How Do You Evaluate IT Skills for Hiring


  • Service Provider

    This question was asked today and as something I've thought a lot about I have some ideas.

    • You can't evaluate IT skills. Not well. Really evaluating someone's skill level is essentially impossible to do really well and you will always be guessing to quite some degree. Even after someone has been employed for a year, it's still hard to really tell. It gets better over time, but it is always very hard.
    • Never through traditional questions, tests or what have you. Normal interviewing is useless for this and produces completely unpredictable results. You will often filter out great people and get people who studied useless stuff likely to be asked as a question.
    • Social media. People who are active on social media for IT will produce giant bodies of work that are pretty impossible to bluff. Look at sites like SW, ML, SF and so forth and see how helpful, logical, up to date and well rounded people are. You can't hide what you do online and someone who has years of good technical interactions will shine easily.
    • Have conversations. Good IT people can carry on good IT conversations about what they have done, what they haven't done, what you are doing and just in general. Don't ask specific questions, just talk shop. Nothing tells you more about their skills than this. And it helps put them at ease so more talking IT and less seeing if they are under pressure in an interview situation.
    • You must have someone doing the hiring that is dramatically more skills and experienced than the person you are hiring. This is the case for all jobs, not just IT. If the person interviewing is confused because the interviewee knows way more than them, they will just as likely think that the person is an idiot as a genius because they don't know enough to know if the person is right or wrong (seen this a lot.)
    • Look for general skills and knowledge, not specifics. Anyone can pick up the specifics if they are generally skilled, but not vice versa. Hiring for very specific skills or experience is nonsensical in a field like IT.

  • Service Provider

    Two people I picked for Dara IT were on Spiceworks and I looked at their post history both recent and past. That tells me far more than any certification, CV or reference ever has.



  • @scottalanmiller said in How Do You Evaluate IT Skills for Hiring:

    • You must have someone doing the hiring that is dramatically more skills and experienced than the person you are hiring. This is the case for all jobs, not just IT. If the person interviewing is confused because the interviewee knows way more than them, they will just as likely think that the person is an idiot as a genius because they don't know enough to know if the person is right or wrong (seen this a lot.)

    How? Are you suggesting firms should employ you to do the hiring or something? That's not normally practical.


  • Service Provider

    @Carnival-Boy said in How Do You Evaluate IT Skills for Hiring:

    @scottalanmiller said in How Do You Evaluate IT Skills for Hiring:

    • You must have someone doing the hiring that is dramatically more skills and experienced than the person you are hiring. This is the case for all jobs, not just IT. If the person interviewing is confused because the interviewee knows way more than them, they will just as likely think that the person is an idiot as a genius because they don't know enough to know if the person is right or wrong (seen this a lot.)

    How? Are you suggesting firms should employ you to do the hiring or something? That's not normally practical.

    How can that not be practical? You feel that hiring someone at random rather than someone that you have evaluated makes more sense? Every good company I know does this for every position that they hire if they are trying to hire the top of that role in the company. It's very standard practice in any competent company. And this is why headhunting firms exist and placement firms. They do a lot of the vetting.

    If you don't do this, what hope do you have of hiring someone good? You can see all over the place shops that don't do this and their head of IT is completely incompetent and everyone knows it except the CEO. We see this constantly. People costing the company tens or hundreds of thousands a year in small companies that just bringing someone in to do good hiring would have fixed.


  • Service Provider

    If you lack the ability to evaluate candidates for anything other than a throwaway job (one that is cheaper to just hire the first person that walks in the door, fire and rehire if they don't turn out well) then nothing is more practical (or important) than bringing someone in to get you that person. Your staff is your most important asset. Getting the wrong people, especially in key roles, is insanely costly. Not just because they don't work out and replacing them isn't cheap, but because they can do tremendous damage to the company as well. The losses can be far more than the cost of their salary.



  • Let's take an example. I'm recruiting for an IT role and @JaredBusch applies (he fancies a change of scenery).

    Two points on this:

    1. Although I'm not an IT pro, I know enough about IT to know that Jared knows his shit.
    2. I don't know of any headhunter that is likely to know more about IT than Jared. That's not really a headhunters role.

    Even though I'm crap at the guitar, I don't need to employ Eric Clapton to tell me that Jimi Hendrix is a better guitarist than Bon Jovi.


