Technical Recruiting

If you don't know the difference between VB 6 and VB.NET, how can you recruit new staff for your company's burgeoning .NET initiatives? And even if you discover the answer, can you distinguish between candidates who really have the expertise you need and those who are simply good at slinging technical jargon?

HR professionals charged with recruiting technical staff face a host of challenges. They must find candidates, wade through detailed, acronym-laden resumes to extract meaningful information, and during interviews, decipher what may sound like a foreign language. What's a recruiter to do?

In a nutshell, technical recruiting demands the participation of both HR professionals and hiring managers/technology experts. Beginning with job requirements and continuing through the selection process, combining HR and hiring-manager expertise will yield the best results. Follow these tips to collaborate effectively and ultimately, choose the right candidate.

Define the Job Requirements

"First, do your homework," says Dave Gordon, vice president of HR for Winegardner & Hammons, a hotel-management company. The key to technical recruiting, he says, is "understanding exactly how important the technical aspects are, what they need, what they can do without, what they can train on." He recommends meeting with department heads and establishing their requirements before recruiting.

"Understand what you are really looking for," says Johanna Rothman, author of Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds. Rothman suggests blending the strengths of the technical experts with those of HR pros "who know how to write a job description."

Screen for Technology Skills

Once job requirements are agreed on, HR can perform initial resume reviews and candidate screens for the defined skill set. Mike A. Sipple Jr., vice president of recruiting firm Centennial Inc., uses a checklist to verify skills and asks candidates to self-evaluate on level of expertise and length of experience with each competency. Some of his clients use a technology test to evaluate fundamental skills.

Interview for Performance and Cultural Fit

Here's where HR's expertise really adds value to the process. Every job is about so much more than technical skills and knowledge, so use the interview process to evaluate past performance and fit with the department's environment, work pace, and company culture.

Behaviour-based interviewing is an excellent tool for eliciting performance stories. When you ask candidates, "Tell me about a time when" or "Give me a specific example of" and encourage them to describe the complete Situation-Action-Result (SAR), you gain insights into core competencies, performance track records, and areas of weakness as well as strength.

Rothman recommends delving beneath the technical activities to determine actual accomplishments, using pointed questions such as, "How many times have you been on a project where you actually released software?"

Partner with Hiring Managers

Gordon invites technical experts to participate in the interview process from the earliest stages. "We focus on the HR side, everything beyond technology that you need to assess — maturity level, people skills, career goals — and let the tech expert dig into the areas we're not prepared to evaluate," he says.

As a retained recruiter, Sipple fits "character, culture, and chemistry," then works with both HR and hiring managers at his client companies to further evaluate candidates on technical and performance skills that characterize a quality hire.

Get Creative in Sourcing Candidates

Your online application system, resume-tracking software, and job listings probably yield a good number of qualified candidates. But with growing demand for technology talent, these sources may not be enough.

Gordon, Sipple and Rothman all recommend networking as a primary source for candidates. They also suggest tapping these resources:

  • Professional associations. But be sure not to "hit and run," flooding the group with job postings without maintaining contact. Instead, build the relationship so you're a trusted resource to them and they become an excellent network for you.
  • Seminars and conferences for people in your target candidate group.
  • Colleges to build affiliations with computer science professors and career-centre staff.
  • Nontraditional advertising sources to attract young professionals — for example, movie theatre advertising or retail narrowcasting.