The Biggest Hiring Mistakes CIOs Make and How to Avoid Them

For hire neon signIn companies large and small, the role of IT has dramatically changed. Instead of a cost center, it has become a business enabler—a problem solver charged with both innovation and keeping the underlying infrastructure running.

At the same time, multi-sourcing with a variety of providers is now the norm. In the future, a mid-size company could work with five or 10 outsourcing providers, with a larger company engaging with 50 or more. “Doing it yourself” is a thing of the past.

Yet, many CIOs are still using the same job descriptions, same hiring strategies and still staffing up on technical aptitude alone. The result? An organization packed with people who understand technology but can’t deliver the IT transformation today’s companies require.

So, where are CIOs going wrong? How should their hiring methodologies change? And, what qualities should they look for in potential hires that they may be overlooking?

We asked three experts to help us compile a list of the most common hiring fumbles every CIO needs to avoid—and what to do instead.

Replacing What You Had Instead of Looking for What You Need

When you’re in hiring mode, it’s also a great time to take a long, hard look at your organizational structure.  Are things getting done? Is IT constantly getting blamed? Are your business units going off and procuring their own software or infrastructure resources?

“If you have dysfunctional business processes or an organizational structure that just isn’t working anymore, the best IT team in the world will still fail,” explained Patty Hatter, CIO and SVP of operations for McAfee®, the world’s largest dedicated security company. “If things aren’t working, spend some time to understand why you’re having problems. Identify what skillsets you’re lacking, then start hiring.”

Hatter speaks from experience, using that strategy to transform her own organization’s operations and IT functions a few short years ago.

“At the time, we had no visibility into where our resources were going. Both IT and our business organizations lacked the analysis, and the project management skillsets we needed to actually get things done,” Hatter said.

Her new strategy involved immersing teams of business analysts and project managers within the various business units they supported, so they could fully understand how these groups operated and how they used IT.

“We obviously needed to hire people with strong interpersonal skills so we could improve relationships with our business partners across the company,” Hatter said. “Those characteristics had nothing to do with technology but had everything to do with making our organization successful.”

Moving Too Fast

While IT delivery has a need for speed, when it comes to hiring, it pays to take things slow.

“When you hire too fast, you’re bound to make a mistake,” explained Kimberly Zanatta, president of Genius Road, an IT and telecom recruiting company. “Recruiting is very much like matchmaking.  You need a person who is the right fit for the job but also fits with your culture and the way your team operates.”

That’s information you can’t get by looking at a resume or conducting a 30-minute interview.

“Don’t be afraid to pass on a candidate who is ‘good enough’ but not really what you need,” said Blake Holman, senior VP and CIO of Ryan, LLC, a leading tax services firm. “”We invest heavily in our hiring process to ensure that a candidate is a good match for Ryan. If you have an urgent need, you’re far better off spending the money to hire a contractor while you find the right person for the long term. It’s a lot less expensive to the company than a hiring mistake.”

One good place to find that temporary help is to contact a trusted outsourcing partner who already knows the company’s culture, technology and processes.

That way, you can keep making progress without settling for a new hire that you’ll regret later.

Hiring Your Top Performer’s Best Friend

Here’s the scenario: The most reliable person in your IT organization just walked into your office with a resume from her best friend, brother or in-law or aunt—the perfect candidate for your open position. She speaks glowingly about that person’s credentials, how he or she would fit so well in the organization and why you should interview him or her today.

You talk with the candidate for 20 minutes by phone and know you have your hire. After all, what’s better than hiring on recommendation?

“When someone in your organization recommends a friend or relative, it’s critical that you do the same amount of due diligence as you would with a total stranger before you make a hiring decision,” Zanatta said. “Most of us can’t be totally objective about our friends or family. And, just because someone is a good friend doesn’t mean that person has great work habits or is going to be the world’s best employee.”

The bigger problem comes when things don’t work out.

“Let’s say you hire the friend and end up letting him or her go. Think about the impact that’s going to have on your ‘good’ employee and the way he or she feels about your company,” Zanatta said. “Before you know it, you could  have two openings, instead of one.”

Ignoring the Essential Soft Skills

All of our experts agree that the days of the geek behind the mainframe are long gone.  Communication and collaboration skills—and the ability to work in concert with both business units and outsourcing providers—are as necessary as technical aptitude, no matter what position the individual holds.

“I don’t have a role in my IT organization that is an island unto itself,” Hatter of McAfee said. “The ability to communicate, negotiate and think ‘big picture’ are key. Our people understand what’s going in our business units as clearly as the individuals who work in those business units.  If they can’t build trust, it’s not going to work.”

Today’s IT pro requires fluency in more than techno-speak. The ability to translate technical concepts into plain, understandable language is critical to building trust throughout the company.

“I’m not looking for people who think IT is a laboratory for creating the next big thing. We don’t need solutions in search of a problem,” Holman of Ryan, LLC said. “I look for people who can adapt their communication skills to their customers—and those who know how to listen. Our job is customer service, to understand the goal or the challenge and deliver solutions that solve real business issues.”

If you want to know how that individual communicates with different types of people, the best approach is to see for yourself.

