IT Employment

Why HR gets in the way of IT hiring--and how to change it

Communication between IT and HR is the key to getting the best qualified IT pros.

While overall hiring is still slow, a lot of businesses plan to hire IT pros, according to CareerBuilder's mid-year job forecast. Among the IT hiring managers surveyed, 55% plan to hire full-time employees in the next six months, putting the rate of IT hiring more than 10% above the national average. In addition, 46% of companies added IT staff in the second quarter of this year.

That increased completion for tech employees means it's imperative organizations make smart IT hires and choose the best talent that's available to them.

Unfortunately, not every company does that, and those organizations waste time and money correcting hiring mistakes and fail to employ the best and brightest IT pros out there.

One reason: HR and IT aren't on the same page during the recruiting process. That could mean the most ideal applicants aren't being forwarded to the IT manager, or the best candidates aren't even applying to the jobs in the first place.

It's not either department's fault - it's just that HR and IT are very different areas. IT hiring is often a lot different from what HR usually does, so it takes some extra effort to coordinate.

Top IT hiring challenges for HR

The HR department is the first stop in the process for filtering out job applicants. Typically, an HR manager or recruiter looks through at a stack of resumes and forwards the best candidates to the hiring manager. For most departments, that usually works out fine. But in IT, the HR person often has an especially tough time picking the best candidates from the pile.

One reason: People who don't work in technology have a tough time understanding all the acronyms and terminology that fills up a typical IT pro's resume. Acronyms in particular can pose a big challenge if the HR person doesn't know what the initials stand for, or what acronyms an applicant might use instead of certain phrases. That can be an issue especially when recruiters search resume databases online, or use software to filter resumes using keywords.

The skills needed in IT are also quickly and constantly evolving. For example, if you're looking for a security professional, you may want someone with knowledge and experience in cloud or mobile security, which wouldn't have been requirements a year or two ago. Things in the tech world change so fast, it can be tough for IT pros to keep up - so it's that much harder for someone who works in HR.

Another reason IT hiring is challenging is the variety of systems and technologies that companies use. That means, for example, that a network admin at a different company won't necessarily have the skills required to do the same job in your organization.  HR people with the habit of picking out resumes with appropriate job titles might need to be told to take a different approach with IT applicants.

How can IT help?

HR can help IT find the best new tech hires - but the big key to making things work is communication. Here are some ways IT can get better at working with the HR department to improve the hiring process and land better tech talent for the department:

  1. For each position you're hiring for, give the HR manager or recruiter detailed lists of the key words and phrases - including both acronyms and the phrases they may replace. Make sure you keep those lists updated and clearly distinguish between absolute requirements and attributes that are nice to have.
  2. Form a miniature IT recruiting department by finding a current IT employee who enjoys recruiting and appoint that person to work closely with HR during the hiring process. Depending on how much hiring occurs, that may be too much extra work for one person - if so, rotate based on who's most familiar with the position being filled.
  3. Review job descriptions periodically. That's important for any department, but especially so for IT given how quickly IT jobs change. If HR only updates them as often as other departments' job descriptions, IT may be missing out on quality hires.
  4. Urge HR to move quickly with IT applicants. That doesn't mean they need to prioritize IT over other departments' needs, but given the strong IT job market and the competition for tech talent, especially for those with in-demand IT skills, any delay in moving forward with applicants could mean losing them to other organizations.

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.

15 comments
dogknees
dogknees

Why is it we think IT is any different to any other technical field? Same issues apply to engineers ( the real ones that design things, not the techs that put things together and fix them when they break) and any number of other professions and trades. Sometimes, or maybe a lot of the time, I think we place ourselves on something of a pedestal and assume the rest of humanity don't face the same issues. I work with, or for, accountants (please don't judge me) and I can assure you that an Audit specialist wouldn't understand half of what a Tax specialist or an Insolvency practitioner does, and HR have to deal with them all, and us in IT. I don't really see much of a difference.

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

We don't have an HR dept. Our screeners are their potential co-workers. They know who can and who can't after just a ten minute informal conversation.

Jennifer Michelle
Jennifer Michelle

Well said - IT is too quick to change for someone in HR to stay on top of all the acronyms and skills without clarification.

CharlesRobinson
CharlesRobinson

The solution is really simple - combine them. That is what the corporation that I work for has done. I am the HR/IT Director and I am a member of the core executive management team and report directly to the CEO. If you are in a business where you are having trouble finding the right candidates for highly specialized skill sets that are critical to the company then you need to create specialized solutions to keep those critical positions filled with the best people possible.

gechurch
gechurch

As someone who's only ever worked for small companies, it amazes me that larger companies handball something as core to their success and efficiency as hiring. Hiring is *the* one thing you don't want to get wrong in IT. If you have terrible processes, poor equipment and a small budget but you manage to hire superstars, those superstars will make it work and will eventually turn it around. By contrast you could have the best documentation, great equipment and a huge budget but if you have dud people your outcomes will be poor. If you want good hires you ('you' being the IT manager) need to invest the time in the hiring process and be involved at every step. I'm just lucky that I still have this naive view - I know it's not that simple when you've got a hiring department and a set 'way we do things around here'.

jonrosen
jonrosen

Get rid of HR. Yes, HR ,and IT managers get swamped with IT candidates for many positions. However, HR has no clue how to handle most of it. 'We seek 7 years of XXX skills' When the software has only been out for 3years, I'd like to see WHO has 7 years of experience in it!. HR's magic little sifter often sifts incorrectly, cutting the people who should be looked at, and keeping those who shouldn't. Any IT manager worth his or her salt can figure out at first glance a level of sifting far past that of something an HR person tries to program in.

