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Katherine Spencer LeeHow To Find Top Candidates
by Katherine Spencer Lee
Contributed by RHIConsulting

Read more articles by Katherine Spencer Lee

Despite recent economic corrections, IT talent is a resource that remains in short supply - a potential challenge for any company wishing to augment its tech department. As firms continue to rely on technology to improve internal business processes, demand for skilled professionals continues. Therefore, businesses often find themselves taking extensive measures to draw qualified applicants for these open positions.

Because candidate searches can be costly, the temptation to hire the first qualified candidate to cross your threshold is sometimes strong. However, wise managers realize that hiring the wrong employee - one who is insufficiently trained or who cannot get along with coworkers - is usually more costly than leaving a position vacant.

Labor markets may be tight, but when your company is trying to grow, it is especially important to make sure each new hire will be a positive contributor. By implementing carefully thought-out screening measures, you can help ensure the candidate you select will help your organization succeed.

Evaluating Resumes
Phone Screening
Interview Strategies
Checking References

Evaluating Resumes
In the early stages of your candidate search, you may only have a stack of resumes to work from. It is important to remember that, as a screening tool, resumes are far from ideal. The "best" resume may not come from the most qualified candidate; it may come from the individual who has had the most jobs (and thus the most practice writing resumes) or from the job seeker who has hired a skilled resume writer. Nonetheless, the resume may be the best tool you have to shrink your candidate pool down to a manageable size.

When considering an applicant's resume, pay special attention to the frequency with which the candidate has switched jobs. Job mobility is greater than in years past, but think twice before hiring an employee who seems unable to stay put. A recent survey by RHI Consulting found that chief information officers believe an average of five full-time jobs in ten years could make an IT professional look like a job hopper.

Obviously, the more complete picture of the candidate the resume conveys, the better judge you can be of their fit. If possible, investigate any areas of the resume which are vague or lack specifics. Extensive use of qualifiers such as "exposure to" and "familiarity with" may indicate that the candidate lacks hands-on experience and would not be capable of making an immediate contribution.

The ideal candidate will have your company's bigger picture in mind. If possible, try to glean from the resume whether the candidate is profit minded - i.e., mentions of how his or her projects have impacted the bottom line are a good indicator that he or she understands their greater role in the business.

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Phone Screening
While resumes can present a fairly accurate view of a candidate's technical skills, they are less successful at communicating the soft skills which are often crucial to job success. A growing number of IT departments now rely on telephone interviews to gain an overall impression of a prospective employee's interpersonal skills and to clarify key points made in the resume and cover letter.

When you have decided to schedule a phone interview with a candidate, take time to prepare some guidelines to direct the conversation. Set up an agenda for the call based on the total time you have allotted to screen all candidates who will be contacted by phone, and ask the same questions so you can judge them on similar criteria.

Make sure that the candidate's resume and cover letter are in front of you during the call, and begin the conversation with a brief overview of the job's responsibilities. If a candidate is especially promising, cut the phone interview short and set up a face-to-face meeting.

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Interview Strategies
The key to any interview is asking the right questions. Whether you are talking on the phone or sitting in the same office, the objective is the same - to get the most mileage out of each question you ask. Carefully constructing your questions before the meeting and adapting to the flow of the actual interview are essential to effective information gathering.

To focus the interview on relevant topics, base your questions on specific job criteria. Go in with a list of the topics you must cover, and make sure that you have accumulated adequate information before moving on. This is a good time to probe the candidate's understanding of the technology they will potentially work with.

An increasing number of firms have adopted the practice of having multiple employees interview candidates. They find that a variety of perspectives gives employers a more balanced view of the potential hire. If you choose to do so, divide the topics you will cover among those best suited to address them.

Most importantly, remember to take explicit notes. Consider constructing a sheet in which your notes are divided into two categories - "facts" and "impressions." The fact column should list information not included on the resume, and the impressions column will contain more subjective observations which may pertain to the candidate's fit in your corporate culture.

End your interview on an appropriate note - what you say should be influenced by your overall impression of the meeting. If you're interested in hiring the candidate, make your feelings known. Otherwise, be polite but noncommittal.

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Checking References
Whether you've made up your mind to hire the candidate or you're still on the fence, it is always a good idea to check references to ensure that your view is accurate. However, don't delegate the process of reference checking - the person asked to comment on a candidate is more likely to be honest with an individual who is his or her counterpart at another company than with someone whose job is simply to record responses to questions. While your best contacts are former bosses, peers and subordinates should not be overlooked. Combining these reference checks with the interview should produce a fairly complete picture. "Personal" references are the least reliable people to approach since they will rarely be objective.

You will know you have gathered enough information to complete your search when you feel completely comfortable with the hiring decision you are about to make. Until then, take your time, even if tasks are pressing - consider hiring a consultant to fill in while your search is ongoing. Though you may feel like you're conducting an investigation on a grand scale, your efforts will pay dividends when you single out a prized performer who will contribute to your company's success.

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Katherine Spencer Lee is the executive director of RHI Consulting, a division of Robert Half International and the industry’s leading provider of project and full-time technical talent for the Internet economy.

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