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IT hiring strategies: Our CIO readers talk soft skills, skimpy budgets

In our inaugural CIO Chatter, readers weigh in on staffing expert Melisa Bockrath's advice on IT hiring strategies in tough times.

In a recent news piece, looked at new IT hiring strategies in the face of waning resources and budgets....

Linda Tucci,'s news director, sat down with Melisa Bockrath, an IT staffing expert at Troy, Mich.-based Kelly Services Inc., to discuss current stressors in IT hiring, including evolving technology strategies based around cloud computing, mobility and big data, heightened expectations for IT-business alignment and a dearth of IT talent in the marketplace.

To follow up, we asked our readers, "What is the biggest pressure on your IT hiring strategy?" We suggested that rapid technology change, elevated business expectations and a talent shortage were some of the biggest crunches, but wanted your comments, too. The responses suggest that there is no single, easy solution when it comes to developing an effective IT hiring strategies:

    • "CIO's are hung up on hiring cookie-cutter employees with specific skill sets. Give me a candidate with basic skills and a great work ethic, and I will train him/her to do the required work. You are simply NOT going to find Mr. or Ms. that fits your exact job requirements. This cookie-cutter mentality simply does not work. I see ads on CareerBuilder demanding skill set A, B, F, and K. Those jobs will go unfilled until companies wake up that very few IT professionals have the exact skill set you want. Find a good IT generalist, and teach them what they need to know to fit your requirements."
Find a good IT generalist, and teach them what they need to know to fit your requirements.
  • "Lack of funding or management support. Key issues in my environment concerning hiring."
  • "There should be a compromise between 'Adapt IT to Business Process' and 'Adapt business process to IT.' Both are parts of the same organization, which for its harmonization needs to have [a] fluctuation field where everything should be smart and flexible enough to adapt, acting as part of the same body. Where a body's first hand doesn't arrive, then a second hand, a foot or any other organ must run to help to complete the process. This should be automatic."
  • "Great points. In today's environment where specialized IT skills are in high demand, concurrent with the need to keep departmental costs down, working with cloud technologies allows IT departments to meet their goals for increased productivity in a cost-effective manner."
  • "I think the business expectations are one too many and finding a talent to match the same requirements [is difficult]. Also, business is expecting less cost to meet [these] requirements. This is likely to be the most important challenge as a CIO."
  • "Business expectations are high, but we can meet them if we can get sufficient talent onto the team. Unfortunately, that is increasingly difficult right now. We have a strong core, but are struggling to add to it."
  • "If you apply for a contract or a job, you have to fit their criteria exactly or else you are not considered. Employers want their employees/contractors to fit like a square peg in a square hole. If you don't fit exactly, you are not considered. Employers don't see the lack of talent. They still think it is an employer's market."
  • "The increase in new technology is dividing IT into smaller and smaller specializations resulting in serious skills gaps. We need a new way to identify the right staff based more on aptitude than already learnt skills."

Clearly, readers debate the importance of hard skills vs. soft skills in making a great hire. Tech departments are seeking staff with the requisite skill sets, but also want to make sure that prospects are good cultural fits for the organization. And then, there's the dreaded lack of funding, which many organizations must contend with nowadays. These restraints hinder firms in their efforts to secure -- and, in some cases, recognize -- top talent.

What's the biggest issue with hiring the right individuals in your IT organization? Do interviewees lack the skill sets you're seeking? Are you held back by budget woes? Do you strongly agree -- or disagree -- with any of the respondents above? Sound off about your IT hiring strategies in the comments section below.

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This was last published in November 2012

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Which is most important when hiring for IT positions?
Smart is a given. So are clever and dedicated. But most of all, I look for people who are highly collaborative. Isolated, ego-driven introverts tend to create the programs they envision, not the ones I need. We always make a place for the one-off eureka workers, but it's not in IT.
In my new position, we do something I have never done before. When there is a perspective hire, they sit with everyone in the department separately for a few minutes. This way we all get a feel of how they may fit in the department. Then we discuss any issues among ourselves and see if we all feel the same. 
One of the primary things I look for in a suitable candidate, and just had added to the job descriptions and postings, is intellectual curiosity. I find that overcomes a lack of skills. A successful career in IT requires not only constant learning, but also the initiative to seek out and implement new and innovative ideas, and that’s something that I typically see in a candidate that has a good deal of intellectual curiosity.
Technical skills can more easily be learned than soft ones.
In seeking to build the soft skills of an organisation, one needs to consider that the vast majority of skills applied in the workplace are "soft" as they relate to the individuals (and the team's) behavioral competencies. A key soft skill being the interpersonal people skills that are the core to the success of the business as such skills as communication skills, conflict resolution and negotiation, personal effectiveness, creative problem solving, strategic thinking, team building, influencing and selling skills. These skills are most often gained through practical and in-the-field experiences that cannot be attained from formal training or "textbooks". But give the staff and teams the opportunity to learn from setting challenging assignments and roles and their success becomes the organisation's success - a win-win for all concerned.
The problem with hiring policies being that soft skills are often overlooked for the hard skills which over time become less relevant in the day to day activities of the organisation (throw out the text book position descriptions).
Because internal management teams (in many cases) lack the skills to vet IT specialists, we value pedigrees over skills - usually a big mistake as you get book smart test takers, not people with experience, thought leadership, analytic skills and ability to grasp and understand how things fit together in the big picture.
Depends upon the position. The higher the responsibility and the more personnel to be supervised, the more important soft skills become.
Combination of both - 70% Hard / 30% Soft
Both hard and soft skills are important but in regards to hard skills need to look more towards IT generalist. IT technology is too diverse and changing too rapidly to expect to find a candidate with exactly the hard skills you need. Look for someone who has demonstrated work ethic, ability to adapt and intelligence to learn and apply new technology. Train them on the specifics. If you provide decent salary and challenging work they won't just run off at the first big salary offer.
The hard skills can be learned, and some of the soft skills too. However, some soft skills you either have them or you don't.
Soft-skills are extremely important when hiring
Moore's law means emerging technologies will always be with us, so having demonstrated IT capabilities enhanced by soft skills to interact and learn is a winning combination.