  • Service Provider

    @Carnival-Boy said in How Do You Evaluate IT Skills for Hiring:

    Even though I'm crap at the guitar, I don't need to employ Eric Clapton to tell me that Jimi Hendrix is a better guitarist than Bon Jovi.

    This doesn't apply to IT. And highlights the dangers of thinking you can evaluate people based on similar circumstances. What is different is that you are using the equivalent of having hired Eric and Jimi and getting their resultant work and determining after the fact which is better at playing guitar. Also, it will be very subjective. Most people consider Clapton the best, but Clapton has said that Prince was far better than him. Most people wouldn't have even realized that Prince was in competition. Maybe Prince isn't actually better, but that he's even in the running, would surprise most people.

    So if you have two candidates, hire both, have them both do the same job and at the end of their careers judge they output - yes, even someone not very versed at IT would have some ability to determine quality of work. However, only a little. Because looking at output doesn't tell you enough because within a single career span in IT, risk is too large of a factor so only an IT expert could interpret relatively close outcomes even over a career span.

    Also, you are not trying to evaluate who is the absolute top in a field, but who is a good candidate for you in your situation. This is very different. And you won't have their career to look at to determine this.

    So I'd say this example highlights how much you need an expert, rather than showing an example of how you might get around it in a close situation.


  • Service Provider

    @Carnival-Boy said in How Do You Evaluate IT Skills for Hiring:

    Let's take an example. I'm recruiting for an IT role and @JaredBusch applies (he fancies a change of scenery).

    Two points on this:

    1. Although I'm not an IT pro, I know enough about IT to know that Jared knows his shit.
    2. I don't know of any headhunter that is likely to know more about IT than Jared. That's not really a headhunters role.

    Yes but a good head hunter does not just look at that, that is trivial and easy to discover.

    What type of person do you want? What is your culture? Do you need a rapid fire-fighter or do you need a longer term project bod? Two completely different skill sets in IT and although you could get someone who can do both, for your team you really want someone who is one way or the other.

    AV technicians in London get placed at 5* hotels by head hunters, because you absolutely have to have the right skills, experience, personality and match what the clients (often CEOs) are wanting. And some of those roles are £22-26k per year, yet the AV firm still does out 10-15% of the salary to an agency to get it right first time because the cost of failure is too high.

    I would not use recruiters, many of them are generically average at best, incompetent at worse. I would seriously think about head hunters though.


  • Service Provider

    @Carnival-Boy said in How Do You Evaluate IT Skills for Hiring:

    Let's take an example. I'm recruiting for an IT role and @JaredBusch applies (he fancies a change of scenery).

    This is an example of finding someone that shines far above the hiring point. That's not so hard for people to do. I can point out someone, like the CIO of Barclays, that is safely at an incredible level without me needing to interview him. But, can you afford him and/or entice him to come work for you? If you don't offer a really special opportunity, the kinds of people like this, including Jared, will be out of your reach. The very nature of them being a Clapton that is well known and in high demand means that shops that DO have the skills to entice him will be after him. Being one that is just picking the one visible name that you know will find him to be non-local, not cost effective and not likely looking for that kind of environment. It sounds good, but in a real world scenario, Clapton and Hendrix aren't the two guys applying for the job. It's two guys you've never heard of, and you have to ask them about playing guitar, they don't get to play guitar in the interview. So you'll never get to hear them play.


  • Service Provider

    Jared is a great example, though, of why my process works. Convincing Jared to move to London and be a non-head of IT will be hard. If you were doing this in Tokyo you might get lucky that he was looking for that exact situation, so there are edge cases. But in general hiring someone you know to do anything but be the top brass isn't possible in IT. If he's more famous than you, chances are he'd be in the position to be the boss. Jared earns CEO level money (in the US at least) so hiring him for a normal role doesn't make sense. But it shows how easily you can find the people that you need to find you the people that you need ;) Jared would be a good candidate for running your interviews. That's a service I would expect that he offers or would be willing to do. You need your high end, Clapton people getting you the people that you want to hire.


  • Service Provider

    @Breffni-Potter said in How Do You Evaluate IT Skills for Hiring:

    I would not use recruiters, many of them are generically average at best, incompetent at worse. I would seriously think about head hunters though.

    That's the only way to hire me. TechExecs in NYC are my reps. They only place six and seven figure people. They spend years with a candidate. They know the hiring managers personally. They KNOW what I've done, they KNOW where I am, they KNOW my skills, they all have IT technical backgrounds, they all make big money and they know when to make deals like when someone says they need X skill set, they are ready with who is available to fill that. Nothing like recruiters.



