The unemployment rate is at a historic low, and there are now more open positions than there are job seekers. It's become tougher than ever to find great talent. Nowhere is that more apparent than in hiring for IT help. It's a hot industry and talented people are scooped up quickly.
How can you compete? How can you be sure you're hiring the best fit for your company? And how do you know if you should hire someone in-house or outsource to a 3rd party?
Let's start with the overall best practices for making a great hire, and then move into how to fill a specifically technical role.
HIRING BEST PRACTICES
Traits of a great hire
No one is perfect, but we're always searching endlessly to find the 100% perfect person to hire. Ditch the mile-long requirement list! As long as your candidate has these three soft skills you can be pretty positive they'll be a great contributor on your team.
They care about their work
This is often referred to as having "passion". However I'd argue that being passionate and caring about the work you do are two different things. Are restaurant dishwashers passionate about washing dishes? Probably not many of them, but good ones still care about doing the job correctly and in a way that represents them well.
Especially in previous jobs that may not have aligned with their intended career path, did your applicant demonstrate care and pride in their work? Ask for examples.
Setting and achieving goals is a common quality of those with a strong work ethic. Did your candidate set goals for themselves in their previous work or personal life? Did they follow through on goals set for them at their workplace? Have them elaborate.
We also recommend asking about your candidate's hobbies. These are their passions, and seeing how someone speaks about a topic they're passionate about can give you even more insight.
They're focused on growth and learning
Business and customer needs change constantly. Someone stuck in their ways who doesn't see the value in staying on the cutting edge can drag your company down. Seek someone who is curious and enthusiastic about new opportunities and challenges to solve.
To find someone with this mentality, ask candidates about the last time they learned something new. What was it? Why did they search for information about this? Where did they find more about it? How deep into learning about it did they go? Have they been able to apply the new knowledge to their lives or work?
Taking classes or courses can be an easy giveaway that your candidate values ongoing learning. But some people prefer to teach themselves - ask questions to uncover this information and don't rule anyone out just based on a resume.
They have a positive attitude
Note this does not mean being happy and upbeat all the time! Hiding emotions behind a facade can prevent problems from getting solved. Things happen, people get frustrated. But how someone responds to challenges is what's important.
You want to find the person who does what they need to do to blow off any steam, then picks themselves up and finds a way to move forward productively. The person who takes their frustrations and turns them into positive results. They can acknowledge their mistakes and figure out how to fix them.
Ask your candidates about the most frustrating or difficult situation they were a part of in their career or life thus far. How did they handle it? What was the challenge and how did they contribute to solving it? What did they learn from it?
Competing on pay and benefits
Money is a wonderful tool, and most of us wouldn't do our jobs without monetary compensation. But there's more to a great job than pay.
Did you ever leave a high-paid job because you couldn't stand your manager? Or take a lower-paying role because it would allow you to spend more time with your family?
What an individual values most will vary. We recommend asking candidates to tell you what's currently most important to them in their career path and seeing what you can offer.
Glassdoor's 2015 Employment Confidence Survey found about 60% of people stated that benefits and perks are major factors in considering whether to accept a job offer. Additionally, 80% would choose additional benefits over a pay raise. Even if you can't pay employees as much as your competition, benefits can make up the difference and allow you to hire great talent.
To give you some ideas on what to look into offering at your company, here is a ranking of how popular common types of benefits are. This survey is courtesy of Harvard Business Review and conducted by Fractl in 2017, when they polled 2000 US workers ranging from ages 18 to 81.
HOW TO HIRE FOR AN IT ROLE
Hiring tactics here will depend on whether the hiring manager is technical themselves or not. It can be very tough to hire for responsibilities you're not familiar with. If this is the case, consider bringing in someone with experience or an outside expert to help with interviews.
Either way, there are some common things to ask and look out for within these interviews. The University of Texas's Center for Identity has some telling red flags that will alert you a candidate is probably not who you're looking for:
- Only using buzz words, talking over the knowledge of the audience, or not being able to communicate technical ideas in a simple manner. There's no point in hiring an expert no one else at the company can understand.
