by Meridith Levinson

How to Hire the Best IT Workers: One CIO’s Best Practices

Dec 21, 20113 mins
CareersIT JobsIT Leadership

One CIO says that the keys to finding and hiring the best IT workers are: 1) knowing what you need from the position you're trying to fill; identifying the criteria that will be most effective in helping you assess talent; and not letting artificial factors weed out potentially great candidates.

In my last blog entry, “IT Hiring: Creative Ways to Find the Best Employees,” I suggested a few ways IT hiring managers could find the exceptional workers they need. I also alluded to the many challenges, idiosyncrasies and paradoxes that make IT hiring so hard.      

The blog elicited one response in particular, from a real estate CIO, that I want to share. In an email to me, the CIO articulated what he believes makes IT hiring so difficult. He wrote: 

…it’s been my experience that people [in a position to hire] focus on the wrong things and therefore are missing great talent. They don’t know what they need AND they don’t know how to assess talent. 

People in the “hiring industrial complex” seem to constantly get hung up on the same things: Specific industry experience and skills that just don’t matter. In 25 years of IT I have yet to find how industry experience has truly made a difference. The main things to look for [in prospective employees] are being a good analyst, solving problems (all the way through), and having a penchant for being constantly unsatisfied. 

This reader’s point is two-fold: 1) that hiring managers overemphasize criteria that, in his opinion, ultimately do not matter, and 2) that in the process of overemphasizing factors like industry experience and specific skills, they weed out potentially great talent. These ideas are worth noting. 

The other aspect of hiring that this CIO argues is so critical to finding exceptional employees is having a clear picture of what you need from the position you’re trying to fill, both now and in the future. In his words… 

One of the traps is hiring for today versus the future—for both the person and the organization. The hiring should be for what a person may become or contribute toward in a few years. The job to fill today—while an important need—is not the ultimate job that you really want someone to do. At least that’s the way I approach it, even if I don’t know what that future job is. I just want good talent—and figure out how to take advantage of it. 

I have my own take on the importance of zeroing in on what you need from the position you’re trying to fill. By “what you need from the position you’re trying to fill,” I mean the short- and long-term goals you as a manager are responsible for achieving, as well as the short- and long-term business goals your employer is trying to achieve. Hiring managers need to home in one those goals, then consider how the opportunity to bring someone on board will help them achieve those goals. From there, they can identify more precisely what they need, write a more accurate job description for the position, and hopefully establish criteria that will help them identify, rather than filter out, the people they need.   

What’s your take on what makes hiring so difficult? Do you think hiring managers focus on the wrong qualifications, and in the process miss out on candidates who could be exceptional employees?