to be answered. Also, they has asked me all sorts of off the wall Windows command syntax related questions, which I couldn't answer because I am not that shallow as to walk around with a perfect memory of the over 1000 commands in Windows. I did talk about many of the past projects, system upgrades, rollouts, and consolidations I have performed, but they were more interested in seeing if I knew the stupid commands instead off possessing good troubleshooting skills. Needless to say, this company didn't know what they wanted in terms of candidate requirements and then had the audacity to tell the recruiter that I wasn't technical enough. Had I been a consultant back then, I would have billed them for what I deemed to be "consulting hours" because they were getting free advice from me on good Exchange monitoring tools.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

I don't memorize anything. Give me a test and I'll flunk it.

systemsgod
systemsgod

"It's probably not a good way to judge people's technical skills". Yes, I must agree with you there 100%. Typing and technical skills don't really have anything to do with the other, and most IT managers and IT professionals understand that. Still, if you are hiring for a "technical" position, I don't understand why you are giving them a "test" of that nature. Seems like you would be more interested in evaluating their technical skills than how well they can type a story. Surprisingly enough, your test reminds me of a "typing test" a potential employer tried to give me about 8 years ago. It was clear they were more interested in how fast I could type than what I knew (and more importantly what I could do for them and their users), so I thanked them for their time, withdrew my application and walked out. But, before I left I made sure (nicely, I might add) that the interviewer understood that I was applying for an analyst position, and not a position as a technical writer or typist. I was so glad I walked out on that test. Even though I am a decent typist and could have easily met their minimum standard, I would never have been happy working for a boss who was more concerned with how fast I type than how well I could fix the users issues and keep them happy. It also made me wonder what skills this person really valued in an employee, since that's such an important thing at evaluation (and raise) time. The following week I interviewed at my present company, and, several raises and promotions later I am about as happy and fulfilled as I can be in the present work climate. The test you give sounds much like the "typing test" that I was given all those years ago. Honestly, I think you would get a better understanding of the project in question, as well as a more truthful, unedited answer if you heard the candidates response to your question verbally. Most of what you say you get from your "test" could be ascertained verbally; however, I am not sure what exactly it is that you are looking for in a candidate. Myself, I find pure technical skills, experience and social skills to be the most important assets a candidate has to offer, and I don't really give a flying flip about how well they type. Perhaps it's that you prefer typing skills to real IT knowledge, much like my former potential employer. If so, more power to you and certainly keep giving your "test". If someone walks out on you because of it, (and they have real IT skills) be sure to send them my way. You never know, they might just be a good "fit" here.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

Don't ask me to to define silly TLAs or force me to give you the exact syntax for a complex setup. It's irritating and honestly it does nothing more than annoy me. I walked into an interview shortly after after the IT market tanked (around Oct 2000 or so) and was asked VERY complex and quiet specific questions...I get the feeling they were looking for free IT solutions and pretending to interview. Oh and don't ask me silly things like explain the difference between H.323 and SIP and expect a textbook answer.

luther
luther

That's why I give a "test" to people I am hiring for technical positions. It's probably not a good way to judge people's technical skills but it helps you see how the candidate reacts under pressure." That tells me that you haven't been in IT for long.

luther
luther

I am with you on that one. I have seen so many great practical IT people Micsroft or Cisco UNIX and they usually look up a command and not memorized anything. Like I said IT managers should look for solution providers and not some geek.

luther
luther

Well said. "What you are (or should be) looking for is the process - how does the candidate go about solving a problem" and not some type of a great test taker-expert. I have seen so manny CCNP that cannot log into a router.

luther
luther

I have been in IT for 15 years with a B.A in comp. Science-U-of-T, another B.A in technology mgmt from Franklin U in Columbus, Ohio and an MBA from the same school, but I still don't test well in an interview. However, if you call my former employers for references they'll jointly tell you that I am a competent IT person with abundant of solutions for virtually every tasks. The way I look at IT is a little different from other people because I may remember the mechanics of a solution that I have deployed in the past, but I don't really memorize codes or configuration. So, I research a problem, design the solutions, deploy it, make it work and go on to the next task. The last interview I had with the Virginia based COX Communications my interviewer asked me to define some stupid acronyms and expect me to tell him a command line in CAT-OS. Everybody knows that unlike regular routers and closet switches, Catayst switches are those that you configure once and usually---never to worry about it. I think that IT managers should be looking for IT solution providers---whether it be Microsoft, Cisco or PBX problems.

apotheon
apotheon

There are backup utilities these days that'll just image the filesystem as a snapshot, producing uncorrupted backups of even in-use databases.

