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How to recruit IT staff (when you don’t understand IT yourself)

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Entrusting the wrong person with your IT infrastructure and company data will cost you dearly. So here’s a strategy for getting it right

Having recruited more than 1,000 IT professionals over the last 20 years for our managed service teams providing IT support for businesses, I can safely say Plan-Net has learned a thing or two about how to recruit IT staff.

Hopefully this article might help those of you who are less IT-savvy still make wise IT staff recruitment decisions, and avoid costly mistakes along the way.

There is no shortage of IT people in the labour market today, but the real challenge is in finding the good ones – and then, from that much smaller pool, identifying the right one for your business.

Even those of you who don’t have a great understanding of IT will probably have a good feel for what you need IT staff to deliver. Businesses rely on technical tools and systems. We need someone to fix these quickly when they stop working, and we need someone to improve them so we can increase our business productivity and efficiency.

So the first step when recruiting is to articulate the service your business needs from its IT staff or department. The trickier next step is to convert this into an IT job description that thoroughly details all the necessary technical skills and experiences the individual or team would need. If you’re starting to get lost in technical jargon at this point, it might be wise to find an IT friend or contact that can help you do this. Even if it means paying them a small fee, you’ll avoid the first costly mistake, which is the wrong job description.

Recruiting IT staff: finding the good ones

Using a specialist IT recruitment agency is helpful as they will have a wider access to the supply pool than you, so it can expedite your search. However, a note of caution when dealing with agencies is that their interest is in securing the placement as quick as possible so they can take their fee.

So if they find and present you with three candidates, they will want you to choose one of them, even if perhaps none of them are right for your business. It’s worth ensuring agencies offer you at least a 3-month, or even better 6-month, refund or replacement mechanism if things don’t work out. You can also try scouring LinkedIn and asking your existing business network and partners.

Check, check and check again

The risk for any business looking to fill any type of role is taking on the wrong person. Arguably, this risk is greater for a small company, where you are so much more dependent on every individual to perform. It’s even more risky when you’re looking at IT roles. You are entrusting these people with your business data, systems and operations. A mistake could cost your business dearly.

I therefore cannot emphasise strongly enough the importance of a thorough screening process. Interview candidates face-to-face a number of times yourself and enlist your IT contact to help with the interview too.

For IT staff in particular, it’s important to test their technical skills. At Plan-Net, we have developed our own tests in order to be ultra-confident that potential employees have the necessary capabilities. If you’re doing this yourself, you can find a variety of technical tests online. There are free tests available, but my recommendation is that you invest in paid tests. It can act as a false economy not to.

Background checking is also very important. We invest in a specialist service that carries out a number of checks including CRB (Criminal Record Bureau) checks, credit checks and reference checks.

If you decide to do this yourself rather than using a third party, make sure you check every line of the CV. Check the gaps and make sure you verify all references. We’ve found candidates who claimed they have degrees when they dropped out in the first year, some with outstanding debts and unpaid bills and others with completely bogus references. Sadly, in this economic climate, we tend to see a higher proportion of candidates ‘embellishing’ their CVs. When you’re recruiting IT staff, much like in Finance and HR roles, you are recruiting someone who will be a custodian of your critical business systems and your business information.

Almost above anything else, you must be sure you’ve found someone you can trust.

An easy option

Lastly, if anything to do with IT is Double Dutch to you and you just want to avoid the hassle and headache of recruiting IT staff altogether, you can use managed service providers to manage your IT function for you. Finding the right IT staff to adequately deliver this service is then their challenge – not yours.

Richard Forkan is the director of Plan-Net. With more than 20 years in the IT industry working in both technical and business development roles, Forkan has worked for organisations including Citibank and BT before joining Plan-Net in 2003. Now involved with Plan-Net’s highest profile clients, Richard also leads the company in its drive for growth and expansion.

More like this:

The great IT talent war waging in London

Why great staff leave great companies

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