HR Managers: How to Assess the Technical Skills of IT Candidates



Published20 August 2020at11:36, updated on10 August 2022at09:13

HR Managers: How to Assess the Technical Skills of IT Candidates cover

Undoubtedly, it can be difficult for hiring companies to assess the technical skills of highly specialized IT candidates. Especially when recruitment duties fall more heavily on the HR or Purchasing functions rather than on the more tech-savvy IT managers. 

That is even if you consider yourself to be an industry insider who knows all the ins and out of your company’s market. As a hiring specialist, you probably do not have the level of detail needed to assess a candidate’s skill in any of the technical areas of expertise currently most in demand.  

But that does not mean you are helpless. Not at all. Here is a series of steps that will help you identify top tech performers regardless of their specialty.

Assess the Technical Skills of IT Candidates

Start with the CV

The first step in the process of recruiting any candidate is CV analysis. Beyond providing an overall idea of a candidate’s profile and trajectory, a careful look at a CV also offers an opportunity to start filtering early on and be more efficient.

Tips on indicators to look for

Look at these indicators to get a first impression of an expert’s technical skills:

  • Real-world experience: someone who has worked on actual AWS migration projects, as opposed to someone with just an educational background, will have a deeper knowledge of this technology stack and related AWS tools (CodeDeploy, CodeBuild, CodePipeline…)
  • The level of that experience. Of course, a consultant with 25 years of experience and major projects on their back will be more skilled than a more junior profile
  • Specific training and certifications on given technologies. Yes. Education is still important. Not as a substitute of experience, but as a complement that demonstrates a candidate’s professional and career-oriented attitude and validates the depth of their expertise.  
  • The level of detail with which a candidate lists all skills and technologies. A truly experienced IT professional will have no problem specifying what programming languages, stacks and platforms. They dominate and to what level. Whereas someone with not as much experience will opt for more general and vague terminology.

Community involvement

Moreover, not all tech and IT professionals get involved with their community and attend events. Being an active member of the community is not a prerequisite for being good at one’s job. But it sure helps.

If you spot a candidate who attends trade conferences, shares their expertise on forums, or leads workshops on their area of ​​expertise, chances are they are the kind of committed and driven professional you are looking for. Positive signs here include having an active GitHub profile, which allows users to share original code and have an open debate a variety of issues.

Ask the right interview questions

The interview is the next step. Asking the proper questions about the skills covered in the CV and the job offer will allow you to get a more precise idea of ​​the candidate’s level of expertise.
Do not hesitate to ask for more detail on the candidate’s past experiences, to alternate open-ended questions and very concrete ones, and to propose hypothetical scenarios. Take the time to prepare your questions in advance.

If your level of understanding of the candidate’s area of ​​expertise is very limited, do not hesitate to be accompanied by someone who can help you prepare and conduct the technical part of the interview.

For more advice, particularly on how to approach interviews with independent contractors, you can check out our article on the 5 key questions to ask a tech or IT freelancer.

Put the skills to the test

Nothing beats an old-fashioned test when it comes to demonstrating certain skills. It is very common for companies to have their IT candidates take task-specific practical tests, both to assess their technical capabilities and other parameters such as essential soft skills and cultural fit.

Again, you can enlist the help of a tech-savvy colleague to design the test and interpreted. It is standard practice to develop a range of tests covering the most common positions, but you will need to do some extra work for areas of expertise that are not so ubiquitous or if the candidate needs to fulfil very specific project specifications. Working with an industry-specialized recruiter can also give you an edge here.  

Check the references

Last step: checking a candidate’s references. As it is the case with any other position, this process takes time but is essential to avoid mistakes. Especially when you do not know too much about the skills you are vetting.

Compare the answers that the candidate provided during the interview to what former employers have to say. Ask these employers about the depth of the candidate’s knowledge, as well as their role within the project and overall performance. Here you also have a chance to corroborate your first impressions of the candidates cultural fit and their soft skills.

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