Today’s job market favors the knowledge worker.
They have experience, solid educational background and the polish to communicate well with customers and seek out opportunities for growth and development within their organizations. These same characteristics prompt the knowledge worker, an intrinsically savvy job seeker, to improve his or her odds of landing a position by researching a potential employer to gain whatever information advantage possible.
Most technology companies will happily share what they’re looking for in potential employees. Why not? They’re in the business of finding talented IT professionals, and information can be a great differentiator for both parties looking to discern proper fit and the likelihood of a beneficial employer-employee relationship. Consider FrontPages Web Hosting Network, a division of Amp Technology LLC. Rob LaMear IV, president and CTO for Amp, said his organization is all about hiring.
The organization expects to double the number of employees in its St. Louis headquarters by the end of the year. More than 50 percent of its staff work in junior and senior systems engineer positions in two main areas: data-center maintenance and help-desk support.
LaMear said, as the company launches its aggressive recruiting efforts, problem-solving ability and analytical skills rate high on the list of qualities it screens for in potential IT candidates.
“We actually test for those metrics so that we have a baseline, if you will,” he explained.
“There are standardized IT tests, you can test industry or role specific, and there’s also some standard analytical testing you can do. But everything is built off of problem solving and analytical thinking. We’re a Microsoft technology company, a gold partner, so we look for those core services: Exchange server, Windows server, SharePoint, SQL, etc.”
Soft skills and project management skills also are important considerations. LaMear said, while interviewing potential employees, he often finds candidates who are qualified engineers, but few who can communicate well and manage projects effectively. This is problematic for his organization because 80 percent of FrontPages engineers communicate daily with the end user, and the company has more than 5,000 enterprise customers.
Potential candidates also should be able to work effectively in a team environment because most tasks at FrontPages are created for this dynamic. LaMear said teamwork also is a way to help smart people get smarter — enabling them to bounce ideas off others — and he tries to keep an open, collaborative environment in order to move people along the learning curve faster.
“There are some engineers out there who would prefer to work by themselves, but in our environment, it’s critical that they play well with others,” he explained. “A lot of our tasks are team based. It’s pretty seldom that you’ll have an engineer who knows everything. One individual may have some expertise in SQL server, for example. When he’s finished with his piece, he’ll hand it off to an engineer who may install CRM, so they have to be able to talk and work together.”
Experience and pre-existing skill sets are important talent considerations for its upcoming growth plans, but FrontPages also provides training post-hire. In a relatively new model, the company is weaning itself off a heavy reliance on external training opportunities and is in the process of building an extensive in-house curriculum to cross train engineers in two or more of its core hosting technologies: standard Web hosting, SharePoint, MOSS (Microsoft Office SharePoint Server), Exchange, CRM, SQL and dedicated servers.
“Our big technology is SharePoint, so three or four times a year we will actually hold in-house training, and our engineers sit in on those sessions,” LaMear said. “We’ve decided roughly every month we’re going to cover our core technologies in a training session so that people who have an interest can get some exposure.”
Training and development are part and parcel of the successful IT professional’s life. In fact, when evaluating potential employers, many expect it, whether in the form of on-the-job training or subsidies to finance external educational opportunities such as boot camps and more traditional academic coursework. Unfortunately, the cost of training is not cheap.
While cost is a consideration, LaMear said FrontPages holds a decidedly positive stance on continuing education, and the organization’s move to an in-house training model is one way to ensure its employees remain up-to-date on the latest technology.
“It depends on the size of your organization,” he said. “With smaller groups, which is where we were last year, it made more sense to send them out to a training center. As you get a little bit bigger, it makes more sense to formalize that training because you’ve got people coming in and out so quickly.”
Though almost all of its positions are customer facing, FrontPages employees can choose career paths after they’re hired. But everyone starts out in the organization’s help-desk area.
“That’s where they cut their teeth, so to speak,” LaMear said. “From there they can move into a junior position or a senior position in one of those other areas. Picture on the left side there’s our help desk, the first line that all customers go into. Then on the right side we’ve got infrastructure.”
These IT professionals take care of servers, building out infrastructure for FrontPages. “We’ve got groups who do both, and we’ve got groups who operate in the middle,” LaMear said. “Those people in the middle are transitioning out of help desk and into something with a little bit more responsibility.”
Like many of today’s employers, LaMear has many differentiators in his arsenal to help categorize the best talent. These include education, experience and relevant certifications. While the appropriate background and applicable work experience is likely to trump other considerations nearly every time, he said certification can tip the scales in a potential candidate’s favor.
In fact, an IT professional who has soft skills, technical aptitude, experience and a relevant certification has a distinct advantage. Employers want tangible proof of skills to help them discern whether a candidate knows if a solution will or will not work in a specific customer’s environment, regardless of textbook reasoning.
“In the IT field, experience can only be acquired one way: on the job,” LaMear said. “There is no substitute for someone who’s actually been out there doing it and knows what will work and what will not. It’s invaluable.
“If they have a certification in one of those core technologies, it gives them a stamp of approval. One, I know what they’re interested in and have some reassurance that they’re qualified to work in that area. Second, we’re a Gold Certified Partner with Microsoft. We’re required to have a certain number of qualified engineers on staff to maintain that. I will look for those candidates, and if I have two that are equal, I’m going to take the guy who’s certified. It’s the piece that may push them over the edge.”
The on-the-ball employer hunter will assess the potential company environment and tailor his or her employment pitch to match its needs. For instance, given FrontPages’ organizational structure and mission, LaMear said it doesn’t tend to look overlong at candidates fresh out of college. Its need for technical capability and real-world experience is too great, and employees must be able to ramp up and perform quickly.
“We’re moving so fast [that] a lot of those guys just coming out of school are not a good fit for our environment,” he said. “We like to see them cut their teeth as a network admin at a small- to medium-sized business and then come back and see us in year three when they’ve got some real-world experience and a little bit of knowledge of networking or whatever their interest is. We’ve done the internship route and for our business it makes more sense to avoid that. We spend so much time training people [that] you don’t necessarily get to see the return.”
So candidates looking to sign on with FrontPages can assume they will be rated first on real-world experience. Second, they will be rated on passion for technology.
“In anything you’re going to do, if you don’t enjoy whatever it is, you’re not going to be as successful as the person who 24×7 lives in that world and has a passion for it,” LaMear said. “I’ve found that makes a huge difference in the type of team that you’re building.”
Finally, LaMear reiterated that FrontPages employees have to have great communication skills. They need to “be able to speak and write well so [they] can have a proper conversation with a customer,” he said. “If you’ve got someone with experience, and [he or she has] passion for what they’re doing and communicates well, that’s the perfect candidate.”
– Kellye Whitney, firstname.lastname@example.org
CertScope links to 39 CertMag articles and 60 Web sites touching on “knowledge workers.”