7 Questions to Answer Before Hiring People with IT Skills

In today’s world of ever-changing technology, many of the most trending skills needed are in the Information Technology (IT) sector. My name is Eric Friedman, and I am the CEO of a Software as a Service (SaaS) company, which I founded 15 years ago. As an employer of teams of programmers as well as systems specialists, I know that selecting new employees with a strong cross-section of technology skills can be daunting at times. Therefore, I’d like to offer you 7 questions to consider when hiring for Information Technology skills.

1. Should you consider incorporating skills assessments during the recruiting process?

There are two forces at work in the IT hiring dynamic. One is the need to make sure your shortlist of candidates have the required skills, so that you won’t waste interviewing and screening time or make a hiring mistake that will cost thousands of dollars. The second, and opposing, force is the fear that any extra step in the application process will turn off candidates, especially in a competitive hiring market. Hiring unskilled IT staff is by far the worse of these two outcomes, and, if you know how to do it right, you can implement skills testing in intelligent ways that don’t repel, but actually enhance, your attractiveness as an employer to serious candidates.

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2. What impact do skills assessments have on candidates, and how can we tailor the tests to be relevant, valid, and length-appropriate for the selection stage?

Candidates who have taken our tests report that, when the questions were job-relevant, they were impressed by the company’s thoughtful hiring process and had greater confidence in the company. The test-taker knew what kind of skills and tools the job would expect them to use and had a good first impression of the employer. Ideally, you should configure short tests (e.g. 20 questions) up front, as most job applicants won’t take the time to answer 50 questions as a first step in the application process. Also, the questions you select should be tailored to the actual job. Longer, more thorough, tests can be used later in the process when the candidate feels they have a good shot at the job and are willing to spend 30–60 minutes to further prove they are the right choice. To keep the experience consistent and valid, make sure your testing platform can customize tests for both length and subject/question content.

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3. What in-demand IT skills should companies test for in 2018?

In 2018, LinkedIn conducted a large-scale survey that revealed the top 10 hard skills needed for IT were:

  • Cloud and distributed computing
  • Statistical analysis and data mining
  • Middleware and integration software
  • Web architecture and development frameworks
  • User interface design
  • Software revision control systems
  • Data presentation
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)/Search Engine Marketing (SEM),
  • Mobile development
  • Network and information security

4. What types of hard skills needed for IT jobs are easy to assess through testing?

Hard skills are easy to test if you have the right testing content and technologies. Hard skills, such as C++, Java, .NET, English Language, and Microsoft Office software, can be assessed immediately with simulations or practical text questions. Find a vendor that allows you to fully customize your online assessments by combining the subjects needed into a single test, for multi-disciplinary positions like C# Developer, Network Engineer, Web Developer, e-Commerce Project Manager, Java Developer, etc.

5. How much should hiring managers focus on test results compared to other factors, such as experience or education?

In their groundbreaking 1980 Harvard Business Review article, Herbert M. Greenberg and Jeanne Greenberg, after conducting a study on 360,000 individuals over a 20-year period, revealed some startling discoveries about the importance of establishing job fit. Their findings challenged the recruitment practices of most organizations by proving that experience and educational qualifications are not statistically reliable predictors of future high performance. They wrote: “Experience is usually a principal criterion for making hiring decisions…Yet, we found little difference in performance between these experienced individuals and those with no experience. The person with no experience, given training and supervision, is as likely to succeed as the person with two or more years of experience.” Nearly 40 years later, many recruiters erroneously cling to candidates’ past credentials when they should be testing for current skill levels. (EF – When you read this, you might wonder what kinds of jobs were studied, if this data is available. Different jobs presumably have varying experience/skills drivers for success).

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6. What are some other recruiting trends or innovations hiring managers should follow?

One of the biggest trends we’re seeing is the explosion of hiring freelancers for IT and other functions vs. using in-house teams. Freelancing gives the employer more flexibility to scale up and down costs and headcount as projects come and go. However, this also makes skills testing MUCH more important, since the employer is hiring for skills on day one vs. investing years in an employee’s training.

Culturally, we have become much more sensitive to issues that may inadvertently cause job discrimination. This means that companies not in compliance with EEOC guidelines will be at greater risk of litigation and substantial penalties. Giving the same pre-hire assessment to every candidate is one of the best tools to gather objective job fitness data on candidates before you meet them (or even see their names or know their gender). Using test scores to begin your selection process helps to keep you EEOC compliant.

7. Should IT tests be developed in-house if you have the best specialists? Why or why not?

If your company uses proprietary tools and can develop questions that are demonstrably predictive of job performance, then we’d recommend creating or customizing your own test items for ideal job-relevancy. In general, it’s preferable to use a testing vendor that has over 10 years of operating with a challenge-free compliance record. This will give you a high level of assurance that the vendor’s content has been predictive of knowledge and skills. Ultimately, your company still needs to make sure the tests and questions you use are demonstrably based on the job’s requirements for a test to be defensibly valid. Collaborating with a vendor like eSkill will allow you to do that.

Objectively testing candidates for Information Technology skills, using the content and expertise of an experienced assessment company, will keep your company compliant as you filter volumes of candidates, identify finalists much faster, and reduce the risk of a bad hire. You can also use multiple versions of the same test to prevent one candidate from prepping another by sharing they details of the test he or she was assessed by.

Have no fear, you don’t have to be a coding expert to assess a candidate’s information technology skills, you might just rely on the right assessment tools and associated expertise. I hope these questions will be useful as you create a competitive and compliant IT skills hiring process.

 

Eric Friedman is the founder and CEO of eSkill.com Corporation, a leading provider of Web-based skills testing for pre-employment and training. Since 2003, eSkill.com has tested millions of job candidates for organizations worldwide such as Zappos, ADP, Coca-Cola, Randstad, and GE. With academic degrees in Psychology and Business and experience with both mature and expansion-stage company growth, Eric has focused on how to hire and motivate team members to be the best they can be for their companies.

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