How Non-Tech HR Managers Should Hire Technical Pros
One of the struggles leaders face in the IT world is spanning the bridge between supervisors who need to hire an employee and non-technical HR managers or recruiters who find and evaluate candidates. Tech skills are infinitely variable, usually self-taught to some extent, and follow diverse development paths that don't lend themselves to typical HR checkpoints such as degrees or diplomas.
The highly specialized nature of a particular position can sometimes make it seem that the supervisor is the only one qualified to find someone to fill it. However, this takes a valuable leader out of his element and eliminates the invaluable contributions human resources personnel can make. How do you leverage the strengths of both positions for the benefit of your company?
One of the foundational cornerstones of good hiring is to have a consistent process. Ad hoc hiring can not only result in inefficient and ineffective approaches to finding candidates, but it can also land you in quite a bit of legal hot water. HR managers are experts in how a business can and cannot find, attract, and hire qualified personnel. Standardized procedures also allow you to identify when something has gone awry, create a solution to address it, and then move beyond it.
To help you get started, we've put together a list of best practices that will guide your process.
It All Starts with a Good Job Description
Job descriptions are often holdovers from previous versions of the position. It's rare to find a completely static job, and as specific responsibilities evolve, the last thing that gets updated is a description for a position that's already filled. If you post an ad that doesn't accurately describe the current set of responsibilities, don't be surprised if you get poor matches in your candidate pool.
Get on the same page regarding what matters and how to measure it. Unlike many other jobs, IT positions have a significant self-education component. If you've never had a conversation with your HR department on what to look for and how to evaluate it, make that a priority. The last thing you want is to miss out on a stellar candidate because his application wasn't interpreted correctly.
If you have no-gos that are easy to evaluate, let your recruiter know what they are. For example, if an employee can't work from home, you're going to wind up with a completely different candidate pool than you would for a remote position. It doesn't take technical skills to identify this or other criteria, like salary range, so let the recruiter do the screening here and save you the trouble.
On that note, question any hard and fast criteria. Why does a position require three, five, or 10 years of experience? Why can't someone work remotely part-time? If there are good answers to these questions, they'll be easy to provide. If not, you might be able to expand the position description, making it easier to fill.
Push the ad through a sanity check. Have an uninvolved technical supervisor read through your position description once it's drafted. Like any other product, a job description can go through multiple rounds of revisions, and if you're highly involved in the editing process, it's easy to stop seeing the forest for the trees.
You may have gotten caught up in creating an "ideal candidate list" and never stopped to think that someone who checks all the boxes in your list won't be willing to do the job for $60,000 a year. Having a fellow tech supervisor scrutinize your work from the position of a potential applicant can identify blind spots that HR won't be able to catch.
Develop a Technical Hiring Process
Hiring technical professionals as someone without a technical background is exceedingly difficult. You’ll need to rely on the hiring managers for counsel and support, and also assistance to create an effective hiring pipeline.
Identify crucial roadblocks. If you're searching for someone with expertise in a highly-specific, proprietary software system, that's going to be your key hurdle. If someone must be physically located in an area with a low population, that might be an issue.
Once you've identified a particular problem area, come up with a plan of action to address it. Do you need to budget for relocation expenses? Should you factor in training time and open your pool to slightly less qualified candidates?
Talking through the process with HR is worth it to identify where you might face problems and how to address them proactively.
Outline the process and clearly delineate roles. Do you have pre-screening procedures to narrow the qualified candidate pool to the people you're going to offer an interview? Who conducts it? What are you specifically looking for, and what questions do you ask to get there?
Ideally, structure prescreening to eliminate critical roadblocks you've already identified as discriminators earlier in the process, such as salary expectations, willingness to relocate, and negotiations about working from home. Limit these criteria to criteria that someone from human resources can identify and screen, freeing your time to focus on your job. Limit any step where you're required to check tech-specific qualifications; you want to hand off as much of the hiring responsibility as possible to someone who specializes in personnel.
Be clear on how you're looking for candidates. We all operate off metrics, but sometimes those statistics can put us at odds with each other. HR managers are often evaluated based on how many candidates they can attract per job description — an easy way to increase that is to push more applicants into the funnel, but that doesn't necessarily increase your chances of finding an ideal match.
Giving a recruiter guidance on where to find candidates can substantially improve the quality you see in the filtered individuals you see later in the process.
Don't overlook Kills on resumes. Once you're far enough along that you're looking at resumes, examine them with a critical eye. Programmers and developers aren't supposed to be English majors — that's a given. At the same time, one of the most essential factors for any tech role is attention to detail.
Someone whose resume has spelling Kills, conflicting dates, and inconsistent spacing might not be the kind of candidate you're looking for.
Conduct after-action reviews. Each time you hire someone, you'll discover areas where something could have gone better. Don't let this discourage you — it means you're on the right track. You're using a measuring stick that counts, you're evaluating your performance, and you can adjust your approach as needed.
Sit down with your HR representatives and ask what they think could have done better and what you could, or should, have done differently to help them out.
Hire Internally for Technical Jobs
Through the 1970s, the vast majority of positions were filled internally. Now, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 95 percent of external hiring is done to fill existing jobs, meaning we're not recruiting heavily enough within our own ranks.
There are many reasons for this, but two of the more relevant ones are lack of a defined career path and an absence of grooming for a higher-level position (i.e., part of a solid mentoring program). If you want effectiveness, find the right people early, train them for advancement, and reward them with increased responsibility and salary.
If you want efficiency, you might be measuring the wrong things. Many employers evaluate the cost of everything that happens after the decision to post a job has been made, but never ask whether posting the job was the right decision in the first place. Hiring costs an average of more than $4,000 per employee, and picking the wrong person contributes to high turnover rates.
Every time you lose an employee, the real cost due to lost productivity, retraining, and other hiring processes can be as much as twice their annual salary. Hiring primarily entry-level positions and promoting from within can save tremendous costs in the long run as well as reinforcing the kind of culture you want to develop in your business.
The bottom line is a simple one: be intentional. Make a deliberate decision about what positions to hire for, then carefully structure every procedure to emphasize each individual's strengths. Evaluate every step of the process, build a defined routine, and hold yourself to it — when you discover Kills in the way you're hiring, fix them.
When you choose to view HR as a trusted, capable partner with a unique set of skills and training, it can revolutionize your hiring practices.