Good quality candidates in the IT industry often come equipped with a wide range of technical skills and qualifications. These can look very impressive on paper, but they say little about the candidate's potential value as an employee.
An effective recruitment process needs to do much more than trawl for hard credentials. That's the job of the pre-application screening process. Once the candidate has proven they meet the minimum requirements for the role, employers need to assess their soft skills and personal qualities.
But what should they be looking for? Here are ten top qualities that mark out the high value employee, plus some pointers for relevant interview questions.
The ability to communication effectively is a vital ability that lies at the heart of most other desirable qualities. Teams operate most efficiently when members can understand one another and make themselves understood. A creative individual must be able to communicate their insights and convince others of their merit. Reliable and organized employees can reinforce company expectations through clear, unambiguous messages.
Communication skills are among the easiest to assess during the recruitment process. Where written communication is important, employers can obtain evidence from the candidates application form or resume and email communications. They can even set a separate written task. Verbal communication skills will naturally be tested during interview. In-person interviews will also enable the candidate to demonstrate body language and other non-verbal communication skills.
Some recruitment specialists pick out confidence as their number one desirable quality in a candidate and with good reason (2). A confident employee can drive a team to success and help them to surmount obstacles through sheer self-belief. Confident employees contribute ideas freely without worrying what others think. They take knocks on the chin and bounce back stronger. However, confidence on its own is not necessarily a good thing. In fact, a confident individual who does not work well within a team can create antagonism within the workplace.
Some candidates fake confidence in order to mask their own insecurities. The best way to challenge a confident applicant is to probe for more specific detail. A truly confident employee will easily come up with relevant examples while those who lack real confidence will often repeat vague assertions and may become agitated and defensive.
When some employers think about creativity, they imagine an employee staring into space, wasting company time coming up with fanciful concepts. However, a candidate who can combine creativity with other key attributes, such as organization, communication and logical thinking can transform a company.
Creative employees are often a company's problem-solvers, able to come up with novel solutions to taxing issues. Those with initiative will often come up with new ways to make existing processes more efficient.
To find out about a candidate's creative potential, ask them to describe a time when their idea helped a company to work smarter or save money. Group exercises are a great way to test team working and creativity at the same time.
Flexibility is a powerful asset in today's IT market with its nimble start-ups and fickle audiences. Many companies in the IT sector are embracing the Agile methodology and fail-fast approach. Candidates with a flexible mindset are much more comfortable with the need to constantly pivot as project goals adapt. This lack of resistance to change leads to fluid, harmonious and productive teams. Flexibility and creativity are a powerful combination during brainstorming sessions.
To assess flexibility in a candidate, ask them to detail a situation where they were required to cope with a significant change in a project or job role. How did they respond? What was the outcome?
Employees with initiative are a breath of fresh air in the workplace because they free up management resources. While other employees wait for instruction, initiators act on their understanding of the desired company outcome.
Initiators can also improve workplace efficiency because they often notice and proactively deal with dysfunctional systems.
Employees need to combine initiative with an honest appreciation of their skill set and area of influence. Otherwise they are liable to take on situations they are unable to handle or make decisions that they do not have the authority to make.
Questions centered on what a candidate would do when a supervisor is unavailable can elicit data on a candidate's initiative.
Integrity is one of the most critical employee attributes. It encompasses both basic honesty (telling the truth, not stealing, respecting company time) and accountability. An employee with integrity will take ownership for their own performance and learn from their mistakes. They won't attempt to shift blame on to others or take credit for work that others have done.
Integrity is one of the most difficult traits to measure. Asking about a time where a candidate bent the rules to achieve success can sometimes lift the lid on their inner moral compass, but most applicants will want to present themselves as respectful of company policies.
Look out for gaps in references. If the candidate has left out their most recent or high profile employer, it might be worth asking them why they left those roles and watching out for signs of discomfort.
An organized employee will show excellent time management skills and know how to prioritize their tasks. In group work, they will often be the ones to scope out the project, identify the resources needed and keep everyone on track to meet deadlines.
By their nature, organized people are usually punctual and reliable. To assess a candidate's organizational abilities, you can ask them questions such as, "How do you organize your work for the day?" and, "How do you prioritize between conflicting tasks?"
Sometimes, a supremely organized personality masks a discomfort with uncertainty, so it is important to probe how that person might react in situations that call for initiative and flexibility.
Persistence is a very useful quality in roles which require sustained effort in solving problems. In the IT industry, talented developers are the perfect example of persistent individuals who build code, test and debug repeatedly until project goals are realized. They don't give in to frustration and respond to obstacles with increased effort.
However, persistence is another one of those qualities that can be a hindrance if taken to the extreme and not balanced with other skills. For example, without creativity, flexibility and the ability to work with others, a persistent employee can stubbornly apply a failed approach over and over again, holding a project back and alienating other employees.
To assess persistence, ask the candidate questions about past projects that presented significant challenges.
Reliability is a core attribute that employers should value highly in their workers. There are two aspects to reliability. First, the reliable employee turns up on time and only takes sick days when absolutely necessary (giving ample notice). Second, they perform their duties consistently, regardless of what else is going on in their lives.
There is an added bonus you get with reliable employees. By demonstrating the expectations of the company management, they set a high bar for other workers to follow, influencing company culture in a positive way.
If you want to know how reliable a candidate is, ask them to describe their work ethic and to provide an example of when they demonstrated this in a previous post. Ask referees about timekeeping and absence record. If a candidate arrives late to an interview, this is a red flag for reliability.
Productive teams are essential in most IT workplaces. Even where employees spend a lot of time working within their own silos or at home, they almost always have to sync with colleagues to brainstorm, solve problems and meet deadlines.
One of the best ways to assess how a candidate works with others is to include an element of group work in the recruitment process. In the interview, ask for examples of the candidate's role in previous team projects and how they contributed to the outcome.
Ask about the size and constitution of previous groups the candidate has worked in. Someone who has enjoyed success working within small teams of people from the same small town may need time to adapt to a diverse, globally distributed team.
Naturally, the highest value candidates will demonstrate many of the qualities above, and these attributes will often outweigh the impact of technical skills and experience in the workplace.
Are you looking for a recruitment partner in the IT industry? Please contact Myticas Consulting.