  • @Breffni-Potter said in How Do You Evaluate IT Skills for Hiring:

    I would not use recruiters, many of them are generically average at best, incompetent at worse. I would seriously think about head hunters though.

    What's the difference?


  • Service Provider

    @Carnival-Boy said in How Do You Evaluate IT Skills for Hiring:

    1. I don't know of any headhunter that is likely to know more about IT than Jared. That's not really a headhunters role.

    You might be surprised. They have to know a lot to do their jobs.


  • Service Provider

    @Carnival-Boy said in How Do You Evaluate IT Skills for Hiring:

    1. Although I'm not an IT pro, I know enough about IT to know that Jared knows his shit.

    How do you apply this to a hiring situation, though? You have ten candidates you've never heard of apply. Now, knowing that Jared knows his shit doesn't help much. How does that help you to evaluate the candidates at hand?



  • @scottalanmiller said in How Do You Evaluate IT Skills for Hiring:

    Never through traditional questions, tests or what have you. Normal interviewing is useless for this and produces completely unpredictable results. You will often filter out great people and get people who studied useless stuff likely to be asked as a question.

    If @JaredBusch would be a good candidate to run your interviews, would he not also be a good candidate to write a good test as well? Now, knowing him a little bit I think he would absolutely find the right person but living up to his standards would be very difficult. That's the kind of person you want doing this though.


  • Service Provider

    @Carnival-Boy said in How Do You Evaluate IT Skills for Hiring:

    @Breffni-Potter said in How Do You Evaluate IT Skills for Hiring:

    I would not use recruiters, many of them are generically average at best, incompetent at worse. I would seriously think about head hunters though.

    What's the difference?

    This is a bit of a hard one to define and I've struggled with this for a while. But a recruiter is really just someone that holds loads of job listings and loads of resumes and blasts trying to get matches. Recruiters work with the lower side of the field, under six figures in the US. It's the people you know by name here, the big firms that SPAM you all of the time.

    Headhunters know you personally. They run interviews. They know the hiring managers. It's all about relationships and connections. They are part of your team. They take you to lunch. The companies hiring spend loads of time with them figuring out what they need to hire, then they go out and find that. It's a totally different process and totally obvious when you switch from recruiting to head hunting. And only head hunting places senior level people. I've never seen recruiters do this. They call things senior, but it's not at all the same.


  • Service Provider

    Some places do cross over this line a little, like CTG in Buffalo. They are a recruiting and staffing firm, but start to get into the headhunting range just a little for their top people.



  • So do the headhunters that you've dealt with know more about IT than you?


  • Service Provider

    @Carnival-Boy said in How Do You Evaluate IT Skills for Hiring:

    So do the headhunters that you've dealt with know more about IT than you?

    No, but I'm also their top person to place and the people that they sell me to already know who I am. I'm a bit of an anomaly. But they have a lot of experience that I do not have, for sure. These are all people who were seniors on Wall St. before switching to head hunting.


  • Service Provider

    @wirestyle22 said in How Do You Evaluate IT Skills for Hiring:

    If @JaredBusch would be a good candidate to run your interviews, would he not also be a good candidate to write a good test as well?

    That would only be a good theory if you could test candidates with a test. But as we established that you cannot, then no one is a good test writer. Right?



  • @scottalanmiller said in How Do You Evaluate IT Skills for Hiring:

    @wirestyle22 said in How Do You Evaluate IT Skills for Hiring:

    If @JaredBusch would be a good candidate to run your interviews, would he not also be a good candidate to write a good test as well?

    That would only be a good theory if you could test candidates with a test. But as we established that you cannot, then no one is a good test writer. Right?

    I guess it depends on what level you are at. At my level you absolutely can test and see what a person knows or doesnt know just by asking basic questions



  • @scottalanmiller said in How Do You Evaluate IT Skills for Hiring:

    I'm a bit of an anomaly.

    OK, fine. I'll rest my case. But please change your OP to "You must have someone doing the hiring that is dramatically more skills and experienced than the person you are hiring. Unless you're hiring Scott Alan Miller"



  • @scottalanmiller said in How Do You Evaluate IT Skills for Hiring:

    Social media. People who are active on social media for IT will produce giant bodies of work that are pretty impossible to bluff. Look at sites like SW, ML, SF and so forth and see how helpful, logical, up to date and well rounded people are. You can't hide what you do online and someone who has years of good technical interactions will shine easily.

