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How to Assess Technical Skills When Recruiting New Hires – Pt 1

Assessing talent for a technical position includes two broad categories of qualification. On the human side, candidates must have the right personality, and availability to fit well into a client’s company culture. On the technical side, candidates need to also have the tech skills necessary to fulfill the needs of the position. The problem is that it is nearly impossible to discover through classic interview techniques how technically skilled, talented, or advanced someone is. A candidate can be fun to interview, have the right personality for the job, but you still need to assess whether or not they can handle the technical workload of the position in question.

Take Resumes With a Grain of Salt

The first thing to take into consideration when recruiting is that resumes are not well-suited to conveying technical ability. It can be difficult to get the real information you need from a simple flat file. The candidate may have listed that they have experience with the C# programming language, for instance, but how much experience? Can they do a little scripting in the right syntax or can they write whole applications from scratch? Does a candidate who worked on a network security team in a previous position have the security chops to lock down your network or did they simply contribute and follow orders? When looking at resumes, remember that these questions are things that can and should be clarified in the first interview.

Of course, there are also the rare few that actively lie on their resumes, listing technologies or frameworks that they are not familiar with in order to get the position. While this is an exceedingly bad idea for everyone involved, positions are tempting and many technicians feel that with just a little more exposure and practice, they could gain the necessary skills. Be ready to catch a few recruits out in their deception (or self-deception) in case a false skill list shows up in your resume stack.

Ask Story-Verifying Questions

Once you start interviewing candidates, you can use your grain-of-salt approach to resumes combined with your knowledge of the work at hand to simultaneously learn about your candidates and verify their claim to certain skills. Ask qualifying open-ended questions that encourage the candidate to go into detail about the skills they have, where those skills came from, and how they have used them in the past. Candidates who can go into detail without signs of lying are clearly genuine while those who pretend the questions weren’t open-ended are likely to be hiding a lack of skill or familiarity.

Verifying questions is also a good way to get a feel for a candidate’s enthusiasm about the work. The more happy and talkative they are when you ask for specific questions like the tools they prefer to use when configuring a server, for example, indicate how much joy they take from the subject and work itself. It’s very hard to fake a love of technical work.

When hiring for a technical position, it’s all too easy to choose someone who looks good on paper. However, not every candidate is as capable as they seem. Some are great at giving interviews, some are only passingly familiar with the necessary tech stack, and some can knock your socks off with almost no on-paper credentials at all. Join us next time for the second half of this two-part article where we’ll talk about assessments that can clarify which candidates really know their stuff and will become valuable members of your team. For more advice on how to find the skilled employees you need, contact us today!

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