IT managers and CIOs have a responsibility to build a team that can produce. To do so, they’re not always focusing only on technical skills and expertise. They want other specific qualities, skills, and characteristics in their staff members. That’s why it’s critical that consultants seeking a full-time position or new contractual roles understand what IT hiring managers want in a candidate.
For example, when I want to hire a strong IT manager or programmer, education isn't nearly as important to me as a track record of success.
The goal for any hiring manager is to build a team that can accomplish a lot for the company. Job candidates must keep this in mind as they interview for positions. I’ve put together a list of what I believe are the top 10 skills/characteristics/capabilities that managers look for in a new hire.
The 10 traits hiring managers look for
Give me 10 thoroughbreds over 15 slow runners every time. Managers want employees that take initiative and want to do a good job. Being proactive is an excellent trait, especially when it is consistent with the company's mission. I'll pay more for each individual in the team of 10 than for the team of 15, but I'll accomplish more.
IT is constantly changing and those that can adapt and be nimble tend to achieve much more. Managers need employees that can adapt to change and maintain high levels of productivity even in uncertain times.
Knowledge of client service
People who understand the importance of client service know that clients are the reason we have an IT career. They also know how to take precautions when working on issues that can cause system downtime and loss of productivity for their users and/or customers.
A team player
Managers need staff members that can work well in teams and that the team can rely on. Too many excellent technicians lose their value to an organization when they can't work for the team instead of themselves.
Commitment to succeed
I want people that know when they need to stay after hours to take care of a situation and do what it takes to succeed individually and for the team. A lot of people say they have what it takes but true performers come through when it counts. I have experienced many situations in which people separated themselves from the pack by showing what they were made of in this area.
High sense of urgency
It's hard to teach someone to have a high sense of urgency. Someone who has this sense places an emphasis on getting important issues resolved. IT managers need people who know when it's "all hands on deck."
Obviously, IT managers want and need competent people. But competence doesn't necessarily mean the employee has to have all the answers. Those that are capable of finding the right answers to solve new problems are jewels and very valuable resources to the team. I'll take solid people that are committed to success over the most technically competent person and accomplish more with fewer headaches.
Solid communication skills
Having the ability to communicate effectively with others is no longer just a desirable trait—it's necessary in most IT positions. A "super programmer" is limited if he can't communicate well with a business user or analyst to develop a new enhancement or fix a problem. Strong verbal and written communication skills can set you apart from many of your peers.
Strong follow-up skills
Nothing is more frustrating for a manager than to have an employee drop the ball by not following up on a commitment or issue. It can probably do more harm to the credibility of the IT organization than anything else—even incompetent work—as hard as that might be to believe. Good follow-up skills are traits that I look closely for when interviewing a new candidate.
Managers want people that require low management maintenance. Employees that have to be constantly directed or supervised need to be in a different organization than the one I want to build. I want an organization to be effective and able to run well even when I'm not around. That doesn't mean I should shirk my duty or obligation to the employee in coaching, career development, performance planning, and reviews. Just give me people that have the first nine skill traits and I'll have a staff that requires very low maintenance.
Where the skills pay off
Before even scheduling that next job interview, take time to review this list of skills and personal characteristics, and begin identifying ways to bring your strengths out in the interview.
Regardless of what you might think, managers hire people they can relate to and ones they believe will make a positive contribution to the team. Remember, it’s not always about the technical skills you list on your resume. These soft skills I’ve identified can make the difference between you and someone else getting the job.
Mike Sisco is the CEO of MDE Enterprises, an IT management training and consulting company. He has been an IT Manager and CIO for more than twenty years. For more of Mike's practical management insight, take a look at his IT Manager Development Series.