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Book Review: Page (1) of 1 - 06/05/06

Fluff-Free, Pragmatic IT Hiring Advice

Most career books are way too vague. Hiring the Best offers truly useful suggestions.

By Esther Schindler

Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds: The Secrets and Science of Hiring Technical People
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I had to let Rich go. He was a sweet man, he cared passionately about his job, and I knew he gave me everything he had. It just wasn't enough. Everything he touched fell apart in his hands, and it seemed like he never knew the right answer on the first try. As his manager, I didn't mind being called in to deal with exceptional situations, but I found myself called downstairs to solve problems on a daily basis. Even sending him off for a week of technical training didn't help.

Worse than being an incompetant nincompoop (in which case I might have been able to fire him with vengeful glee), Rich was semi-competant. And I hated, hated having to let him go, because I knew the initial problem -- the hiring failure -- was mine.

If I had known better, I wouldn't have hired Rich in the first place. I would have recognized that he didn't have the right background or skills for the job, even if he desperately wished he did. And, if I had been able to read Johanna Rothmans' book, Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds: The Secrets and Science of Hiring Technical People, I might have been able to avoid a painful experience for both Rich and my company.

Every company wants to hire the best staff possible. You want intelligent people with the relevant experience who'll fit into the corporate culture, and you don't want to make expensive, emotionally-trying mistakes in doing so. Unfortunately, it's hard to find guidance that's worthwhile. I've read lots of good books about career management, many of them from the job-hunter's point of view.  When I've looked at books written for the hiring companies, however, I've been astonished at how thin they were -- full of obvious advice that told me nothing I didn't know. Or they were written for HR professionals who are more concerned with legal requirements than with finding the right person for the job.

Rothman's book is different. First, the entire premise is that you're hiring people for IT jobs, especially for software development, quality assurance, or software documentation positions, and the text reflects that knowledge domain. Her target reader is the technical manager, but I've been in enough job interviews -- on both sides of the desk -- to hope that this book will end up in the hands of the programmers who have sat across the desk from me, asking dorky questions like, "If you were an animal, which one would you be?" or quizzing me on, "How would you debug this code?" (while making it clear that they're personally struggling with the code problem, not handing me an audition question).

Hiring the Best tackles each step in order: defining and writing the job description, sourcing candidates (i.e. should you place a listing on craigslist or monster? attend job fairs?), reviewing resumes, developing interview questions, conducting phone and in-person interviews, making the job offer, and so on. In other books, I've seen some of these topics addressed in a really lame manner, taking 20 pages to say, "figure out what you want the employee to do," but Rothman clearly knows her stuff.

For example, her section on analyzing the job to be filled walks you through several questions to ask yourself about preferences in procedural matters (does this job require someone who will follow procedures explicity, or can this job handle a maverick who lives to break the rules?), multitasking (a focused person to work on one thing at a time? or a context-switcher?), goal-setting (how hands-on will management be?), and several other criteria. She shows you how to deal with the stack of resumes, combing through them to find out which ones to include rather than empasizing which ones to exclude. And I sure wish I'd had her suggestions for interview questions, the last time I was faced with a techie whose expertise was outside my area. ("Uh, you write in Java? How, um, nice for you.")

She also offers advice about what not to do. For example, she suggests, exactly what is it you're hoping to do by limiting the job requirements to college grads? And she points out that you can't ask someone in a job interview about marital status or child care; but when the issue is "Can the candidate work on different shifts, for this tech support job?" you can ask about the key issue directly.

Best of all, this is a fast read. The writing occasionally can be dry in a few sections, but Rothman provides plenty of real-world examples, lots of useful templates, and case studies that reflect reality. If you're a hiring manager, trying to figure out how to open a job requisition, or if you're a developer who's been asked to interview a slew of candidates for the new position, I emphatically recommend you pick up a copy of Hiring The Best.

Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds
Johanna Rothman
Dorset House
ISBN 0932633595
Esther Schindler has been writing about technology professionally since 1992, and her byline has appeared in dozens of IT publications. She's optimized compilers, owned a computer store, taught corporate training classes, moderated online communities, run computer user groups, and, in her spare time, written a few books. You can reach her at [email protected]

Related Keywords:book review, hiring, human resources, software development, techie, johanna rothman, knowledge worker, it management

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