Hiring for open IT jobs can be difficult. It can be difficult to write job descriptions which accurately ask for the candidate you need– especially when most tech projects are a moving target. Add to that the fact that there’s already a lack of qualified IT professionals in the US. This creates a strong job seeker’s market, where the candidate can set the terms and be picky about the jobs they take. Add to that the usual stresses of hiring: how do you find somebody who can do everything they say they can do and mesh well with your team? But while hiring for open tech positions can be difficult, figuring out what questions to ask shouldn’t. Here are 4 questions IT recruiters suggest using that will help you find the best candidate for your team.
1. What was the environment like in the last job you held? The one before that? IT staffing firms suggest this question, especially first, because it gives you strong sense of a candidates’ technical experience. The candidate should respond to this question by giving you an idea of what technologies they used in their past jobs, what development method was used, and the size and scope of responsibilities. With this info, you’ll quickly hear if the candidate is prepared to handle your company environment. If, for example, your candidate is a Sys Admin coming from a small company, you’ll know they may not be ready to take on a huge company with numerous servers instead of one or two.
2. What do you like to do? What don’t you like to do? IT recruiting firms find this question helps create an open, honest dialogue about the job description. Since, as discussed earlier, IT professionals are in demand, most feel comfortable being blunt about what they want in their next position. Listen carefully to see if the candidate quickly lists off work that will be a big part of the job description. You’ll also be likely to hear how happy (or unhappy) a candidate is to interact with a team, end users, etc. If you don’t hear any of this, then you can certainly go back and ask it explicitly.
3. Describe the biggest accomplishment you’ve had at a previous job. This won’t necessarily get you a technical answer, but it probably will, especially for more advanced technical jobs. Technical recruiters find this question will reveal more than technical skills and strengths, though. The way a candidate answers this question will also tell you about how teamwork-oriented they are. Listen for the pronouns. Does the candidate use a lot of ‘we’ or ‘I’? How does this mesh with your company culture?
4. What is one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced at work? This question reveals a few things, both technical and not technical. You should get a more technical answer from candidates who are applying to higher level roles, like an ERP Systems Analyst, Solutions Architect, Lead Developer, etc. This will illuminate some of their strengths for you. Beyond technical skills and experience, the answer to this question will also tell you a lot about the candidate’s attitude as an employee. Listen for the tone of the answer and the solution. Does the candidate focus on the challenge and how much it hindered them, or do they focus on what they did to overcome it? IT staffing agencies find that great candidates will use this question to show off their technical acumen. They should use the opportunity to tell a story of how their skills helped them fix a major issue, not badmouth former employers, bosses, coworkers, etc.
When you’re hiring for tech positions, it can be tempting to toss out any resumes with a gap of 6 months or more. IT recruiters see this all the time, especially because the tech job market is so hot these days. (To put that in perspective, the unemployment rate for IT professionals in the first quarter of 2017 was 2.5% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The overall unemployment rate in the first quarter of 2017 was almost double that! It was 4.5%.) IT staffing companies find that employers often think if somebody is unemployed for long, there’s something wrong with them. The truth is, there are some legitimate reasons candidates might have big gaps on their resumes. Here’s why you may want to consider a candidate, even if they have a long gap on their resume.
1. Their reasons for a gap are solid. It’s becoming more and more common for people to leave the workforce temporarily to care for a relative. This will only continue as the Baby Boomer generation continues to age. Taking time off to care for a new baby or sick relative doesn’t tell a hiring manager anything about a candidate’s skills, performance, or dedication to work. The truth is, many people may face caregiving dilemmas over their lifetimes. Sharp, efficient, talented IT professionals and unskilled ones alike take time off for caregiving. So the next time you see a resume with a large gap taken for caregiving, remember that you could just as easily be in the same boat one day! It’s also important to remember that there’s a very real dearth of IT professionals in the US right now. You don’t want to limit your talent pool any further than it’s already been limited.
2. Their technical skills may not be impacted by a gap. With all the options for independent study, online classes, certifications, and more, it’s possible that a candidate has taken time off from a formal job but they haven’t taken time off from keeping up their technical expertise. If you see a resume with a sizable gap and it concerns you, check out their technical proficiencies section. Some people might even have a better arsenal of technical skills after taking time off from the workforce. They may have used the time off to learn more than they would if they were working.
3. Their base of technical skills might be enough, even if they don’t have the hottest new technologies under their belts. Especially recently, IT staffing firms notice that companies will hire candidates with strong, basic foundations of technical skills. Then they’ll just teach them the technologies they lack. This works because there are many languages a candidate can learn that will prep them to quickly and easily acquire more languages. Even if a candidate was out of work for a period of time and isn’t up to date with Python, for example, they might still have Ruby on Rails. Knowing Ruby on Rails will make it easy for the candidate to pick up Python and perform a role that requires it.
4. Their technical skills might not be up to date due to time taken off work, but they could have more vital skills. As mentioned before, candidates can be (and are!) often caught up with technical knowledge on the job. IT recruiting companies find that for some roles that require soft skills, companies will hire people with those skills. They’ll then catch them up on the technical skills they need. For some roles, like Helpdesk or Sales Engineer, having soft skills is imperative. It’s arguably more important that having the right technical skills or experience. For instance, a Sales Engineer who is charming and engaging with clients but needs to learn SAP on the job is a better hire than a candidate who knows SAP but is rude and off-putting to clients.