“I always recommend that the top candidates are interviewed by a member of the IT team, one or two internal customers and someone from the outsourcing provider if that type of interaction is part of the job. Put together the most diverse group and mix of personalities you can,”  Zanatta of Genius Road said. “Not only is this a great litmus test on how that individual communicates and adapts to his or her audience, it also accelerates that candidate’s acceptance into the organization once hired. You get the buy-in up front.”

A true “team” interview, with this diverse group of individuals interviewing the candidate at the same time is also a good option.  A group interview provides an indication of how someone performs under pressure, as well as how that person  would interact with committees and other diverse stakeholder groups.

“We have to pick people who can quickly build rapport with the business units we support,” Hatter said. “They’ll have to deal with tough situations and understand the art of negotiation. Those are the kinds of skills they have to bring to the job.”

A team interview can indicate how each candidate measures up.

Failing to Read Between the Lines

While a good resume provides an abridged version of “the career of candidate X,” it rarely gives insight into the whole person.

“I am always amazed that more people don’t add some personal information, like activities and interests, on their resumes; and that more CIOs don’t ask candidates about what they like to do away from work,” Zanatta said. “That information is essential to understanding what makes that candidate tick.”

For example, a marathon runner has drive and endurance, which may mean he or she can handle challenges. If the candidate is into sports, that individual is probably competitive. Woodworkers, craftspeople and trivia gamers show detail orientation. Volunteerism indicates that someone is willing to go above and beyond for a particular cause, and shows you what he or she is passionate about.    High adventure indicates the need for stimulation. The list goes on and on.

“While what a person does outside of work should never be a deal breaker, it’s also something that shouldn’t be ignored,” Zanatta said. “At the same time, if your candidate’s hobby is also tech-related, like rebuilding servers, that person could burn out. And, if technology is that individual’s end-all and be-all, how is she or he going to interact with your business units? Probably, not well.”

 Not Being Totally Honest

So, your IT organization has a few significant issues. You’re working it out, but you don’t want to scare your candidate away. Is honesty the best policy?

According to Zanatta, the answer is an unequivocal “yes.”

“If your organization is a mess, but you are in the midst of a transformation, tell your candidate. If that person is excited by the challenge, or at least not scared away, you know you might have the right fit,” Zanatta said.

Also let the candidate know the expectations upfront. If you have a president who texts at midnight and expects a response, or if there’s a cyclical “high season” where weekend work is the norm, share that information too.  Otherwise your new hire will soon become a newly departed as soon as he or she sees the light.

Speeding through the Onboarding Process

Finally, when CIOs hire the right candidate, they often expect him or her to hit the ground running, without the necessary onboarding. With that approach, even the best new hire will stumble, if not fall.

“When someone joins our organization, we spend time explaining how we interact with the business groups, our vision, and how that person fits in to that vision,” Hatter said. “If your hires understand where their jobs fits in the big picture from the start and why they’re doing what they’re doing—and why it matters—you’re going to have a better outcome.”

By avoiding these fumbles, CIOs are more likely to hire the best candidates and position their organizations to succeed as business enablers and innovators for years to come.

You’ve heard from our experts. Now, it’s your turn to weigh in. What hiring mistakes or best practices would you add to the list?

5 Comments on "The Biggest Hiring Mistakes CIOs Make and How to Avoid Them"

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  1. Lynn says:

    Great insights for anyone wanting to make good hiring decisions!

    Question for Kimberly:
    I’ve read a lot of articles about ‘trends’ in resume writing. Are skills summaries at the top of the resume “in” or “out” — and how do hiring managers deal with a process where resumes are funneled through a keyword system in HR? How do we make sure we don’t miss out on the best candidates?

  2. Paul Maeker says:

    Good article. I was recently on the other side of the table in a group interview for the first time. It is a good concept.

  3. Paula says:

    Kimberly – RE recommendations for friends and family, what’s your opinion on the practice of doubling the “bounty” when an associate recommends a candidate that they have worked with before vs. friend/family/acquaintance?

  4. Great questions Lynn. I can definitely say that summaries and skill sections are “in”. The one thing you want to do is appeal to all styles of managers when writing a resume. Some will only read the first 1/2 page of your resume and others will want the details. So, the first thing should be about you (Summary) and the second thing I’d recommend highlighting is the skills (Expertise) but in bullet points with areas you have accomplished. If you can, this is the section where you would add measurable accomplishments (ie. costs savings on particular projects, size of team managed, % revenue increases, size of a portfolio managed in $, etc.).

    On your second point about HR and key word systems, I would say that is difficult. Some people add the “key word” of a particular IT environment on every position and some only add it once. It doesn’t mean that the second candidate doesn’t have the same experience so it can be tricky to rely only on a filtering system. A trained expert will be able to glance over resumes quickly to identify skills, relevant experience, tenure among other things that will be necessary in attracting the right talent, but also the “whole” candidate.

  5. Paula, recommendations can be risky because we are also naturally inclined to make friends at work. Generally it’s successful however I’d still proceed with caution. It’s one thing if they are recommending the person out of a need, but if you are adding a referral bonus, not everyone’s intentions are the same. Just like recruiters.. so choose carefully! My recommendation would be to ensure they go through the same “vetting process” as any other employee (i.e. interviews, background screens, references etc.). The other thing you should investigate is the length of time or the number of occasions they have worked together and the “true” relationship. Remember, if they are coming to your company “easily”, they may also easily leave your company and drag away a star employee.

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