IT recruitment: inside advice

IT executives demand business skills and a customer-service mentality

It may be a job seeker's market, but IT executives say prospective candidates better show their business chops if they're going to command an employer's attention and money.

"We're definitely looking for a customer-service mentality these days," says Michael Iacona, CIO and senior vice president at TMP Worldwide Advertising & Communications, a recruitment advertising firm based in New York.

Iacona knows first-hand that most job seekers have a long way to go in wowing hiring managers. Since TMP spun out from Monster Worldwide late last year, he's led dozens of interviews to fill 18 technology positions, ranging from local help-desk support to IT managers.

"Some candidates were technical whizzes, but they couldn't carry a conversation and weren't good listeners," he says.

Iacona, like many hiring managers today, has been looking for a blend of "soft" skills, such as an excellent ability to communicate, and "hard" skills, such as knowledge of the latest hardware, software and programming languages.

"We're not a very large company -- only 630 people -- so we need people that are flexible and adaptable and can wear many hats. A programmer may be great at cranking out code, but if he can't work with a client, then that's a problem," he says.

Iacona has seen resumes during this intense hiring period, which is almost complete, that are laden with technology buzzwords, such as Web 2.0 and AJAX. "Rather than just throwing out buzzwords, I'd like to see what they accomplished by knowing that technology. How did their knowledge help their employer? What value did they bring to the company?" he says.

Joanne Kossuth, CIO at Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts, U.S., says she also looks for leadership trends when hiring, but finds it difficult to ferret out because of the format of electronic forms.

"Online forms don't lend themselves to doing a great resume, so we ask people to bring a printed one with them. What they bring in often looks different than what you see online," she says.

Kossuth, who is in the process of hiring a lead help-desk technician, says candidates should spend more time on their resumes. "Technical resumes tend to be the worst resumes you'll look at. Many people never get past their hardware and software skills," she says. She recommends creating an executive summary that highlights critical achievements, such as project management and company cost savings. "An executive summary -- rather than a list of programming language skills -- is essential," she says.

Martha Heller, managing director of the IT Leadership Practice at recruiting firm Z Resource Group, agrees that candidates need to dig deeper. "Companies are getting smarter about the need for project-management skills and business acumen. Candidates need to show that they understand revenue is important," she says.

She attributes this change from the technology-driven resumes of the late 1990s and early 2000s to the trend toward outsourcing parts of the business. "In the boom, it was all about technical skills. Now that there is a lot more outsourcing; you have to be well-rounded. It's about communication, vendor management, global experience and industry experience," she says.

One way for candidates to put their business savvy on display is to create bullet points in their resumes that "monetize their skills," Heller says. "Rather than just saying you led an SAP deployment, you can say that by leading the SAP deployment, you were able to reduce overall expenses by a certain dollar amount. Everything you've done should have a business impact," she says.

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