So you polished up your resume, you built a stellar list of references, and you got yourself submitted to some IT jobs that look perfect for you. But lo and behold, your IT staffing firms called you to let you know you didn’t land the job (or maybe even the interview). What happened? What should you do? Here’s a little insider info from IT recruiting firms.
Why didn’t you get the job? There are a lot of factors why people are rejected from the hiring process. You may never know which reasons apply to you, but it can be a comfort to know them, because many of them are completely out of your control and have nothing to do with your marketability as an IT professional. Here are the main reasons IT recruiters see people rejected from a job.
- The project or the role changed. This happens all the time, especially with more technical roles. The kinds of projects that IT professionals work on are subject to change for all the usual reasons a company’s project changes, but also because technologies themselves change so quickly. Perhaps a company plans to use Angular for a project, but decides they’d like to move on to a hotter new technology and use Angular 2. That means the roles they’re hiring for drastically change, just like that! Roles will also change if they’ve been open for a long time. If a company is having a hard time finding the perfect software developer, the life cycle development of a project still won’t stop. A team could need a software developer with different skills as the project progresses.
- You weren’t a culture fit. This may seem like a small thing compared to technical acumen, but IT staffing agencies find that it’s not. In fact, one of our own technical recruiters estimates that culture fit issues account for 50-60% of the candidate rejections he sees! The days of heads-down coders are over and Scrum and Agile are all the rage. Companies usually want a team that gels well, because they’ll be working together closely. For roles that are client-facing or customer service oriented, this becomes all the more imperative. If, for instance, you’re applying for a Helpdesk role or Sales Engineer role, having a warm, engaging personality is one of the explicitly stated job requirements.
- Maybe other candidates really were just better. It’s natural to feel like you’re the best candidate for the job. The truth is, though, you’ll almost always be competing against other candidates. You never know if your completion has more experience, a better arsenal of technologies at their disposal, or is just more pleasant to work with. You may always feel like you’re the best fit for the job, but statistically speaking, you can’t always be the best fit for the job. Sometimes another candidate is a better match.
What can you do if you don’t get the role?
- You can start by politely asking your IT recruiters for feedback. If they have it, they’ll often be happy to share. It could be that you can get actionable feedback, like a suggestion to get more experience with a particular technology, or that you came across as rude in your interview. On the other hand, sometimes there is no feedback.
- It’s important not to try to argue your candidacy with the recruiter, and especially not the hiring manager. This strategy never lands somebody the job. In fact, often it burns a bridge and blacklists you at that company in the future. Hiring managers don’t appreciate being told that they don’t know how to make good decisions for their teams. They also don’t want to hire people who look arrogant. You will likely accomplish one or both of those if you push back when a hiring manager rejects you.
- Try to remember that if you don’t land a job, it’s like dodging a bullet. Whether you’re rejected by IT staffing companies at the application stage or later after an interview, what you’re essentially hearing is that the employer doesn’t have confidence you’d be successful in the role. Even if you could do the role just fine, who wants to work in a job where their boss isn’t sure they can hack it? A rejection is just saving your from pain down the road and opening you up for a job that you can succeed and be happy in.
While the tech job market always seems to be hot, January is an especially good time to be searching. Many companies begin their fiscal year in January and have the budget to hire new IT professionals. IT recruiters also find that companies often start development life cycles in January. With new applications to develop, companies will have their technical recruiters looking for new software programmers, web developers, UX/UI developers, etc to hire. It’s also worth noting that it’s very advantageous to get hired at the beginning of a development life cycle. Having experience with a project from beginning to end (or beginning to maintenance) looks excellent on a resume. IT staffing firms love to see that kind of experience on your resume. So if you’re ready to look for new IT jobs, January is the time to do it! Here’s a checklist to prep yourself.
- Your Resume: Get it updated and clean out old/irrelevant experience (probably anything older than the last 10 years or anything that’s in a totally different, irrelevant field). Remember to use your bullets to show off your contributions and achievements at the companies you’ve worked with. Help hiring managers and IT recruiting agencies see the value you bring as an employee. Post your updated resume on the job boards, especially if it’s been a while since you last searched.
- Your LinkedIn Profile: This is almost as important as your resume. Since the vast majority of people in tech use LinkedIn, it can sometimes be considered a red flag if you don’t have a profile there. Make sure you update your LinkedIn profile more concisely than your resume. You can use your resume to elaborate on your technical skills and experience.
- Your References: Check in with them and let them know you’re job searching. Give them an idea of the kinds of roles you’re looking for. Thank them for their help with your job search. (And don’t forget to thank them again when you land your new job!)
- Your Portfolio: If you’re a Graphic Designer, Web Developer, UX/UI Developer, or have a skill-set in a similar vein, you may want to get your portfolio ready. Make sure you have your latest and best samples of your work added in. Be aware of copyright issues and don’t openly break them if your company won’t allow you to share examples of your work for them. No employer wants to hire somebody who seems untrustworthy.
- Call IT Recruiters: If you’ve already developed a relationship with recruiters, give them a call and send along your latest resume. If you haven’t worked with IT staffing companies before, now’s a great time to do it! Find an IT recruiting firm that has a great reputation and reach out with your job search materials. A good technical recruiter will help you find a job that you love and can succeed in.