- Strong opinions about particular technologies. Whether they're good or bad, opinions that are centered around a specific technology usually miss the mark on the core knowledge a candidate needs to have.
- A poor attitude about users who don't understand security [or other technology]. It's important to remember that some [technology] ends up being rather esoteric, and it's easy for specialists to forget that other staff may have different primary concerns.
Don't just rely on certifications
Certifications and classes are a good starting point in gauging someone's knowledge and commitment to improvement. However you should try to avoid hiring someone just because they are skilled or certified in a particular technology.
It's more important to grasp the why than the what. If they understand the best practices and processes behind different technology, they'll be able to design comprehensive solutions for your business needs. You don't want someone who refuses to think outside their preferred box.
Don't look at IT as a cost center
IT's function isn't to drain your budget! In the past, its role may have been viewed as simply to set up new computers and solve user issues as they popped up.
Nowadays, with technology making or breaking businesses every day, IT should be viewed as a catalyst for growth and improvement. Your candidates should be able to take a business need and tell you how technology can help solve it. Being able to set up your server is helpful and needed, but modern IT has moved into guiding overall business strategy and your team should embrace this.
Don't try to check every box
Many companies make hiring nearly impossible by rejecting anyone who doesn't fit exactly into the mold they've visualized. Skills can be trained! There's no lack of accessible training on anything you can imagine.
If you find someone who has a great attitude, a willingness to learn, and drive to excel but who may not have all the skills you're looking for yet, give them strong consideration. While soft skills can be trained as well, it's much easier for someone to acquire needed technical expertise.
Customize the right set of questions, and feel free to change on the fly
We think this advice from Workable is perfect for coming up with the right questions for your needs:
"Have a plan, don't just ask the same interview questions every time. Always prep. Go beyond the candidate’s name and the job they’re interviewing for. Get to know them a little, check their resume, look at your team’s comments and note some questions in advance.
While there are some standard questions, such as whether someone is eligible to work in your territory, these are just hygiene questions. Ask open questions that encourage discussion. Engage with their responses and follow up. If it’s boring it’s not working. No one gets much out of the going-through-the-motions interview.
...there are a number of effective interview techniques but none of them should be used exclusively:
Technical To evaluate a candidate’s ability to do the job. To fill a software engineering position it might mean a whiteboard coding test.
Behavioral This type assumes past behavior will be a predictor of future performance: 'What were the steps you took to accomplish such and such task?'
Situational The hypothetical (the ones politicians refuse to answer) throws it forward: 'What would you do if the work of a teammate was not up to expectations?'
Case questions (brainteasers) Used to be popular with Google, this type includes problem-solving questions that tease out how someone would work and think through a particular case: 'how many traffic lights are there in LA?'
Dumb questions Meant to test someone’s ability to think on their feet. They often just test people’s patience and good humor: 'What kind of animal would you like to be?'"
It would be great if we could give you a list of questions to ask that would spit out the perfect hire on the other end. But we can't! Think about your current needs (both technical and overall business), where you see the position headed, the type of person you want on your team, and which questions will give you the answers you need to feel confident in your hiring decision.
Consider future needs
Especially on smaller teams, someone hired for one need may quickly find themselves tasked with new responsibilities. Define standards for the current role and potential growth opportunities so you can keep an eye out for candidates who could fill future plans. You should consider what it will take for your IT people to successfully grow with your company and not get left behind. As technical divisions find themselves more involved in overall business operations, it's important that your candidates have the motivation and skill to move forward with you, and that you can help them get there as well.
Sell the job
While we could have included this under general hiring best practices, we want to emphasize how important it is for IT positions in particular. It's an extremely hot market and candidates will likely receive multiple offers. If you really want someone, you need to make your company stand out.
"So how do you sell a job? A salesman will tell you it starts with knowing three things really well: the product, the competition, and the customer. The product is your company: benefits, compensation, culture, type of work, amount of work, and even location. The competition is any local business that hires similar types of people, and you’ll need to know the same things about them that you do about your own company. The customer is the job applicant. Knowing each of these things well and being able to compare them is key to winning the best candidates" (A List Apart).
