The right mix of soft skills and technical expertise typically gets you the job, but at Capital TechSearch Inc., an IT staffing and executive search firm, it’s not just about your personality or your knowledge. You need to fit with a client’s culture.
“Our job is to understand the technical requirements, as well as the environment and the company culture,” said David Ingram, president and CEO of Capital TechSearch. “Some people are a good fit in a large organization with standards and processes in place, and some people are a better fit for an organization where they have to wear a lot of hats. It’s our job to determine during our conversations [with the candidate] what type of organization or environment is best for them.”
Capital TechSearch, which has a presence in Richmond, Va., Raleigh, N.C., and Washington, serves approximately 100 clients and potential clients primarily in the health care, financial services and government industries. Some of these organizations look for industry-specific skills, while others prefer to bring in candidates from any background.
The staffing firm recruits IT professionals for a wide variety of positions, but it has carved out a niche around application development in the .NET and Java skill sets. When a client reaches out for help, Capital TechSearch will work with that client to develop a requirement sheet that not only outlines the needed technical skills but describes the client’s corporate culture. Recruiters will then search for individuals who fit the bill.
“We may have a position open today for someone with three years of experience in C# .NET; tomorrow I might have a position for an Oracle database administrator,” Ingram said. “In both those scenarios, we have to evaluate the technical skills, as well as the fit within the client’s environment.”
To assess how an individual will fit into an organization, Capital TechSearch will question candidates about their professional goals and aspirations. Ingram or one of his employees might ask: “Have you had to work under a deadline in the past? Did it invigorate you, or is it something you would prefer to stay away from?” or “Have you worked in an environment where you’ve had to follow strict guidelines and procedures? Are you comfortable in that environment, or would you prefer to work in an environment [that’s] less controlled?” Answers to these questions help reveal the best environment for that individual.
“We don’t believe in the commoditization of the individual. We want to understand more than what’s on paper about that particular individual,” Ingram said. “Of course it has to be a technical fit, but how [does] a certain position allow that candidate to meet their career objectives [and] their work-life balance? I don’t want to put someone in an environment that requires frequent overtime if the person can’t work overtime. We have to evaluate [that].”
At the nonprofit Guidestar, which uses Capital TechSearch’s services, all IT employees must have a breadth of knowledge and be relatively independent. It’s not enough for a database administrator to know just SQL, for example, because the company works with a number of different software and technologies.
“Everybody has to pull their own weight, so to have somebody fit with the rest of the group is very important,” said Jim Dobrzeniecki, vice president of information technology at Guidestar.
Despite the emphasis on cultural fit, soft skills and technical skills are still important in the hiring process. Most of Ingram’s clients require a combination of both soft skills and technical expertise. It’s very rare that a client will request an individual who only has the technical capabilities, he said.
One soft skill that is requested frequently is good communication.
“In a lot of cases, whoever owns the business initiative will ask the IT department to create a certain solution, and it’s important that they’re able to communicate,” Ingram said.
Guidestar, which has about 20 IT employees, is no different.
“Almost all of our positions require access to either our internal or external customers, so [employees have] got to be able to not only speak and understand the technical [side], but they also have to take that and translate [it] into something that a customer can understand,” Dobrzeniecki said.
Because of the recent financial meltdown, Ingram said a number of his clients have put projects on hold. At Guidestar, Dobrzeniecki said they’ve started evaluating new positions more closely to determine whether they really need to hire someone. But Ingram believes there is a bright spot in this dismal picture, as IT “is typically used in downtimes as a strategic tool to create efficiencies in organizations.”
“We’ve definitely seen decisions slow down right now,” he said. “Having said that, we’ve staffed up because we believe there’s a big opportunity on the horizon. A number of our clients have projects on hold that they’re going to have to accomplish for [one] reason or another, whether it’s compliance or [a] business objective. The funding may have stopped for a time period, but at some point in the near future it’s going to turn [back] on very quickly.”
For those IT professionals currently looking for work, Ingram said the objective is to set yourself apart from other candidates. One way to do this is by walking into the interview room with a firm knowledge of the organization, as well as prepared questions. Another way is to obtain relevant certifications.
“Certifications are a plus in terms of being able to differentiate yourself from the competition, [and] they’re a wonderful endorsement of a candidate’s skills,” Ingram said.
However, he was quick to add that, “In most cases, the client’s going to look for where [a candidate has] applied those skills [by looking] at their work experience and how they’ve used [those] skills in different types of environments.”
Dobrzeniecki said Guidestar prefers candidates who have certifications, since it’s a way to whittle down a stack of 1,000 resumes into a more manageable pile.
“For our database administrators, we may require an MCSE [Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer], so we know they’ve at least been exposed to [it],” Dobrzeniecki explained. “[But] having certifications [also shows] a level of discipline. Somebody wanted to accomplish a goal, they stuck to it and they accomplished something. That [says] something about their character and how they do business.”
Dobrzeniecki feels the same way about IT degrees.
“I like having people who have that organic knowledge besides the skills, having the education to think outside the box and do the things that a good education provides,” he said.
As far as training goes, Ingram said many of the organizations he works with provide some level of training after a hire.
“The majority of the training we’ve seen is specific to that company’s product or service,” he said. “However, there are several companies that put people through a certain type of technical training.”
In terms of experience, Ingram said there’s no cut-and-dry requirement: There are benefits to hiring someone new to the industry, and there are benefits to hiring a more seasoned professional, he said.
“Someone who’s new to an industry comes, in a lot of cases, without preconceived notions, and they could be trained the way the company wants,” he explained. “[And] in some cases, people will want to hire [professionals] who have expertise in the industry so that they can leverage experience to help the company grow.”
Dobrzeniecki said Guidestar seeks mid-level candidates. When asked why his company doesn’t typically go for the seasoned professional, he said the company “would rather grow those experiences.”
“We’ve got a complement of software and technologies that we employ, and everybody needs to have a breadth of understanding of everything,” Dobrzeniecki explained. “We’d rather bring in people in the middle and then train and educate folks in the skills that we need outside of that base.”
Clients take all of this into account when it comes to the interviewing process, Ingram said.
“They’re looking at the technical skills as it relates to doing the job day-to-day. They’re looking at the person’s desires as they relate to the company’s objectives. They look at work history [and] experience, as well as what’s important to the individual from a career-growth and environment standpoint,” he said.
– Lindsay Edmonds Wickman, firstname.lastname@example.org