    Uh-oh... runs and hides



  • @Breffni-Potter said in How Do You Evaluate IT Skills for Hiring:

    Yes but a good head hunter does not just look at that, that is trivial and easy to discover.

    I think we're in agreement here. What I'm objecting to is the assertion that a headhunter should be more skilled in the role than the person he's trying to recruit. So, for example, a headhunter trying to place a C# programmer doesn't have to be a better coder than his candidates. That's not a headhunters role. He has to know something - he just doesn't have to be better. I couldn't recruit a C# programmer because I know too little about it. But I could recruit an IT support technician, even though I'd hopefully know less about IT than the candidate - because I know something about IT.


  • Service Provider

    @wirestyle22 said in How Do You Evaluate IT Skills for Hiring:

    @scottalanmiller said in How Do You Evaluate IT Skills for Hiring:

    @wirestyle22 said in How Do You Evaluate IT Skills for Hiring:

    If @JaredBusch would be a good candidate to run your interviews, would he not also be a good candidate to write a good test as well?

    That would only be a good theory if you could test candidates with a test. But as we established that you cannot, then no one is a good test writer. Right?

    I guess it depends on what level you are at. At my level you absolutely can test and see what a person knows or doesnt know just by asking basic questions

    I don't believe that that is true. Can you give me an example of a universal question that by knowing the answer you'd show competence, by not knowing it you would show a lack of competence?



  • The problem, is that if you are not skilled enough yourself, you won't know what to ask and look for. If you don't know about something, then how will you think to ask about it and properly evaluate someone's skill regarding it?

    If you are completely unaware of a technology or method of doing something in IT, then that is one thing you will never be able to recommend to a company in order to improve business flow from better IT.


  • Service Provider

    @Carnival-Boy said in How Do You Evaluate IT Skills for Hiring:

    @scottalanmiller said in How Do You Evaluate IT Skills for Hiring:

    I'm a bit of an anomaly.

    OK, fine. I'll rest my case. But please change your OP to "You must have someone doing the hiring that is dramatically more skills and experienced than the person you are hiring. Unless you're hiring Scott Alan Miller"

    Now you are just being silly. And I never suggested that the headhunters were a replacement for having a hiring person that is paid to represent you rather than paid to make the connection. I can't have made that clearer with my continuous talks on buyer's and seller's agents and aligned contracts. Headhunters make their money getting you a candidate that you will hire, you don't use them to replace the hiring process unless you are stuck getting a CIO and the CEO can't do it (they often can't.)



  • @Tim_G said in How Do You Evaluate IT Skills for Hiring:

    The problem, is that if you are not skilled enough yourself, you won't know what to ask and look for. If you don't know about something, then how will you think to ask about it and properly evaluate someone's skill regarding it?

    If you are completely unaware of a technology or method of doing something in IT, then that is one thing you will never be able to recommend to a company in order to improve business flow from better IT.

    Then it becomes how do you know you are hiring the right person to ask the right questions. At some point you're taking a leap of faith when hiring.


  • Service Provider

    @Carnival-Boy said in How Do You Evaluate IT Skills for Hiring:

    But I could recruit an IT support technician, even though I'd hopefully know less about IT than the candidate - because I know something about IT.

    how would you do that? If the candidate knows more than you, how would you know if he was bluffing or if he was amazing? Wouldn't they seem the same?


  • Service Provider

    @Tim_G said in How Do You Evaluate IT Skills for Hiring:

    The problem, is that if you are not skilled enough yourself, you won't know what to ask and look for. If you don't know about something, then how will you think to ask about it and properly evaluate someone's skill regarding it?

    Example of this... I knew the most standard Solaris question in interviews at a place where I worked was "What are the four running processes of NFS?" They asked this in every single interview that I didn't run.

    Problem was.. candidates often knew more than the interviewers so this question would confuse them because they had to assume that the interviewer knew the answer. But in reality, the interviewers had all memorized this and didn't actually know that they all had it wrong. And they had it REALLY wrong.

    • NFS is not one thing and there were several different potentially correct answers.
    • The list that they had wasn't QUITE accurate.
    • NFS only requires two, but often uses four.

    So they always evaluated people as positive when actually having gotten the answer wrong. And marking against the people who rightfully got confused. They made assumptions and thought that they were right, but actually didn't know enough about the topic to realize they were asking something that wasn't answerable without loads of false assumptions that they were not filling anyone in on.



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