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IT Staffing - Science, Art or plain good luck?

By sean ·
So how do you hire your staff? Are you using current best practices, a third party employment agency or do you have your own systems.

Recently I have been on both sides of the interview table, and I can assure you that there has been absolutely no consistency with the interview methods.

Currently there is a move to Behavioural Interview Techniques, these are working on the assumption that you can predict the way a person will deal with a situation, based upon their past dealings in similar situations. Personally I think this is wonderful (detect sarcasm here) if you are presuming that people are incapable or unwilling to learn from their past mistakes. Some of those who are diligent at their jobs, will analyze any situation and look for areas of improvement, especially if there are areas where things have gone less than spectacularly, it is very important that we look at how we can avoid making the same mistakes. Obviously you will want to do the same when something goes really well, so that you can emulate the behaviours that led to the desired results. So ? In My Humble Opinion, although this is a good method for determining a potential candidate, if you don?t give them the opportunity to explain what they have learned from those experiences then you are not completing the interview properly and will definitely be losing out on a potentially wonderful employee.

So what other methods are there, if we can?t predict the future, and the past may be misleading where does that leave us? Well honestly I wish that I had a Crystal Ball that worked, however I do have some guidelines that I tend to try and follow, and most of them don?t have anything to do with the answers to the questions.

My first impression is important to me ? a person who is late for their interview is already in my bad books, not that I wont hire them, but they are definitely not going to be my first choice. Their appearance is not as important as most think, I realize that I work in a Geeky culture and that we are maybe a little eccentric, I do prefer those who appear neat and tidy and have at least ironed or crease free clothes. Depending on the position for which I am hiring I have different expectations and as a result adjust my requirements.

Hopefully the candidate is pleased to see me, after all I am the most important person for their immediate future, their body language is how I judge this, as we all know, a persons words can be misleading, so I read the eyes and how they react to me (bearing in mind that I appear friendly and open to them at all times).

This happens in the first 2 minutes at the most. It is in this time that I have made at least 50% of the decision of whether or not to hire. For those who are going to interviews, think about that for a few minutes, half the decision is made in 2 minutes, the other half in the next 58 or 28 minutes depending on how long the interview goes.

So next we sit down and have a chat, basic interview questions. I get them to tell me about themselves, their hobbies, accomplishments, failures etc. I do of course check on technical ability, however I don?t ask really complicated questions, I am more interested in seeing if a person can think, is prepared to admit they don?t know, and how they take the feedback when I give them the answers. All of these are important traits in the environment where I work, and I would think are important anywhere. I pay attention to their ability to communicate, working in the Service Desk Industry, this is of paramount importance as we spend most of our day on the phones.

At the end of the day I am not as concerned with their ability to resolve issues as I am in their customer service skills. Believe it or not I would rather have a person with good customer service abilities and a willingness to learn, than I would a technowhiz who can fix everything yet has no customer service skills. Obviously in my ideal candidate they are both a technowhiz and a customer service whiz, but those are few and far between.

So do I compromise my requirements, of course I do, this is a very grey area with hopefully room for improvement on all sides, I trust my instincts a lot, yet when I think about it, the candidate has the ability to appeal to the instincts by showing their willingness to help the customer, skills they have attained and desires to learn new things to help.

So at the end of the day is this a good recipe, well so far I have been very successful, when others have not been as successful. Have I been lucky, am I better at picking up a person?s nature, or do I just get the better candidates? This I cannot answer for sure, however those that I interview in person have already met requirements that I set for phone interviews and online testing, if you cannot make those happen, then you are not getting to meet me in person. If you have passed those 2 phases then you are more than likely capable of doing most of what we require, I am mostly looking for personality traits that will go well with the teams we currently have.

Some final comments for those doing the hiring, get to know the team you are hiring for, if you don?t know the team dynamic, then the chances of you hiring a suitable team member are drastically reduced. Teams thrive on their ability to be synergistic, putting someone in the team who does not fit will only cause disharmony and as a result will probably end up in failure.

So is it Science, Art or Good Luck? Personally I think it is an art, failing that go to the scientific approach, if you rely on luck and you are consistently hiring well, then possibly you should be buying more lottery tickets as the odds of winning are probably similar.

Does this help? Let me know as I am more than willing to help you make the correct choices for your team.

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What about over the phone?

by DracoLF In reply to IT Staffing - Science, Ar ...


First of all, thanks for the insight! I found it quite useful. However, I was wondering what your strategy is for phone interviews. Do you go straight for technical questions? what do you evaluate during those?

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Over the Phone

by sean In reply to What about over the phone ...

When doing over the phone interviews I am reviewing primarily 2 aspects. Firstly I am loooking for their communications skills, I have an accent and have had no issues with it when dealing with customers, however I have still had some interviewees who cannot understand me. Considering the diversity of the client base, this does unfortunately disqualify them, providing of course that there are not other factors, such as a bad connection. Secondly I briefly go over the requirements of the position so that they understand what it is exactly, and then do a basic resume check. Providing they do indeed have the basic requirements I send them to do some online testing. If they pass that then I will move to the in-person interview. If, for some reason they cannot attend in person: i.e.:they are across the country, then I conduct a second phone interview with them and go over exactly the same questions I would do in an in-person interview. Again here I am testing all the requirements to do the position as well as a clear understanding of the questions, they will now be subjected to another communications evaluation. I do make sure that I let then know when it will be so that they have an opportunity to be at their ease, and I make sure I wear a headset, I do not use a speaker phone or handset as these tend to distort the communications.

