Because most IT managers don't get to do a lot of hiring these days, it's more important than ever to make good choices. Companies are cautious about adding staff as they emerge from the downturn, so you need to be sure the IT pros you do get to bring on are key contributors to the department."As companies gear up for growth, the last thing they want to do is staff with mediocre employees. Hiring top performers will be critical to their overall success," says Liz Hughes, vice president of specialized staffing firm OfficeTeam.Hughes offers some tips for identifying the best candidates:* Passion: What is the candidate's greatest accomplishment? Whatever the answer, this will reveal something about how the person maintains motivation and defines success.* Favorites: Ask the candidate to name a favorite movie, holiday gift or food. The point of the question is to show you how well the applicant thinks on his feet and the reason he cites for his response.* Optimism: One useful interview question is to ask the job seeker to explain how she handled a difficult boss, IT project or mistake. Top performers acknowledge difficulties without glossing over the problem, according to Hughes.* Expectations: Find out what this person expects from the job and be wary of anyone who makes unrealistic demands that may point to difficulty working with others.* Tone: Contact a range of references for the candidate at all different levels - boss, peers, direct reports. What do these folks tell you about the candidate, and how are they saying it? Enthusiasm is a positive sign, but someone with a hesitant or uneasy tone may be trying to tip you off to something negative about the candidate.