The hiring test

The "Paper MCSE" phenomenon has made it harder to hire people based on their certifications. Chris Dinsmore shares his computer competency hiring test.

Let’s face it, the hiring market for computer professionals is TOUGH. Often, you find yourself having to make a very quick decision about hiring someone, or a competitor will hire that individual right out from under you. Unfortunately, this situation is especially true when it comes to system administrators and network engineers.

You can usually judge the qualifications of senior admins by their resumes and references. For help desk techs, you probably don’t care what their levels of experience may be—as long as they’re friendly, show up on time, and don’t mess anything up. The problem arises when you start looking for mid-level people.

A mid-level person—say, an assistant administrator—may be a recent college graduate with very little business experience and no certifications but with too much knowledge to waste on the help desk. Or you may have someone with every certification known to man, but you have no idea if the person can actually do the job. The phenomenon of the “Paper MCSE” has definitely changed the face of certifications. Sadly, due to the way things stand right now, you can get a certification without ever having seen or configured the equipment involved.

So, how do you make that hiring decision? Well, the interview is very important, and references can’t be ignored. But to judge someone’s basic technical skills and ability to pick things up quickly, I have devised a test.

My computer competency requirements include the ability to install and configure (in a basic way, without assistance from technical support and assuming that good manuals are available):
  • ·        Windows 95 or 98
  • ·        Windows NT or Novell NetWare (preferably both)
  • ·        Solaris 2.6 (or another UNIX that’s appropriate to your site)
  • ·        Some type of switch
  • ·        Some type of CSU/DSU
  • ·        Cisco router that runs IOS 10.0 and above (or another router that’s appropriate to your site)

I also include the ability to do the following:
  • ·        Connect a T1 to a CSU/DSU, the CSU/DSU to the router, and the router to a switch
  • ·        Install and configure NIC cards in each of the machines
  • ·        Configure TCP/IP networking on each of the machines, including DNS
  • ·        Wire all of the machines properly to the switch
  • ·        Set up basic routing on the router to allow connectivity to the Internet

The final test measures the candidate’s ability to surf the Web and to use any of the machines to receive e-mail from the Internet.

If applicants can perform these tasks, either through prior knowledge and experience or through figuring out the tasks as they go, then I will hire them. If candidates can’t accomplish these tasks, then I won’t hire them. It’s that simple. In fact, I give extra credit to people who didn’t know how to perform these tasks before but eventually figured them out. It shows that they can think on their feet and respond well to a new situation.

Chris Dinsmore is a senior network architect for the Salinas Group, a prominent network security services and consultancy organization. He’s certified in several major firewall and network management platforms, and hehas eight years of experience in the support, administration, and security fields. Prior to working with the Salinas Group, he operated a successful MIS and network consulting business for seven years.

The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein, but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.

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