How to Screen Candidates for Technical Skills and Hire the Best People

How to Screen Candidates for Technical Skills and Hire the Best People

Is the average hiring process designed to separate the wheat from the chaff? Neil Roseman, former Technology VP of Amazon, suggests that in spite of lofty claims, many stakeholders in the tech world still make decisions based on educational bonafides, basic credentials, and gut feelings. As a result, the talent entering their organization is inconsistent and of varying quality.

On the other hand, organizations that take a meticulous approach to their sourcing, screening, and interviewing strategies can find higher quality people – no matter the size of their enterprise. In our experience, here’s how to screen candidates for technical skills and hire quality people.

Dig Deep Into Their Resumes

Resumes are filled with red flags and green flags, but the challenge is correctly identifying the two and not overcorrecting. One common example stems from misconceptions between nice-to-have skills vs. non-negotiable skills. Often, organizations envision an ideal employee without verifying whether that person exists in the market.

For example, it’s unlikely to find IT talent with ten years of machine learning and cybersecurity skills anywhere. Yet some organizations will set themselves up for failure by automatically filtering out anyone but these unicorns with their applicant tracking system. This is far from the exception. There are plenty of instances where companies create unnecessary hurdles for themselves by adding requirements that are just not naturally found in the wild.

Organizations should always work to understand the availability of desired candidates on the labor market at both a local and national perspective. That way, you don’t rule out people who might be perfect for your company but require some on-the-job growth to reach desired levels of performance. 

In some cases, there are red flags that a candidate might not be a great fit. One is overinflating their own credentials. One place to provide some scrutiny is their timeline of experiences and skill development. For instance, developers who claim nine years of experience with the Elm programming language might exaggerate their skills since the language was nowhere near wider use until the last few years.

Additionally, verifying candidate references on LinkedIn is another way to spot discrepancies. If tech professionals are going to ask someone to vouch for them in their resume and are not connected to that person on LinkedIn, that’s at least an orange flag to measure against any other warning signs. 

Craft a Strong Technical Interview

With the complexity of technologies that modern IT talent uses, it’s essential to design your technical interview in a way that offers reliable and repeatable screening results. Here are some of the best practices for screening technical talent in the interview process.

First, always involve a technical person in the planning. Whether they are the ones doing the interviewing or simply creating interview questions, their expertise and appraisal can distinguish top performers from run-of-the-mill applicants. More than just providing the type of incisive questions that will shine light on a candidate’s credentials, they can also point out signals that a desirable candidate will perform well in the role.

Second, your interview needs to do more than just repurpose typical interview questions you would ask nontechnical people. Yes, they can reveal vital information about their character, work ethic, and working style (more on that shortly), but you need to evaluate their full capacity for the role. Asking them to solve a problem, conduct a demo of their technical skills, present their Github portfolio, or explain how their skills contributed to greater ROI for previous employers can offer a framework to showcase their IT talents.

What about verifying their skills and experience during the interview? Demos are useful, but certain positions (data analytics, cyber security professionals, cloud architects, etc.) might not be suited to show the full magnitude of their skills at the drop of a hat. You may need to lean on asking questions, which requires the ability to differentiate between honest and dishonest answers.

For this reason, video interviews are indispensable when face-to-face communications are not – though not for the reasons people might assume. Video interviews, rather than phone interviews, create more of a connection with your candidates. You can get a better sense of the person you’re connecting with while also making it harder for people to rely on unseen third parties to coach more underprepared or underqualified people through complex interview questions. In the past, we’ve seen some candidates pretend that their camera doesn’t work to avoid this layer of scrutiny, so always be sure that candidates know they need to have a functional web cam and a clean space where they can interview. 

Don’t Overlook Culture Fit

Every business has values that define them. Chick-fil-A values being faithful stewards and creating a culture of care. VMware seeks out people who are passionate, great at execution, and focused on building trust. Capstone IT values hard work, honesty, and integrity from all of our people. These and other values are the DNA that make truly great companies, and it’s important to screen for those qualities in every technical role.

Effective screening processes never sideline these culture values for technical aptitude. In fact, successful businesses make opportunities for candidates to engage with the culture and verify their fit. There’s no better way to do this than by offering a chance for technical candidates to engage with your people.

In face-to-face interviews, you can take a few moments at the end or the beginning to make introductions and allow people to interact. Yet with virtual interviews, it might be effective to have your people on standby to hop on a call and ask some questions of their own. Your team knows as well as you do who will fit and who won’t fit your work culture.

Additionally, be ready to encourage candidates to ask questions about your value and work environment. If they are interested in being a part of your team, whether it is on a permanent or consultant basis, they’ll engage with you to find out if your business aligns with what matters most to them.

Want a partner as you identify candidates with the right skills who fit your culture? Reach out to the Capstone IT team. We can help you screen candidates for technical skills, finding the right people to achieve your goals and move your organization into the future.

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