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Identify essential technical skills.

Only you know whether it is important to fill the current open position with a candidate who will know how to use your technology immediately. We all spend time training people to be successful in our organizations, but are you planning specific skill-based training in addition to helping the person navigate the unfamiliar seas of your workplace?

When you define the technical skills required, make sure you know what’s actually required for the particular job. For example, if the product is written in Visual C++, you may require someone with a number of years of Visual C++ experience. The number of years of experience you require should depend on whether this is a senior- or junior-level role. If a working knowledge rather than in-depth experience is required, then you may not need to specify a minimum number of years of experience in the job analysis worksheet and the job description. However, if you are seeking a mature candidate who has worked on numerous products, then specify overall years of experience. If you’re seeking a person with in-depth technical knowledge, then look for someone with a few years of specific experience instead of a variety of technical skills spread over the years. One way to define the required technical knowledge is to ask your current team members to help you define the requirements.

When specifying technology, remember to consider your specific development environments. Someone who has developed software in the C language using a UNIX operating system may have a different idea of how to develop software than someone who has developed software using Visual C++. In the job analysis, the job description, and also in any advertisements, specify the minimum number of years of experience you want an applicant to have in each environment.

When you consider functional skills or product-domain experience, think about whether you want someone with experience throughout the entire project lifecycle. Someone who’s lived through a product release will have had a different experience from someone who’s worked only on canceled projects or who has been moved off projects before their completion.

Carefully consider which skills you need a candidate to possess, and which skills you are willing to provide by training the person after he or she has become an employee. In a highly competitive job market, it may make sense to hire candidates who have appropriate problem-solving skills, who are adaptable, and who demonstrate an ability to learn, but who don’t necessarily have experience in the specific operating system or programming language they’ll need to use. In most cases, you will be able to train them in the required programming language in less time than it could take to wait for just the right candidate to cross the threshold. In a less-competitive job market, if you have specifically described the necessary technical skills in the job analysis, job description, and all advertisements, you will reduce your recruiting time because you will narrow your field to appropriate candidates only.

Avoid the appearance of requiring applicants who have more experience with a specific tool or technology than you can reasonably expect or than you truly need. When object-oriented programming came into vogue, reliable, commercial compilers had only been on the market for about a year, but some companies were requiring job applicants to have a minimum of five years of C++ experience. This kind of unreasonable requirement only encourages candidates and external recruiters to stretch the truth, or equally problematic, to not send you their résumés. You, and anyone else involved in describing an open position, need to learn enough about how your company uses technology to hire people for your group.

It’s easy to use years of experience as a shorthand indicator of the experience or knowledge a candidate would need to be successful in a position. Nevertheless, when you analyze the position’s needs in terms of work experience and technical skills, you must ask yourself what you mean by “work experience.”

When you’ve defined your technical experience requirements, add them to the bottom-most boxes in the job analysis form, as shown in the worksheet portion replicated from Worksheet 2-1:

Worksheet 2-1 (continued): Matching Qualities, Preferences, and Skills with Job Openings.

Quality, Preference, or Skill

Required

Desirable

Notes (Cite any required quality, preference, or skill specific to the job.)

Skills: Technical. One year of ClearCase administrative experience.

Required

We use ClearCase and do not have the budget to train a novice admin. for this position.

Technical skills confusion?

You may sometimes need to fill a position that is common at other companies, but that does not already exist at your company. Or, perhaps you know some of what you want done in a job, but not enough of the requirements to feel comfortable about listing the job opening. Perhaps you need to hire a technical support manager, and you know something about technical support, but you do not know enough to describe the essential skills required. If you are faced with such a problem, try the following approach:

  • Ask for help from someone who might know what the job entails. Such a person might be someone who either has done the work or has successfully hired people for the job—other managers at your company, or outside colleagues, for example. If you’re using internal or external recruiters, ask them for help. Ask for advice from consultants, an academic advisor, your mentor, or from someone whose Web page interests you and is relevant to your industry or technology. The more people you ask for information, the better able you’ll be to refine the job analysis and the closer you will get to determining the essential job functions.
  • Use analogy. If you don’t know what job a particular job title describes, approach the job analysis from the point of view of the tasks that need to be done. For example, software companies began using configuration management systems in the 1980s. In the early 1990s, the technology was still new to the software community, and there were not enough release engineers and configuration managers to fill the open jobs. However, people did know what tasks needed to be done to create bills-of-material for software products, for example. So, while these managers were not called release engineers or build engineers or configuration management engineers, they knew what they needed to perform and were able to define the essential job functions.
  • Ask your Human Resources or Personnel Department staff members to compare the offered salary and compensation package with that printed in industry-wide surveys. Companies that participate in salary surveys have access to lists of job titles and job functions. You may be able to use these lists as a place to start defining the essential technical skills.
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