Recruiting technology employees (Toughest HR Question)

With a little knowledge, even a non-technical person can successfully recruit IT professionals
By Brian Kreissl
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 06/05/2012

Question: As a non-technical HR professional, how can I go about recruiting IT professionals?

Answer: With talent shortages, high compensation costs, stiff competition for talent and challenges finding candidates with the appropriate technical, communication and interpersonal skills, it can be difficult to fill technology vacancies.

Because so few HR practitioners have technical backgrounds, many struggle to recruit for IT vacancies. But HR can add value by shortlisting candidates and helping to assess fit for both the role and organization, as well as assessing communication and interpersonal skills. A good technical recruiter should also be able to do some screening based on technical skills and competencies.

With some knowledge and a little practice, even the most non-technical HR practitioner can learn to be an effective technical recruiter.

The Internet contains a wealth of information on computer hardware and software, programming languages and other tools. Hiring managers and even candidates themselves can also be valuable sources of information with respect to technical recruitment.

The following checklist provides some additional tips to help HR recruit for IT positions.

Questions to ask the hiring manager:

• What specific technical platform(s) will the successful candidate be working with?

• Is experience with any particular technologies or methodologies required?

• What is the basic goal of this particular position?

• What are the educational and certification requirements?

• Is industry experience or subject matter knowledge needed?

• What are specific challenges faced by an individual in this particular position?

• What features of this position are likely to be attractive to candidates?

• What specific challenges might we face in recruiting for this role?

• What is the work environment like?

• What interactions would an individual typically have with internal or external stakeholders?

• Are there any specific competitors or other organizations we should be actively targeting for recruiting for candidates?

Questions to answer when screening resumés:

• Does the candidate have the required education and experience?

• What specific technologies are listed on the candidate’s resumé? Is there any indication as to the level of proficiency with each technology?

• What specific hardware, software and operating system(s) has the candidate used?

• Is she experienced with client/server, web-based or legacy mainframe environments?

• What types of systems or programs has she worked on?

• For programming positions, has the candidate primarily done new development or has most of her experience been focused on enhancement or systems integration work?

Developing appropriate interview questions:

• Don’t try to ask candidates overly technical questions you don’t understand yourself.

• Understand developers don’t need to memorize every single detail of a programming language to demonstrate proficiency; the key is being able to solve problems and find solutions through research.

• Ask the candidate about her experience and proficiency with the specific technologies required for the position, on a scale of one to 10.

• Determine whether the candidate would prefer a permanent or contract position. In the IT field, many contractors are reluctant to take permanent positions and vice versa.

• Ask questions relating to interpersonal and communication skills, as well as soft skills in general. Today’s IT professionals are required to communicate with users, gather business requirements and explain technical concepts to non-technical people.

• Develop appropriate behavioural interview questions that relate to competencies such as problem-solving, customer service, time management, accuracy and attention to detail, teamwork, business acumen and specific technical skills.

• Ask candidates which technical platforms they used for specific projects.

• Create appropriate questions about the required technologies. Pay attention to specific versions of operating systems, databases and programming languages. For example, a common question for a Unix systems administrator is, “What ‘flavours’ of Unix have you worked with in the past?”

• For programming positions, ask candidates what types of applications they have developed. Ask whether they mainly did new development or maintenance and enhancement work.

• For infrastructure/technical support/systems administrator roles, find out how many users the candidate supported and the degree of geographic dispersion. This may be important, for example, if an organization has a network of 10,000 users in different countries.

• For software tester/quality assurance roles, ask what types of testing the candidate has done (such as black box, white box, functional, regression or load testing).

• For project management positions, ask what size projects the candidate has managed (in terms of budgets, team members and timelines). Develop behavioural interview questions that probe his ability to hold people accountable for deliverables.

• For web development roles, ask to see examples of the websites the candidate developed.

Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at For more information, visit

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