fhrivers
fhrivers

[b][i]"Another reason IT hiring is challenging is the variety of systems and technologies that companies use. That means, for example, that a network admin at a different company won’t necessarily have the skills required to do the same job in your organization."[/i][/b] My question is why not? Can't the same be said for doctors, lawyers, accountants and auto mechanics? Yes, it can. The only difference is that these folks are given some time to get up to speed on the different software, tools and systems that the new company uses while the IT people are expected to know everything on day one. A doctor with 20 years of experience who came from doing paper charts may have to spend two weeks in a training course learning the new EHR and then have a reduced patient flow for a month so he can get up to speed on the new system. However, a Network Admin with a Cisco background is expected to know the syntax for Sonicwall appliances and HP switches if he expects to get hired. So HR isn't the only problem, it's IT Management who often doesn't know how to hire qualified applicants and so offloads the responsibility to HR and their fancy recruiting software. No two IT environments are ever alike and therefore, IT job descriptions need to be more general and the interviewing process needs to be more involved with qualified individuals doing the interviews. IT Managers have for too long relied on HR, gimmicky tests and other lazy methods to compensate for their inability to hire the right people. Give me an hour and a blank sheet of paper and I can hire for any IT position by just having a conversation with them about their experience and digging deeper for details. So you said you were a Systems Engineer with VMWare experience? Tell me how you implemented it and why you made the choices you made, etc. I'm comfortable doing so because I've worked in the trenches and I didn't get the title "IT Manager" because I wrote an Access database 5 years ago and helped the other execs install Microsoft Office on their PCs.

Professor8
Professor8

Be sure to conscientiously divide your list into "must haves" and "nice to haves", and, since so many HR people are clueless these days, carefully explain the difference -- each time. Many will not store this info in their evil, dysfunctional "candidate management system" or to co-workers, but you have to at least try. If they're bright, you might even divide the list into 3 sets: "must have", "nice to have", and "beautifully miraculous if they have but I don't really expect it". "For each position you’re hiring for, give the HR manager or recruiter detailed lists of the key words and phrases - including both acronyms and the phrases they may replace." If you're going to use "key-words" then you should give them synonyms, and near synonyms -- roughly equivalent terms used by other schools, other brand-names. In some cases, there could be 3 or 4 synonyms for each key-word, but at least 1 in nearly all. In ye olden days Ill-Begotten Monstrosities worshippers would hardly ever use the term "disk", but DASD. Some of them didn't know what you were talking about if you mentioned "disk drives" or "filesystems"... even though they might be quite familiar with multiple schemes for structuring files as proto-data-bases to access particular records or record sets rapidly. And during that time, there were recruiters/employment agencies who, knowing even less than the aforementioned sys ans and programmers, didn't have any idea what you were talking about outside of IBM acronyms (they didn't understand the generic, non-brand-specific terminologies). Remind them that a capable candidate, who already knows at least half a dozen programming languages and several operating systems, can usually pick up a new programming language or IDE tool-set or code generator within 2 weeks to the point of being productive -- some on their own, others with proper training. Language variants are even less important; there is a high chance that they're familiar with several variants and the specific kinds of variation that are common, and thus can become productive within mere hours. In many cases, the variants are rarely used, anyway, or, better yet, can be totally avoided, giving you software that is more portable and doesn't require as many branches in the version/configuration management tool.

derek.lauber
derek.lauber

Suggestion #2 will bring the most satisfactory results by directly engaging IT with HR in hiring and recruiting. Who knows better about their needs than the department itself.

macmanjim
macmanjim

I've seen more and more ads that have requirements such that it's as if the company is looking for a unicorn. The only problem with HR is that they aren't telling the IT hiring manager they are out of their mind. IT people should know unicorns don't exist.

Odipides
Odipides

When the job specification calls for a degree, HR just discard the CV despite the candidate having, say, 15 years experience in the field and would leave a graduate standing. However, HR can't 'tick the box', so they file the CV in the bin. Dumb approach which would have rejected many IT luminaries before they even got started in the industry.

info
info

...the HR department is willing to spend all of that time learning the field and/or working directly with the IT department. They often don't, since they feel you're intruding on 'their' territory (threaten their job). The advice I give people is that which was given to me during a training course I took awhile back. Whatever they ask for in the job description, parrot back that it is what you have (or otherwise address it) VERBATIM. That will usually get you past the HR drones and into the hands of an upper HR manager that knows more about how things work. Then you can get to the IT people and/or interview process.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

How many people in IT are engineers, I wouldn't call a developer who can only cookie cut, a DBA who can swap tapes, an Admin who can craete users an 'engineer', even if they had the ability, how often do they get to exercise it? I don't assume my in depth knowledge of sql makes me competent in industrial relations, and to me that's the difference. Now as to how they can reliably judge our competetence... Not sure myself, I know they keep geeting wrong though, and I know they keep blaming the candidates they chose in error for it... The near total lack of acknowledgement of that issue leaves me with little but suspicion of their ability in anything.

blarman
blarman

... weren't created by IT, but by HR. The way I can tell is because they will ask for x years of a particular technology when that technology has only been in the field for x-2 years. An even bigger clue is when the contact person is in HR and not in IT. And for those that seem to want an IT guru but aren't giving commensurate compensation, I apply anyway knowing that they probably put all that stuff on there either because they are delusional or because that is what the person that left did because they grew into the position and the company never bumped their payroll accordingly. And if you really have the skills and they aren't willing to pay market rates, move on.

dogknees
dogknees

... is not that HR should know all jobs, but that IT is not special or different from other technical areas, like engineering or accountancy for that matter.