Hiring – What to look for

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If you’re in a position where you hire staff, then you have a lot of things on your mind. Is the candidate certified ? Is the candidate experienced ? Has the candidate finished college ? How long was the candidate at their last job ? The questions never end.

But truly, the question you should ask yourself is: how are the candidate’s social skills / attitude ?

This is the single, absolute most important question you need to keep in mind when interviewing a potential new staff member. This holds for any industry, but is especially important in the IT industry. This is a generalization, yes, but there are a LOT of people in the IT industry who don’t have very developed social skills. As professionals, we need to be able to interact with others in a positive way. Communication is so important, especially in our industry. How often have you got the trouble report “the printer isn’t working” ? That could mean anything from the driver isn’t communicating properly, to the ink has run out. You need to be able to ask questions and get down to the root of problems, and without social skills, this will be difficult to do.

Social skills don’t begin and end with whether someone is able to talk to others and communicate well. Attitude also plays a huge part in a successful hire. When you interview a potential employee, one thing you should be looking for and evaluating is their attitude. Are they happy to be given an opportunity to be interviewed ? Are they excited about the position ? Do they want to work for your organization ? Their attitude forms part of their social skill set, and if it’s developed in the correct manner, then they will be able to communicate a positive attitude to you throughout the interview process.

Now, you’re probably reading this thinking I’m an idiot, and social skills and attitude mean absolutely nothing if the candidate has no technical abilities. This is true, to an extent, but I will be very honest here: I don’t believe that technical knowledge necessarily outweighs social skills and attitude. I once hired someone who was quite experienced and educated, had numerous industry certifications and came with all the right credentials. He didn’t last a month. Why not ? He wasn’t able to provide exceptional care to our clients. Think about this, clients (or users for that matter) usually don’t know much about the IT world. Sure they know how to use their workstations and programs, but they don’t know how to administer servers, they don’t know what fail-over means, they don’t know what DNS and DHCP are. All they know is, when they have issues, they have to deal with the professionals. If that interaction with those professionals isn’t pleasant, then there’s a problem (whether their technical issue got resolved or not becomes partially irrelevant). On the flip side, I once hired a younger employee who didn’t have much experience outside of his own home, and didn’t have any certifications or formal education in IT. But his attitude was bang on and he displayed some great social skills during the interview process. My company still has this employee, and we’ve put him through several certifications and are working with him on obtaining a college degree.

Remember, you need to think about what your clients or users will care about when dealing with your employee. The ability to SSH into a remote server to run a shell script means nothing to most people, but a friendly attitude and demeanor of genuinely wanting to help, does.


Martin Lehner

Martin Lehner is an technology professional working for an IT services firm in Whitehorse, Yukon (Canada). He has been working in the technology field for over a decade. With a degree in Business Admin and numerous industry certifications, Martin leads a team of IT professionals that provide third party support for clients. Originally starting a company to offer web development services, Martin quickly realized that clients wanted the entire spectrum of technology services. When Martin is not at work (which is not often, since his company offers 24/7 support), he is busy at home spending time with his family.

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