BrianAT
BrianAT

You were clearly not a fit for this organization and they were not a fit for you. The organization made the taking the test a requirement for hiring. You didn't want to meet their requirements and walked out. So you both learned a lot about each other and avoided making a mutual mistake. That's why I give a "test" to people I am hiring for technical positions. It's probably not a good way to judge people's technical skills but it helps you see how the candidate reacts under pressure. I usually ask people to take 15 or 20 minutes and write a couple of paragraphs describing a project the are proud of. This does a couple of things for me: - can see if the person can communicate coherently in writing (an important skill even in technical positions) - lets me see if they are comfortable sitting down in front of a strange computer and using a word processor. - lets me see how proficient they are in a word processor. I think there is a crude but effective correlation with technical skills - I find out details of a project that they worked on and were proud of. The things they write can be very interesting and useful for evaluation.

dj4904
dj4904

"How many ways can you backup a SQL server?" A: While there is no finite number for the ways to backup a Microsoft SQL Server, some of the more common ways are: -Using the built-in SQL commands to perform online dump of the database and log files in native MS SQL format, which can be done while the database is online and fulfilling transactions. -Taking the database offline and performing a "cold" backup of the database and logfiles which can be "reattached" at a later date. -Using various 3rd-party backup utilities that use the MS SQL API in order to perform online backups to their various (usually proprietary) formats. -Using fully-journalled file system backup capabilities that allow the current file system state to be saved and backed up similar to the offline method, except the database continues to function and be online while new writes are made to a filesystem "journal" so that the state of the database file is unchanged for the duration of the backup. Once the backup is complete, the file system "journal" is replayed to so all writes queued in the "journal" are commited to the live file system. The most common example of this method is the Microsoft Volume Shadow Service (VSS). While the database does not necessarily have to be placed into a consistent state immediately previous to creating the volume "snapshot", doing so will minimize time to re-attach the backup and get it online as the logfile will not have to be fully replaced [edit: replayed] and the database fully checked for consistancy as would be the case if the filesystem snapshot was merely taken at any arbitrary time while the database was online. There are many more methods for backing up a Microsoft SQL Server but these are the primary methods used in most production environments today. ---- It's answers like above in contrast to individuals that walk out of an interview in disgust that separate hotshot invaluable workers from the average technology worker. -=dave

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

Didn't take the job, and I think that might have been a VERY good decision. I like your interpretation, but is that what they wanted!?? What if it only needed 95% uptime?

Beoweolf
Beoweolf

If "emergencies" are a regular occurrence, something is wrong! Either your planning is inadequate or your crew is poorly prepared, poorly trained. There should be no surprises when the actual job is underway ... in theory. In reality, something will come up that was unforeseen, but even that contingency should be addressed in your plan. You should know who to call, which vendor, which drivers, when to call it a lost cause and clean up the mess, back out and reschedule when better prepared.

kovachevg
kovachevg

Granted, it would be nice to have work junkies on your team. Personally, I would love to work with such super-dedicated professionals, but ... just reand on. Yes, crunch time comes and tests the spirits but beware, if it happens way too often people start to think its management's fault. After all, if you make them stay all night every week, I guarantee you by year end you will be on your own. Planning is the crux of good management. If you tell your team in advance there will be occasionally some tough times ahead, they will be ready and will give you their best. If you don't tell them and constantly expect sacrifices you will make their lives miserable and they'll quit.

Why Me Worry??
Why Me Worry??

There is only one way to backup a SQL database that needs to be online 24/7, and that's using the builtin SQL utilities....DUH!

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

How many ways can you backup a SQL server? WTF? What kinds of question is that? Nonsense I tells ya...

Why Me Worry??
Why Me Worry??

I am not a great test taker, and it takes me a while before I am confident enough to go take a certification exam, but when one is blatantly thrown in my face during a job interview, that's a sign for me to run out of there. I'm perfectly fine with face to face interviews in which they can ask me a question and how I would go about solving it, but to take a simulated exam only serves to stress me out more than I am. Also, not everyone remembers every single command line parameter and switch, so as an interviewer, don't waste your time on such questions as most MCSEs' look this stuff up anyway. I surely don't recall every single server command out there and I shouldn't be expected to. Those interviews in which they grill you on server commands reminds me of them anal retentive professors back in college who would care more about you "memorizing" the equations instead of actually knowing how and when to use them. To me, practical use and knowledge is far more important than simply memorizing the command.

IT Generalist
IT Generalist

It's the logical process that counts to solve the problem, not the answer that you have memorized, so to speak. Being able to approach a solution logically is a skill every IT professional must have.

Beoweolf
Beoweolf

As I mentioned above, the test isn't whether the candidate requrgitates the correct answer, a parrot can "say" the right things if properly prompted. What you are (or should be) looking for is the process - how does the candidate go about solving a problem. I would have serious reservations about hiring any IT professional that cannot handle stress. I have seen way too many all night "thrash" sessions, where a problem is intractable. I do not need nor want people abandoning the task because its past their bed time, or they are over stressed. Sure, take a nap in the corner, get a cup of coffee - then come back and look at the problem with fresh eyes. When its "crunch time" is when you need to have a known value backing you up.

ttrimb1e
ttrimb1e

I think everyone needs to remember what you learned in school, not everyone tests well. Under the stressful conditions of an interview, many people have trouble expressing logic which would normally come very naturally to them. I have interviewed and hired several people who did not do well on a challenge question, only to find a very valuable and capable employee. Don't trust tests!

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