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AFCOM: Data Center Management:
Hiring the IT Professional

  Column published in DMReview.com
December 1, 2004
  By Jill Eckhaus

"Projections on the strength of the recovery may be mixed, but most agree that 2004 will finally mark an increase in spending in the information technology sector - spending that should result in improved job growth for IT professionals with the right skills" (Steven McMahan, "Optimistic IT Employment Outlook").

If the forecasts are true about IT software and equipment spending being on the rise, the demand for skilled technology professionals will assuredly follow suit. A recent article by journalist Sharon Gaudin ("Linux Skills in High Demand as IT Jobs Pick Up,") supports the theory. Gaudin writes, "At this time last year, Dice.com was listing about 25, 000 jobs. Today, there are more than 50,000 jobs listed. And a year ago, there were 860 to 900 Linux-related jobs listed, while there are 2,500 listed now."

If there is a boom in high-tech jobs looming on the horizon, IT managers looking for highly experienced professionals will be well-advised to prepare for the hiring process. What procedures should IT managers follow when embarking on such a task?

First, it is absolutely critical to delineate the qualifications and job description before seeking an individual for the position. "What kind of experience and education should be required? This is important because it forms the basis of recruitment and signals to employees what they must do to prepare for promotion. It is essential to have a list of duties or work to actually be performed and to define the level of responsibility related to each task" (hrzone.com). Once a list of duties and skills are determined, an accurate description can be advertised.

Phone Screening

After a pool of applicants is compiled, you should engage the most qualified candidates with a phone interview to begin the screening process. According to inc.com, the seven steps for successful phone screenings are as follows:

  1. Define your goal. This preparatory step is defined above. It is important for a manager to know what he or she is looking for in a candidate before seeking out that person. What responsibilities will the employee have? What experience and education should he or she have ahead of time to be able to meet certain expectations? A hiring team needs agreement on the qualifications beforehand, so that only qualified applicants are screened.
  2. Define your culture. What are the cultural characteristics of the work environment? A candidate can be qualified to do the required job duties, but may not fit into the formal - or casual - environment of the workplace.
  3. Know your price. It is important to determine a salary range that takes into account what the business can afford; the cost of living; the going rate for similar positions at other companies in the area; and the skills and experience of the employee being hired. Inc.com suggests: "... cover this territory in the phone screening so that mismatched expectations don't create surprises later on when you meet with the candidate for an in-person interview." This will determine the potential employee's interest, saving time for both parties.
  4. Know your deadline. If the preinterview preparation has been thorough, phone screening can begin immediately after receiving resumes and a resume cut-off date can be selected.
  5. Create your question list. Having determined the necessary qualifications for the position, creating questions for the phone interview should not be difficult. The list of questions should be the same for each applicant to best compare their answers. The questions should focus on skills, expectations and the cultural fit of the applicants. To find out if a person is a suitable fit for the company, untraditional questions tailored specifically to the interviewer's organization can be helpful.
  6. Conduct the phone interview. A conversational phone interview should last between 20 and 30 minutes and should provide the interviewer with enough information to determine whether or not a face-to-face meeting is warranted. The candidate should be informed of the next step in the process at the end of the conversation.
  7. Follow up. Every candidate should be contacted, regardless of whether or not they have been selected for an in-house interview. This can help ensure a positive first impression of the company.

Reference Check

Don't rely solely on instinct and impressions - references should always be checked. "If you have done a thorough reference check, then the courts have generally found that you have done your best and are not liable for a bad hiring decision" (hrzone.com). Types of questions to ask former employers include qualifications; the employee's ability to follow directions and receive feedback; if any problems ever occurred; and whether or not the former employer would ever hire the person again. The results of the conversation should be kept in a confidential file and should not be discussed with the employee.

Face-to-Face Interview Tips

Much like the phone interview, the in-person meeting should be designed to determine knowledge, professionalism, skills acquired in previous positions and level of interest in the job. The interviewer should prepare five to 15 general questions to ask all candidates, but should extend the conversation with follow-up questions based on answers given. The key here is to ask questions that will elicit specific examples of skills used in previous positions. More than one person should conduct this face-to-face interview, allowing for someone to take notes for post-interview discussions among the decision-makers.

In "Finding and Hiring Great Techs (and Anyone Else)" on inc.com, four questions will "uncover the truth about any candidate":

  1. "What do you like about your current job?"
  2. "What else do you like about your current job?"
  3. "What do you want to do?"
  4. "What else do you want to do?"

The purpose for the repetition is to get past the rehearsed answers to discover deeper beliefs and feelings about the candidates' experiences with other work environments and about how they like to spend their time.

Overall, being prepared for the interview process is half the battle. If a company's management has defined exactly what they are looking for in the job description and interview questions, there is a better chance for success once the new employee is hired and begins training.

"What are employers looking for? Most say they are interested in IT professionals with at least five years of experience in a particular field, as well as a solid understanding of business. They also are looking for signs of past job stability and a willingness to make a long-term commitment to employers. In short, the same advice given in previous years holds true for 2004: Don't lose sight of long-term career plans in favor of the latest technology fad" (McMahan).


For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
Data Management and Enterprise Intelligence.

Jill Eckhaus, president of AFCOM, is responsible for the worldwide activities of the organization including membership, publications, marketing, sales, conferences and trade shows. Eckhaus has been with AFCOM for more than 10 years. Prior to becoming president, she was AFCOM's executive vice president, in charge of the organization's day-to-day activities. In this position, she also headed AFCOM's Strategic Partner Program and was instrumental in the creation of AFCOM's Data Center Institute. Eckhaus may be reached at jeckhaus@afcom.com.

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