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The Leader’s Cheat Sheet To Nailing IT Hiring

Guest post from Jill Dyché, author of The New IT, How Technology Leaders are Enabling Business Strategy in the Digital Age.

Where do you want to be in the next 5 years?
What person, living or dead, would you want to invite to dinner?
If you were a dog, what breed would you be?

You and I have both been asked questions like these in a job interview at some point in our careers.  Typically the well-meaning manager asking the questions has been coached that such questions reveal a candidate’s “soft skills” and might hint at particular qualities that will help him succeed in the role.

Or fail.

The fact is, most managers hire people they like, people that they resonate with beyond skill set and job responsibility conversations. Just as voters routinely admit to electing politicians they’d like to have a beer with, leaders are susceptible to what I call the “after work cocktail” syndrome. There are work colleagues that you’ll meet with for 30 minutes because you have to get something done. And there are those whose company you genuinely enjoy, irrespective of their contributions. Typically you give these people more time.

To hire well in the new IT, leaders need to get comfortable with the irony that getting and keeping top talent has relatively little to do with the candidate’s goals and likeability. Hiring success comes from matching what the company needs with work that will challenge and fulfill the candidate. Ideally both the organization and the employee can then grow together.

Many new IT leaders have learned that across-the-desk Q&A sessions are insufficient to truly evaluate a candidate’s ability to do the work. One method that’s increasing in popularity is the so-called behavior event interview, in which candidates are asked to explain in detail how they would tackle a realistic work challenge. By working through real-life scenarios, often in front of a group of would-be colleagues or under a time constraint, the candidate is forced to think on her feet and display a level of mastery and poise that might not come across in a more traditional interview setting.

In my experience the best leaders have a level of clarity about what the job is, indeed what delivery looks like, before beginning the interview process. They can answer some basic questions of their own—for instance, “How will the candidate create value in the role?” or “How much guidance will this position require, and how much can I realistically provide?”—before beginning interviews. The figure below illustrates a representative “cheat sheet” that hiring leaders can use as a checklist for ensuring they have all the bases covered.

Of course, old habits die hard. These fresh and arguably more creative vetting techniques won’t be adopted overnight. So, for the record: Santa Barbara, Jimi Hendrix, and German Shorthaired Pointer.

Jill Dyché is the Vice President of Best Practices for SAS. She is also an acknowledged speaker, author, and blogger. Previously, Jill was a partner and co-founder of Baseline Consulting. She has written three books on the business value of IT, including the bestselling The CRM Handbook.

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