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Hiring Lessons for Technology Leaders: Requirements, Interviews, and Proactive Hiring

Hiring is a pressing concern across many industries, one that we have written about and that many CIOs and CTOs have spoken to in interviews with the National CIO Review. Hiring concerns will likely persist for specialized positions in the future, meaning that technology leaders will continually find themselves at the forefront of a nationwide struggle to find talent. Attracting the most skilled people to work in highly-demanding IT roles may be one of the most important responsibilities for CIOs and CTOs moving forward.

With the state of hiring in mind, there are several strategies that empower technology leaders to better overcome hiring challenges. One such approach is rethinking job requirements. There is increasing evidence that altering job requirements (without lowering employment standards) can lead to better hires by attracting more applicants. In addition, many staffing experts suggest that improving and supplementing the interview process allows for better applicant evaluation. Finally, proactive hiring, or filling lower-level positions with the intention of building up skills for future vacancies, yields benefits as well. There is no silver bullet or foolproof plan to prevent talent shortages, but these three strategies build a comprehensive approach for dealing with the most pressing hiring obstacles that technology leaders face.

Job Requirements

Re-evaluating job requirements is one way for technology leaders to avoid talent shortages for key positions within their teams. The logic of this strategy is simple: overly strict requirements may keep candidates from applying, so relaxing unnecessary qualifications may open the talent pool enough to make a key hire. The challenge in this approach is for technology leaders to identify which restrictions are essential to the positions they are hiring for and which they can afford to jettison. Finding this balance may vary in difficulty between organizations, but the flexibility offered by rewriting job restrictions offers hiring benefits for nearly everyone.

Many companies are already re-tooling their job requirements, both in technology and other industries. Samantha McLaren, writing for the LinkedIn Talent Blog, reflected on some of these examples. Listing companies like IBM or GitHub, she examined ways that organizations are trying to relax job requirements to find the best available people. “With fewer candidates actively looking for work, a demanding list of requirements on your job posts puts you at a serious competitive disadvantage—shutting out skilled applicants who lack formal experience or education,” she wrote. “And as more and more companies adjust their requirements, those who don’t may be missing out big time.”

Technology leaders who follow this strategy need to begin by carefully poring over job requirements to determine what to keep and what to cut. This first step alone demands thoughtful leadership and collaboration between IT leaders, hiring teams and other stakeholders. Qualifications may also vary based on team size or industry, underscoring the importance of collaboration between IT and lines of business. Making a bad hire for any job is costly in terms of both time and resources, and the pressure to fill a position should never outweigh job requirements that are truly necessary. For positions where exact education background or years of experience are negotiable though, employers in technology fields have much to gain by relaxing, or at least rethinking, strict job requirements that may keep talented job seekers from even applying.

Improving the Interview Process

In addition to loosening tight job restrictions, rethinking the process of interviewing job applicants is another way that technology leaders can cope with hiring difficulties. Employers can additionally benefit from using candidate assessments and tests, methods that give potential hires more chances to demonstrate their value. Hiring new employees is always risky, and making the interview process as precise as possible will help companies make the best evaluation of every candidate. In turn, this full evaluation of potential team members gives job applicants more opportunities to demonstrate their full value to the organization or IT team in question.

One of the most important parts of a good job interview is asking the right questions, an approach that demands careful preparation. Hiring managers often have candidates explain their resumes, but this is usually an inefficient and unprofitable approach. “If you can get away from that tactic, you will gain a great deal of credibility with the people you are speaking to,” Mike Burgett, Founder and Executive Advisor for CIO Partners, told us. “And in this job market, you need to earn that credibility.” In today’s competitive environment, every opportunity to speak to a potential hire is critically important and demands thoughtful preparation from everyone involved. Asking questions that help job seekers move beyond their employment history and education is not only important for fully evaluating candidates, but also for demonstrating to these candidates that hiring managers are taking every possible step to make the best hire.

A few other additions to the interview process, such as relying more on references or using candidate assessments, can also help uncover prospective employees’ true talent and value. Bruce Anderson wrote about some of these methods for LinkedIn’s Talent Blog in an article on interviewing. While he focused his article on general hiring strategies (instead of technology positions), there are clear benefits here for IT leaders staffing their teams. Specifically, the more chances that candidates have to prove their value, the more information leaders will have to make a final decision from. There will likely never be a good substitute for a one-on-one interview to fully evaluate a candidate, but leaders who hope to make the best choice should deploy every available tool at their disposal to evaluate candidates’ fit and talent. While leaders should seek to avoid hiring unqualified candidates, they should also try to avoid missing out on talented applicants as well.

Hire Proactively

Technology leaders who hope to avoid talent shortages often hire with long-term needs in mind in addition to filling roles for immediate vacancies. As we have noted before, many CIOs and CTOs who spoke with the National CIO Review told us that their hiring strategies hinge on developing internal talent. Once this culture of development is in place, many leaders also plan on hiring with a long-term focus, or filling positions with the intention of helping individuals develop into more advanced roles to anticipate future needs. It’s tempting to look at hiring as a process that functions purely on immediate openings, but building talent from within allows technology leaders to avoid the cost and inefficiency of long search timelines in the future.

Adopting a proactive mindset toward hiring is a unique leadership challenge because it requires both intentional mentor-ship and a long-term mindset. “Identifying talent beforehand will always position a hiring process to move more quickly,” Burgett told the National CIO Review. “Given the cost of an empty seat – we know that speed matters.” Companies understandably act quickly when an immediate hiring need arises, but this sense of urgency is usually lacking when they don’t have an open position. This mindset is tempting, but only thinking about hiring needs in the short term ensures that organizations don’t plan well for future openings. However, by constantly thinking about future hiring needs through identifying talent whenever they can find it, technology leaders prepare themselves (and their teams) for both short and long term hiring success.

A long-term hiring approach works especially well for growing companies, but it’s worth adopting for any organization. “We constantly look to evolve our employee experience and are proud of our employee proposition,” Phil Crawford, CTO for Godiva, told us, “which differentiates us from our competition.” The best leaders in any line of industry invest in their employees, and hiring for the long term serves both technology leaders and their teams. Companies will find themselves better positioned to fill future vacancies since they will do so with a skilled, motivated and prepared talent pool of their own development.

Final Thoughts

Although the current state of unemployment underscores the value of good hiring strategies, it’s important to note that finding skilled people to fill specialized positions is always challenging. Even if existing IT talent pools were much larger, the approaches here would still help both technology leaders and hiring managers find the best personnel for their teams. IT roles are always important and constantly demand careful consideration, realities that don’t shift because of job or employee availability. Companies should always actively consider and examine their hiring strategies to determine the right approach, regardless of economic conditions.

It’s important – when looking at the solutions listed here – to reiterate that these approaches are all methods to uncover or develop talented individuals, not ways to lower employment standards. In this context, changing job restrictions doesn’t mean that technology leaders should expect to hire less talented people. One might assume that relaxing job descriptions will lead to under-qualified hires, but the best CIOs and CTOs can widen their nets of applicants without hiring people who lack the necessary skills.

We’ve written before about what the future might look like for CIOs and CTOs from the context of likely challenges these individuals will face. Future predictions are always a tenuous proposition, but it’s likely that hiring difficulties will continue to be part of the job experience for technology leaders. With that in mind, it’s essential that these technology executives think every hiring strategy through carefully and prepare themselves to find, train and hire talent in every way possible. The strategies presented here will help leaders approach future hiring difficulties and ensure that companies attract the best candidates for present and future openings.

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