by Julian Goldsmith

12 essential habits of new IT hires

Jan 17, 20126 mins
IT Leadership

Many CIOs will be thinking about reducing their headcount, rather than recruiting new staff, but if you are in the enviable position of having a vacancy to fill, it’s critical to make the best of the opportunity and select a star player.

As department heads, you will already have a good nose for the right applicant, but an excellent article on CIO sister paper InfoWorld recently may give you some more tips.

It’s written for the point of view of an employee, but it’s easy to spin the 12 points round to illustrate what you should expect from new hires in the modern IT department.

If that wasn’t convenient enough, I’ve done it for you, below:

1 A passion and curiosity about the business: New hires have been selected primarily to add something special to the team’s skill-set, but good technical knowledge is only valuable if it’s accompanied by an affinity and empathy with the users at the business-end of IT deployment. BYOD and self-procurement initiatives on the increase mean all IT staff have to have a good understanding of the business requirements behind the IT investment decisions.

2 An eye on the budget: Many CIOs are increasingly worried about losing control of IT expenses and at the same time are under pressure to cut them. Any IT staff that prefer to work in splendid isolation, not caring whether their activities waste more money than save it should be avoided. Increasingly individual staff are going to have to take responsibility for IT activities as a whole and they need to see the wider impacts of their individual part in the IT strategy.

3 A confidence to deal with service providers: The increasing adoption of service models, where businesses procure the IT they need from third parties means the role of the IT department may shift from building technology, to supervising others to build and maintain it for them. Any IT staff that are adept at building relationships with suppliers and managing their activities to the full benefit of the company will be more valuable than those with a more insular outlook.

4 A passion for learning new skills: If standing IT teams are going to shrink, individual IT professionals are going to have to wear more than one hat, in case a gap appears in the department’s skill-set. Any staff who think they can get by being the resident expert in just one technical discipline will be of less use than those that can identify those gaps, are prepared to learn new technologies and willing to broaden their expertise.

5 A talent for languages: Different workgroups speak to each other in different ways. CIOs know that the idioms and behaviour common in the IT department differ drastically from the banter heard in the rest of the business. Any of your staff that can’t adapt their communication behaviour so that they can be easily understood by non-technical colleagues will just reinforce the siloed thinking that prevents the IT department becoming a critical, embedded part of the business. Not should new hires be able to converse with business users on their terms, but they should also have the willingness and patience  to educate them on the arcane language of the tech team.

6 An enthusiasm for learning from the right colleagues: Less useful new hires will gravitate to colleagues who teach them how to sidestep work and hide their mediocrity. Those employees who actively seek out mentors who can enhance their skills and steer them into new challenges will increase their value to your team. This justifies your decision to hire them even further, throughout their careers.

7 An awareness of information management: Managing data is a relatively exact science nowadays, but making sense of it is still in the realms of the magical. Your IT staff need to see the bigger picture and appreciate that mountains of data coming in is valueless, unless information that helps the business can be pulled out of it easily. Anyone in your team who can help you accomplish this in the next few years is going to be highly valuable.

8 A preparedness to take on the jobs no one wants: Star employees who dazzle you with their technical finesse are essential, but no use if they don’t step up to do the difficult but perhaps less glamorous jobs too. If you have a new hire that rises to the challenge when the rest of your team are playing pass-the-hot-potato, you likely have someone with the guts to get involved in business transformation and a good assistant in your change-management programmes.

9 A possession of maturity and congeniality: The IT department already has a reputation for being filled with social midgets, who can’t relate to other non-technical staff. If you continue to hire employees purely for their coding skills, without taking into consideration their personalities, you’ve only yourself to blame when this reflects on you, in your senior management colleagues’ attitudes to you and your ideas in the boardroom.

10 A sensitivity to personal and departmental branding: Again, your staff collectively contribute to the department’s standing within the company. They need to be aware that what their colleagues think of them has an impact on how well the department performs. An employee that can big up the department’s successes and assure non-IT colleagues that they can deliver the goods will help you get the buy-in you need to ensure further deployments are a success. Staff who look like they have slept in a skip and are always belittling the work of their team-mates aren’t going to help you get the support you need from end-users to deliver on your IT commitments.

11 A willingness to move around: Some staff like to find an area where they can become irreplaceable and dig themselves in like a tic, so that you have to treat them well or risk losing essential systems. The reality is no one is indispensable and the requirement for IT skills constantly changes as technology develops. Even if they continue to be needed, they have already established the limits of their worth. They won’t get a raise or be promoted and they will eventually feel frustrated as a result. Staff who are flexible and willing to go where they are needed are going to be much more valuable, especially if staff resources shrink through cost-cutting measures.

12 A desire to move on, someday: Although you should expect some loyalty from your staff, especially if you have invested in further training, you don’t what to see the same faces for the rest of your career. It’s gratifying to see your staff develop and evenutally move on to better things. But, more importantly, while they are with you, they will over-perform to get where they want to go. If they have the talent and drive to achieve better jobs (one day) than the one you are offering, they definitely fill the requirements for what you are after.

Do you have any tips on what fellow CIOs should look for in new hires? Post your comments below.