Your burning jobs questions, answered by CIOs

Passion, curiosity, accountability—these ‘soft skills’ are in demand as much as technical know-how.
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· 4 min read

When it comes to employers, a spin on an old adage comes to mind: Help them help you (and help themselves).

People looking to enter the tech workforce are often faced with a large number of questions from prospective employers—and whether you’re entering the high-demand market now or changing jobs, it can be hard to know exactly what you’re going to be asked about.

IT Brew asked CIOs about what they want from employees and what they look for in the interview process. Answers varied, but all the CIOs we spoke to said they wanted something a little more than purely technical ability—though, as Angela Baskerville, AT&T’s VP for corporate systems and talent enablement, said, that’s often one of the most important things.

“These days, technical proficiency is still very much king in our company as well as in society at large,” Baskerville said. “The demand for technical skills has increased in a relatively short amount of time, even when it’s not necessarily a technical space.”

Tech and softer specs. Those skills, said Cisco CIO Fletcher Previn, include “security developers, networking, and data science, DevOps, people who know how to manage cloud environments, machine learning, and more broadly, AI.” Previn added that he also wants to see signs of curiosity—usually a good indication that the person at the other end of the table is willing and able to learn new things.

“I’ll almost always hire someone for passion and curiosity over experience or a particular skill,” Previn said.

Still, experience matters.

“Ideally, if it’s someone who’s further along in their career, you look for hands-on experience—that they’ve actually been in a role doing some of that work, and not just overseeing some of that kind of work,” Previn said.

IT is the “nervous system” of companies, said Sheryl Haislet, CIO at data center operator and equipment supplier Vertiv, and thus it’s necessary for prospective employees to be about business as much as they are about tech. But she’s also always on the hunt for less tangible skill sets—so-called “soft skills” that get at the applicant’s ability to work well in the office’s environment.

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“Technical skills are important for certain technologies…good soft skills are important, too,” Haislet said. “Can you work well with a team? Are you adaptable? Can you collaborate well with others?”

Rolling in IT. Flexibility is also important, Haislet said, showing that the applicant can roll with the punches in a changing environment.

Baskerville agreed, telling IT Brew that leadership traits are essential for tech workers to succeed.

“When I say leadership, I don’t mean that they necessarily have had to manage humans,” she said. “But they have collaboration skills, for example, that are also demonstrable.”

That includes accountability, and that’s what Rich Fusinski, CIO for insurer the H.W. Kaufman Group, looks for from applicants to his team. Fusinski said he uses résumé details to quickly assess if they’re blowing smoke or not.

“I’ll pick something out on somebody’s résumé, usually one of the most seemingly complex items on it, and I’m going to ask that person to tell me everything about it,” he said.

Fusinski asks them to explain the problem and solution in detail, not to catch them lying but to see how they approached the issue and worked their way around it. An incoherent response does give some insight into their character, however.

“If they can’t answer those types of questions, my assumption is that they didn’t actually do the work, or that they weren’t really associated with the work and are taking credit for it or puffing up their expertise,” Fusinski said.—EH

Do you work in IT or have information about your IT department you want to share? Email [email protected].

Top insights for IT pros

From cybersecurity and big data to software development and gaming, IT Brew delivers the latest news and analysis of trends shaping the IT industry, like only The Brew can.