Seven tips for hiring the best IT professionals in a post-PC world

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The biggest challenge for IT managers today is dealing with the massive changes in workplace technology and the role of IT in managing and supporting it. BYOD, cloud services, mobile apps, and enterprise social media are radically transforming how end users, executives, and IT staff interact with technology.

In many ways this transformation is positive, particularly when it leads to increased productivity, collaboration, and employee satisfaction.

There are also downsides. One of those is trying to divine what skills or attributes the IT workers of the future will need to succeed. That's a particularly big challenge if you're in charge of hiring the IT staff members that your organization will need over the course of the next decade.

Here are seven tips that will help you make the best choices when looking at candidates for the majority of IT positions.

  • Accept that IT five years from now is impossible to predict. When you're hiring for almost any position (in IT or any other field), you want hire candidates that will be around in ten years. But nobody knows what IT will look like in five years, much less ten. Pundits and consultants may try, but five years ago no one predicted the iPhone and Android phones would become the most popular business smartphones while the BlackBerry desperately clings to life. No one predicted the iPad, its success, or today's tablet market in any way, shape, or form. The vast majority of IT folks would've scoffed at the idea of BYOD. Those massive changes, along with the popularity of services like Dropbox and the incredible growth of social media, are still in their infancy.
  • Focus less on what people know and more on how they learn. Because the future of IT is an open-ended question, you can't know which skills and knowledge will be needed down the road. So strive to understand how a candidate expects to expand their skill set, and how proactive they will be in doing so. Ask questions to figure out whether they will seek out knowledge online, use self-study options like books and online resources such as Lynda.com, request to attend conferences, or if they prefer classroom-based study at a training center or college. Ideally, you'll find a self-starter who will update their skills and knowledge as needed with minimal prompting.
  • Act like you're hiring Apple store geniuses. One of Apple's greatest achievements is the Genius Bar in the company's retail stores. Apple geniuses are hired as much for their passion and desire to engage users in conversation as they are for their technical skills. That model has been so successful in fostering a positive support experience that it's being duplicated at internal help and advice centers by a growing range of companies. You may not be creating a service and advice desk based on the Genius Bar concept, but every person you hire for a user-facing position should be that easy to engage with and able to deliver that positive user experience.

  • Soft skills are absolutely essential. For most of history, IT veterans have not taken the so-called soft skills seriously. The technical ability to fix a PC, manage a network, or deploy back-end systems often trumped the ability to empathize and engage with users, take an active interest in their needs and ideas as well as their problems, and act as a liaison between them and technology. Typically, it was just help desk agents and desktop support folks, often called the face of IT, that needed these skills. Those days are gone and they aren't coming back. Today IT needs to be fully engaged with the business units and departments. That's because if users have a bad experience, they can and will avoid IT staff and work around IT policies -- often without even saying anything to an IT staff member or manager. That's bad for data security and bad for the future relevance of IT across an organization.
  • Hire people who can make each user encounter a teachable moment. Every interaction with a user -- be it an executive or a janitor -- offers a chance for IT professionals to educate users. That can mean explaining why technology policies are set up the way they are, ensuring that users understand the security risks mobile apps and consumer cloud products can present, helping a user find apps that work best for their needs, and just about anything else related to technology -- including things that may not be strictly work-related. Teachable moments can make users more productive, convince them to abide by policies, and generally help foster the notion that IT is there to help.

  • Look for people who are willing to learn from users they support. Those teachable moments aren't a one-way street. IT staff members should be willing to learn from users as well. That can mean learning about their job functions and technology needs, apps and workflows that work for them, how and where they work remotely, and problems that they haven't reported to the help desk. Again, this builds a level of trust and engagement into each encounter and fosters a tighter relationship between IT and various business units.
  • Ignore the age factor and hire the best people. There's a lot of talk in IT about ageism in hiring and it involves both ends of the age/experience spectrum. Older workers are often seen as less adaptable to the changes happening in IT and as bad long-term investments as they approach retirement age. Millennials are often seen as extremely flexible and self-directed, but also in need of greater hand-holding. They're also viewed as potential security risks because they may reach out to their own personal networks beyond their employer to solve problems, and as bad long-term investments because they bounce between jobs and companies more frequently than older workers. In fact, these are stereotypes. While you should be aware of these potential issues, you shouldn't automatically assume they will hold true for every candidate, and hiring a mix of older and younger workers can give your team a much more balanced perspective. In the end, you should look for the best candidate for a position, regardless of their age.
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