Expert Interview with Johanna Rothman About Hiring Technical People

By Cheryl Morgan

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Johanna Rothman of the Rothman Consulting Group knows what it takes to hire technical people. She has blogged about the hiring process in a variety of ways since 2003 and has all the bases covered.

Rothman is also a credible source for the entirety of the business consulting process, so we feel privileged that she agreed to share her expertise with readers in this interview.

What is the biggest challenge with hiring technical people?

There are several major challenges:

Hiring managers use shopping lists or laundry lists of technical skills to write job descriptions. When they do that, the job descriptions are overloaded with technical skills that the jobs don't require. Worse, the descriptions don't specify the deliverables that make the job unique and offer candidates an opportunity. Add those problems together, and candidates see generic job descriptions. What happens? Everyone applies for jobs, regardless of whether they are qualified.

That means that hiring managers don't publicize their open jobs, because they don't want everyone to apply for these jobs. They use recruiters for every single open position, even the entry-level jobs. They put barriers in the way such as coding tests. The whole environment becomes "prove you can do the work" before a candidate can send in a resume. It's a mess.

All because hiring managers don't analyze the job first.


How does your site help address the challenges in hiring technical people and make the process better/easier for the individuals on either side of the hiring process?

I write many tips for hiring managers about how to hire, from when you need to do a job analysis and how to do one, to various ways to source candidates, to how to interview and audition, to how to decide among candidates. I write tips for job searchers about what to do to be a smart job hunter so you make a great impression on a hiring manager, and find a job that will fulfill you.

Both people want the same thing: to find a great person that fits the culture or find a great job that is a perfect fit.


While your site offers plenty of tips for hiring technical people, what tips do you recognize as being the most helpful?

Many readers like the interviewing questions tips. Those tips appear to be the most read.


Tell us about the Rothman Consulting Group and how that ties into Hiring Technical People.

When I was a hiring manager back before I started my consulting company, I hired more than 100 people. Few managers have that opportunity.

As a consultant, I sometimes took jobs as an interim manager. I hired my replacement. My clients were so surprised; how could I do the management job and hire my replacement inside of six weeks? It took them months to hire an engineer. When I explained how I analyzed a job and that the phone screen, interview matrix, and interview questions all descended from the analysis, they were astonished. Until they tried it. Then, they were thrilled.

When they realized that this approach worked for managers, too - well, they were really thrilled. I started selling my hiring "process" and wrote my first hiring book. Then I updated the book to "Hiring Geeks That Fit." Then I wrote "Manage Your Job Search," because while "Hiring Geeks That Fit" is helpful to people looking for a job as far as understanding the hiring manager, looking for a job is different than hiring.


What are some of the biggest mistakes people make when hiring technical people?

Aside from the job analysis problem, these are the next biggest mistakes:

1. The hiring manager doesn't create a team of people to hire with him/her. Technical people work as a team. They should hire as a team.

2. They don't use auditions to see how the candidate works.

3. They leave the recruiting to HR. HR might be good at recruiting; but if you are a technical person, you have the loose connections to find that next person for your team.


What are some of the biggest mistakes technical people do when they are trying to get hired?

Here are some of the biggies:

1. Thinking you can take time off right after you leave/or have been laid off from a job. Your job search is going to take longer than you think. Do not take time off right away. Start organizing your job search, even if you can't actually look for a week if you are too emotional.

2. Thinking that how you look doesn't matter. It does. You need to be clean and groomed. You need to wear clothes that look put together with a minimum dress code level of business casual. You need to look as if you've been to the dentist in the past year. You need to look as if you've been to the hairdresser/barber in the past month. You can have long hair, but it needs to be groomed.

3. Thinking you can network from your chair. You cannot. You have to get out of your home and meet people in person. For many people, this is scary and panic-inducing. I have an entire section about networking in "Manage Your Job Search" about how to network for shy people. I know this is not easy, but you have to do it.


You mention that Scrum Masters should not be expected to work on the tactical and strategic levels. Why is this?

The Scrum Master is supposed to remove obstacles for the team, which is strategic work. If the Scrum Master is also supposed to code, which problem do you think the Scrum Master is going to do today? Who knows? It depends, right? But the problem is that the team needs both kinds of work done and by one person. It's not possible for one person to operate at both levels. That's a form of multitasking.


What tips do you offer those who need to hire technical people because they are not technical themselves? What kinds of problems does this create for the person doing the hiring and the person interviewing?

This is why you need a team to help you interview. You can assess certain qualities, preferences, and non-technical skills which are part of the job analysis. But if you are not technical, you won't ask the technical questions. That's why you ask someone else to do that. It is that simple. That's why you have an interview matrix, where everyone knows what they will ask about.


What makes a successful technical team?

A successful technical team is one that knows how to work together, has a way to manage itself, and delivers on its commitments.


Talk about how diversity plays a role in the process of hiring technical people. For instance, what kinds of challenges exist when the hiring process boils down to selecting someone with 8 years of experience vs 20 or more years.

That's diversity of years of experience, which is important for succession planning. There's also diversity of background, of domain experience. There's also personality diversity, not to mention gender diversity as well as "traditional" diversity: where you went to school, race, all of the other things we consider when we think about diversity.


In what ways does social media recruiting impact what you do for living?

Hiring managers need to be much more aware of social media and how that media can help or hurt their recruiting efforts. I find that some candidates will never use Twitter but they will use LinkedIn, not realizing that LinkedIn is social media also.

Some hiring managers only want to review code on GitHub when they search for developers, and that's misguided. Not everyone posts their projects publicly. It's a problem.

Too many candidates don't understand how to use social media to enhance a job search. Even if they just searched for jobs on Twitter, that would be great. But too many don't.

As I blog and write my books, I find I have to introduce these ideas gently to both the hiring manager and the candidate. It's a challenge!


How has social media recruiting changed things in the hiring world?

For people who know how to recruit, it's opened yet another channel to connect hiring managers and candidates. That part is great.

For people who don't know how to use social media, it's a way of discrimination against people (younger and older) who are not comfortable with social media.


What are the biggest benefits of social media recruiting? What are the biggest drawbacks?

The benefits are many: you can research more about your candidates. You can broadcast your open positions and gain more potential candidates.

The drawbacks are that you can open your funnel very large and source candidates who are not right for you (wrong or insufficient experience, need relocation, etc.). Your winnowing process has to be faster and more comprehensive.


Please share anything else you would like people to know about Hiring Technical People.

Please come visit. I've been writing the blog since February 2003, so there is plenty to explore.

Follow Johanna for more information about hiring technical people on Twitter.

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