Thanks for the question Draco, if there is anything else with which I can help, please let me know.


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Like the approach

by Willisblag In reply to Over the Phone

I must admit my personal 'interviewing technique' is probably fairly loose by most recognised standards but has a lot of afinity with your approach (not suggesting your's is loose btw !).
I think the main criteria for me is to know exactly what you are looking for when you are hiring,I think some people can get distracted by an impressive cv/candidate and end up with someone who is not suitable for the role or the culture. For me if the technical competency is there, I am much more interested in the human side of the job/role. Particularly in team situations this is critical - one inappropriate hire can destroy the dynamic of an otherwise healthy team. Like the 2 minute point. This is how we all operate as animals, instinct is very powerful. Another truism is that 7 pct of communication is speech, the other 93 pct is body language, eye contact etc. Remember, the success of your approach is reflected in the team's you recruit and the low/high turnover rate. If you ever waver, take a look around the room. Good article.

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online testing

by trs789 In reply to Over the Phone

Would you be more specific about the online testing. What kind of tests are these? Psychological or tecnical? Where are they at on the web? Thanks for the help.

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Online Testing

by sean In reply to online testing

The online tests that we use is on We use them for a number of tests, however they are mostly technical, or at least they are testing a persons ability in a certain field. I am sure that you could find some psychometric testing as well.

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scoring sheets

by madtechgirl In reply to IT Staffing - Science, Ar ...

It's too easy to be snowed by someone who is just good at interviewing. We used a team approach to interviews and a scoring sheet. We decide what we are going to ask before the interview and there must be at least 2 people interviewing. We take notes during the interview and then we get together and score the candidates on each question. We ask questions like, describe how you saved a failing project in the past. We try to ask questions that show how the person handled various situations in the past, technical expertise and personality (can they admit they make mistakes, have they learned from them, etc.). I've seen the scoring technique work well in pointing out the best candidate is not necessarily the one that impressed us by their speaking ability and charm. Instinct can often translate into bias based on any number of personality traits. I believe it's important to take as much subjectivity out of the interview as possible.

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BDI Interviews

by lori In reply to scoring sheets

BDI interviews are very common these days.

How do you come up with the best questions that match your department/project? Who sets the baseline for such scoring?

I believe that it is not that a scoring technique as you have describes doesn't work. I believe that most manager/leaders don't understand how to create a Skills matrix for the particular role they are trying to fill. It is not a easy task to find questions and then create a base line.

I beleive that managers/leaders use the easiest technique that is available... their instincts. It is always there, it is avaliable at all times and for experienced "hirers" it is honed so well that it works 95% of the time.

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Another point: Not all interviewers are good at interviewing

by datman In reply to IT Staffing - Science, Ar ...

Very well said. I've been on both sides of the interview table myself. You couldn't have said it any more plainly, including the 2-minute 'secret'. It's obvious you know this business and have lived in it for a while. Thanks for sharing your insights.

Here's another secret: not everyone that will interview you is a good interviewer. I've been interviewed by the technowhiz's to which you referred whose primary goal for my interview was for me to solve their particular problem at hand; one that they couldn't solve themselves. I was once interviewed by a team of 3 people simultaneously. They placed a 300-table database diagram in front of me and pointed to 1 particular table and asked me to deduce and resolve the problem they were encountering with it. Can you believe that? Even if I would have given them the solution to their problem, would they have been able to assimilate my answer?

Not all interviewers are like Sean who are properly focused on the interview. If you encounter these, handle it as professionally as you can realizing you probably wouldn't want to work with/for them anyhow and chalk it up to a learning experience.

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Shilled interviewers

by mjd420nova In reply to IT Staffing - Science, Ar ...

Being a small budiness of only 24 people, we are all close knit and dependent on each other to support areas where we might have less skills than others. Each of us gets to conduct an interview. Some meetings might not take on the formality of an interview, and we try to put prospective employees at ease, most often they will reveal more than a simple question and answer type of format. Some situations are artificially created to gauge the reaction of the job seeker. We all have to work together and are pretty good at judging the demeanor of job seekers. Much is revealed during a situational observation than would be apparent on any form. We are all share holders and therefore have much at stake in the selection of future coworkers.

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All of The Above

by HomerT In reply to IT Staffing - Science, Ar ...

Might I add that all of the above do apply when looking to hire a potential employee. The Art comes from crafting your skill in interviewing and customer service- seeking the right personality, science comes from possessing the technical skills to accomplish the job and last the luck to interview and hire someone with great working ethics. I would have to say, that it is very difficult to describe or try to portray to a prospective employer that ethics in a work environment makes great sense for a team dynamic as well as individual morale. Likewise it is challenging to find those with technical, customer service skills and ethically sound.

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