Rebuild a solid technical organization after downsizing

A rebuilding effort offers the CIO a unique opportunity to redefine the organizational mission and the individuals who carry it out.

As the economy continues to rebound, analysts who cover corporate IT hiring trends are projecting increases of 7% to 12% in corporate IT spending next year. Many of these budget dollars will go toward replacing staff positions that were lost during the recession of the last two years. As with any rebuilding effort, this one will present CIOs with a unique opportunity to redefine their organizational mission and the individuals who will carry it out. In this article, we'll examine some of the landmines in the current pool of candidates and discuss some practices that will help IT leaders build a solid technical organization.

The economy giveth and the economy taketh away
One of the key segments of the IT industry that has been most affected by the current economic downturn is the professional recruiter. With the current glut of IT candidates versus the number of available positions, companies don't see the need to use recruiter's services to identify candidates. Most companies can find 30 or 40 people for every open position through word of mouth, a Web site posting, or an inexpensive newspaper ad. Many companies think they're saving money by selecting and hiring candidates on their own. In fact, I've been hearing a lot of horror stories recently about companies with inexperienced hiring managers selecting people based purely on resumes and interviews and eschewing some of the more advanced processes that good IT recruitment firms follow.

It's not just misrepresentation
With such a large pool of candidates available, everyone's doing what they can to pump up their resume. And many existing employees who want opportunities will apply for higher paying jobs with more responsibility without having the management or people skills required. In order to make sure that you're hiring only qualified people for the jobs you need to fill, it's important that you look beyond the resume and the interview to more objective forms of candidate evaluation. Let's take a look at three potential instruments that you can use to develop an objective basis for comparing candidates.

Technical tests
I believe that all candidates for technical positions should be required to take a technical test that demonstrates their grasp of the basic knowledge required to perform their job. Further, managers of these technical positions should be able to pass the same exam. And the test doesn't have to be exhaustive. At a minimum, the test should include 10 or 20 written questions that cover the fundamentals of the languages, tools, or software that the engineers or developers will use in their daily work. Many companies prefer "oral exams," where a group of engineers or developers administer the questions and candidate are required to answer using either a white board or a preconfigured PC to demonstrate their knowledge. It's critical for this—and for any other test—that you use the same set of questions and methodology for all candidates that you interview for a given position. This will not only help you steer clear of any EEOC violations, but it will also give you a common, objective performance baseline.

Logic tests
In addition to testing their knowledge of a subject, it's important to also test candidates' ability to derive a solution using that knowledge. I prefer to do this with logic questions from IQ tests or Mensa study guides rather than basing the tests on product- or situation-specific questions. This allows all candidates to respond with a common set of core knowledge. When applied properly, it will help you evaluate how candidates think (whether they get the answer or not) and whether they're able to effectively combine knowledge with logic.

Personality tests
Although many companies shy away from it, I think that personality tests (like Meyers-Briggs) are an effective way to make sure that an employee who has the requisite knowledge and thinking skills can work effectively with other workers on the team. The real value of these tests comes when you test your existing staff first (anonymously, if required) and then pick candidates based on their compatibility with them. I've worked with many companies whose stringent hiring and technical testing policies resulted in well-qualified candidates who couldn't work together because the company didn't spend adequate time considering the human factors.

It's a buyer's market
Many CIOs will dismiss these testing requirements because they assume that candidates will not be willing to subject themselves to this level of scrutiny. But I think CIOs owe it, not only to their companies but to the employees as well, to insure that they've done the due diligence necessary to make sure the right people are placed in the right positions. And given that it's a buyer's market right now, the candidates who don't understand the importance of these instruments in insuring the "right fit" aren't in a position to debate their merits.

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