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8 classic IT hiring mistakes and how to avoid them

Learn to make better hires and build loyal, skilled and collaborative teams

By , Network World
January 07, 2013 12:11 PM ET

Network World - A poor hiring decision in IT can jeopardize budgets, the morale of other workers and the future of a company. From writing dated, irrelevant job descriptions to accepting a less-than-ideal candidate because the work is piling up, classic hiring mistakes are just waiting to trip up managers.

"I hated doing job descriptions and usually only made minimum effort to get them right," says Jim Smith, CEO of IT project consultancy Enterprise Management Group in Seattle. "Also, as I look back at my failings coming up the ranks, I made the mistake of promoting based on 'he's a good guy and I think he can do it.'"

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Smith, whose company is called upon to turn around unsuccessful IT projects, warns his peers, "Making due is always a mistake because it's never the people you fire that get you into trouble, it's the ones you don't."

For instance, Smith consulted on two particularly memorable projects that had been led by inexperienced managers. "One company was forced to write off $17 million with nothing to show for it, and the other extended its project cycle from two to four years," he says.

To help avert disaster, we've identified eight common IT hiring mistakes and tips for avoiding them.

1. Posting a poorly written job description.

By the time companies realize they need more IT staff, oftentimes they already have overloaded other workers. This can lead managers to either rush the job description or pass the task on to HR.

"HR will never be as up to date on [relevant] terms as IT. That leaves them to focus too heavily on skills and years of experience," says Mark Herschberg, principal at advisory firm White Knight Consulting.

Job descriptions that are too general and don't adequately address the corporate and department culture create more work later, Herschberg adds.

Rachel Russell, director at Allegis Group's private talent management subsidiary TEKsystems, recommends prioritizing five must-have characteristics for each position and your organization overall. "While it might be therapeutic to write out every possible skill and attribute you'd like in a new hire, expecting to find someone who meets a laundry list of criteria isn't realistic," she says. To develop your list, she suggests conducting an internal audit of your successful employees.

Along with narrowing down the job description, update it. Managers often use company or industry templates or get help from HR to craft postings. "Make sure it's not the one you used 10 years ago for the same position and that it's going to be appealing to candidates, describing selling points like growth path, cool projects, and perks," says Tracy Cashman, partner and general manager of the IT search division at the Boston-based WinterWyman staffing consultancy.

2. Being hyper-focused on technical skills.

Hiring managers, HR and recruiters can fall into the trap of trying to match candidates based solely on technical skills. They zone in on syntax, tools used in a specific development environment, and hands-on experience with the latest version of software being used, says Gagan Singh, executive vice president and global HR leader at mobile e-commerce firm Freeborders.

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