Solid communication skills? Check. An MBA from a prestigious university? Check. A decade or more of relevant work experience? Check.
Only IT candidates with an exhaustive resume, replete with exceptional academic and work-related experience, need apply for a position at the second largest chemical company in the world.
The Dow Chemical Co. is a leading organization in the science and technology industry that provides chemical, plastic and agricultural products and services to consumer markets. The company’s scope transcends international borders, and its employee base is more than 46,000 — about 800 of whom work in the IT department alone. The company is in the middle of an acquisition with Rohm and Haas, and those numbers will increase once the transition is complete.
In addition, Dow Chemical does a considerable amount of outsourcing with its partners, according to Dave Asiala, shared services IT director at Dow Chemical.
Range of IT Roles and Responsibilities
Given the size of the IT department at Dow Chemical, it isn’t surprising to encounter highly qualified employees with varied skill sets.
“We create application capabilities [and] put them into production,” Asiala said. “We have a PMO [project management office] that does program project planning, configures capabilities purchased in the market or occasionally will develop capabilities that aren’t in the market.”
The company also supports a wide range of infrastructure such as global networks, single work-station environments and IT telephony at every desktop.
“We have project managers, like most IT shops,” Asiala explained. “They will run multiple projects at the same time, taking the deliverables from a formal methodology and executing them to make a change, improve a capability or innovate a new one.
“We [also] have a lot of lead subject-matter experts [or] lead architecture specialists — these are individuals working in IT with content expertise that’s applied to projects and supported services,” he continued. “They could have that content knowledge across network capabilities, around work stations or around any kind of an application area.”
Skills to Succeed
Asiala said Dow Chemical will hire entry-level workers directly from the marketplace, but added that the company seeks to round out its workforce with candidates who have spent about a decade or so acquiring relevant work experience in the industry.
“We’re augmenting entry-level [hires] with midcareer [ones] mostly because we outsource to selective vendors some of the lower-level jobs within our organization,” he explained. “We don’t have quite as big a pipeline for those jobs. We find ourselves [looking for] people who have cut their teeth for 10 years or so in the industry.”
In the past, the company has dipped into the pool of IT professionals who have served in consulting companies.
“[We have hired] people who have taken a period in their career to go out and do consulting at the big firms or smaller niche firms, and maybe that much travel in their role isn’t what they want anymore,” Asiala said.
Dow Chemical also has hired people who may have been interested in the company’s value proposition.
“We’re a global company, so we have done significant hiring in Shanghai, China, in the last couple of years,” Asiala said. “We acquired talent from a wide range of backgrounds with the intent of starting them in an IT center role and allowing people to branch out into other functional competencies, [such as] supply chain.”
The average employee at Dow Chemical is armed with an academic background in computer science or engineering.
“We’re now more and more looking [for] people with an MIS-type degree, MBAs, as well as all sorts of engineering backgrounds,” Asiala added.
Certifications also are valued highly at the company.
“[For] about nine years we’ve been a Six Sigma shop, and so Six Sigma Master Black Belt, Black Belt and Green Belt statuses — which are earned statuses across the company — are quite important to us,” Asiala said.
In fact, these certifications, which are recognized industrywide, are required for employees’ progression within the company.
“[Individuals] need to demonstrate the Six Sigma skill set with one of those competencies inside or outside the company,” Asiala said. “That’s probably the most mandated certification [at Dow Chemical].”
Similarly, several members of the security administration or security IT team at the company obtain certifications from ISACA; IT auditors are expected to earn ISACA certifications; and program and project managers typically work toward Project Management Institute (PMI) credentials.
“Quite a few of the various certification [options] that are available will be recommended in some job roles [but are] usually not mandated,” Asiala said, reiterating that the only required certification is the Six Sigma.
Soft skills also play a role in determining whether a potential hire would make a good fit at the company.
“Right now is a very difficult environment to be out looking for a job,” Asiala explained. “I think the soft skills — the ability to communicate well, present yourself well, be articulate and to seem confident to someone looking to hire you — are incredibly important. I think [there’s a need for] soft skills all the time, [but] when times are tough and there’s higher unemployment and more competition out there, those soft skills can make a big difference because the number of qualified technical candidates will generally go up in a recessionary time.”
A Telling Interview Process
Those applicants who rely on prepared standard answers to the run-of-the-mill interview questions will be found lacking during the hiring process at Dow Chemical, Asiala warned. That’s because the company employs a job interview technique that requires candidates to actively apply their knowledge and past experiences to provide satisfactory responses.
“We generally use the STAR interviewing technique, where you describe situations. You’re really looking to ask questions that make people [draw on] their own experience — either academic or work experience — and [explain] how they would solve [a particular] problem or address a situation,” Asiala said.
Although Dow Chemical places great emphasis on an applicant’s work experiences when hiring, it isn’t meant to entirely eclipse his or her relevant academic qualifications, Asiala said.
“Academic background that somebody has achieved can be impressive, and there’s no intent to disregard that [when] looking at candidates,” he said. “[During the interview process], we won’t necessarily discount an answer somebody may give from their schoolwork.”
Still, the current format of the interview process at the company stands.
“The situational response [to questions such as], ‘When were you put in a situation like this?’ and, ‘What would you do?’ is a very effective way to get beyond everyone’s ability to do everything going forward and [instead] look at what people have already done,” Asiala said.
Opportunities for Growth
Dow Chemical has set up internship programs catered to bachelor’s candidates who attend the company’s targeted undergraduate recruiting schools around the world. The goal is to identify candidates for full-time employment following their graduation, Asiala said.
“We have enough work and enough different aspects in our comprehensive IT shops that it would be typical in the first six to eight years that [these new hires] might have three different job experiences — maybe even including a location change,” Asiala said.
In addition, the company seeks out experienced hires directly from the marketplace.
“In evaluating midcareer experienced hires, we typically look for candidates who can succeed in the job we hire them for as well as have the potential to do other roles in our organization,” he said.
Some of these hires are equipped with master’s degrees from prestigious MBA schools. “Just to get into the MBA school, they would have had to have eight to 10 years of relevant work experience,” Asiala said. “[These candidates] would [first] do a summer internship and we would look to hire successful candidates into full-time roles after their graduation. Those hires will come into a rotational job assignment program where their job will change every 12 to 18 months for three to four rotations across multiple functions.”
It certainly isn’t uncommon for employees to try their hand at an assortment of tasks.
“We’ll have someone go from being an expert on a subject matter expert-level role to being a project manager or the other way around,” Asiala said. “Eventually, with those experiences and maybe running one of the services we provide to our users, they could be a program manager and run a whole set of projects and ultimately could be a director of one of those areas.
“IT is kind of the glue that glues a lot of the business processes together, and if you understand the glue points and the ability to bring your experience to bear on one of the disciplines, [it] seems to be a bit easier,” Asiala said. “We find that people with backgrounds in IT have lots of opportunities in other functions.”
– Deanna Hartley, firstname.lastname@example.org