SHOULD YOU HIRE SOMEONE IN-HOUSE, OUTSOURCE YOUR IT, OR BOTH?It's difficult to give a 100% certain answer to this question. It will depend a lot on your current business operations, your needs, your preferences, and your future plans. We've worked with many companies trying to make this decision, so hopefully our experience can help make it a little easier.
When to hire in-house
Generally, hiring someone internally will cost more than outsourcing/hiring a managed IT service company. You're looking at easily a $50k+ salary, benefits, vacation and paid time off, onboarding time and costs, and then costs to off-board and rehire should that person leave your company.
The pros of shouldering the extra cost include being able to manage and direct their work and having someone who is extremely familiar with your business, its team, and your goals.
If you're a big proponent of control, team cohesiveness, and keeping as much as possible in-house, then you'll likely want to look at hiring into your team. If your business doesn't require much in the way of technology and hiring an entire outside company to take care of it doesn't make sense, hiring someone in-house could be suitable. If you picture this role handling more than technology or cross-training, you'll probably want to hire in-house.
When to outsource
Outsourcing can range from the typical "IT guy" persona who comes by to fix things when they break, to a managed IT service company that is responsible for your entire infrastructure 24/7.
While the break-fix method works for some companies, we don't recommend it. We've been there and we moved into managed services for a reason. Most companies are dependent on their technology working, otherwise business comes to a halt, and few can afford that risk.
Managed IT service ensures that potential issues are spotted and mitigated before they affect business, and puts your IT provider on the same page as your company. It moves things from a vendor relationship to a business partnership. Obviously, we're big fans, but we'll refrain from going on forever! You can read more about managed service here if it sounds like a good option for your business.
As far as when IT outsourcing makes more sense, there are a lot of factors to consider. If your technology fails, can you continue to operate? Do you need or want access to support 24/7? How long can you afford to be down if something happens? Do you need expertise in a wide array of IT specializations? Do you not have the time or resources to train and manage someone in-house?
Managed IT service gives you access to a team of IT people with expertise in varied areas; a consulting relationship that will help you match business goals with technology solutions; 24/7/365 proactive support and management; visibility and analytics about your infrastructure; and full coverage over business-critical areas like security, backup, disaster recovery, continuity, compliance, data management, and IT projects. And often this comes for less than hiring someone in-house.
While it's still not a fit for every business, managed IT is becoming more and more popular and accessible to all kinds of organizations.
When to do both
If you can't decide, or if you want the best of both worlds, combining in-house and outsourced talent is a solid choice. You have the benefit of an internal team that is deeply integrated in your company and culture, and an outside team that can easily fill in any gaps.
Often, in-house teams' daily work consists of menial tasks like changing passwords and troubleshooting computer issues. Not many techs love doing this! They would much rather focus on helping you work towards business goals like improving operations, facilitating growth, increasing profits, and boosting customer and employee satisfaction. This can all be done with technology, but only if your IT team has the time to design and implement solutions.
This is the perfect scenario for a third party IT company to come in and assist. They can unload the burden of repetitive maintenance tasks from your team and allow them to work on high-level projects that are more interesting. And when needed, the outside IT company can offer their advice and expertise to your team.
This can end up being the most expensive option, but if it makes sense for your company, it's a great investment.
FIND YOUR PERFECT FIT WITH THESE TIPS, WHETHER IT'S INTERNAL OR EXTERNAL
Whether you hire in-house, outsource, or both - interview your candidates! Third-party IT companies should be comfortable and prepared in answering any questions you have. Making a years-long commitment to a provider is a big decision that you should give the same importance as hiring a new team member.
Use the tips and guidelines above to craft a profile of the ideal person or company that will help you reach your goals. Work backwards from what you want to accomplish to figure out the qualities you believe will get you there. But keep an open mind - sometimes the best outcome ends up being a happy surprise!