Are Certifications Really Necessary?

By: John Hutchins, Vice President of Client Relations

If you’re an IT professional, chances are you either have a certification or have thought about obtaining a certification at some point in your career.  These days you can find a certification for almost any skill, methodology or job title in the IT industry.  Are certifications really necessary to succeed as a technical professional?

I’ve been in the IT staffing business for more than 18 years.  I’ve placed more than a thousand technical professionals – some with certifications and some without.  I’ve talked with hiring managers about certifications, asking them why a certification is required, or even a degree for that matter, when a candidate obviously has a ton of real life experience and a successful track record.  Often times, certifications don’t help that much.  However, there are two instances when certifications make a real difference: (1) when you don’t have much experience and you’re trying to prove yourself; and (2) when it’s market driven.

If you’re a recent college graduate or a seasoned professional wanting to change your area of expertise, certifications may help you land that first or next job.  Certifications will show that you’re serious about your career choice – after all they are typically expensive and time consuming.  In addition, it provides some external, objective measure of your abilities.  You’ll still have to successfully make it past the interview stage, but you may not have even made it that far without the certification.  Finally, it provides agency recruiters with a reason to present you to a position when they otherwise may have rejected you outright.  Most recruiters are not technical.  They rely on your honesty and such things as certifications when deciding whether or not to present you to their client.  A certification may just tip the scales in your favor.

Even if you’re not a recent college graduate or changing your career trajectory, certifications can become necessary as a result of market conditions.  In this context, I’m referring to market conditions in two ways – the overall employment market for IT professionals and what the market requires of a particular type of professional.  With regard to the employment market, currently it’s a candidate driven market – experienced candidates with good interpersonal skills can write their own ticket in many instances.  In this type of market, certifications are not as important.  If, however, the market were to change for the worse, as happened in 2001 and then again in 2008, HR and hiring managers would be inundated with candidates and need some way to differentiate them.  One easy, although imperfect, way to differentiate candidates is based on education, which includes certifications.

With regard to the market for particular professionals, there are skill sets / job titles that appear to demand certifications.  Examples of this include the PMP certification for project managers and the CISSP certification for IT security engineers.  Certifications, like hair styles, seem to come and go.  A few years back it seemed like every project management position required a PMP certification.  Today, less than a majority of them do.  Now the big fad is ScrumMaster certification.  The point is that if hiring managers have bought into the certification and you want a job with them, you may need to bite the bullet and get the certification.

From my experience, certifications are typically not necessary.  They can be helpful when you need to prove your abilities or when the market requires it, but nothing can take the place of good old-fashion experience and the school of hard-knocks.

Six critical questions candidates should ask during an interview

By: John Hutchins, Vice President of Client Relations

I interview candidates for a living – candidates for our clients’ technical positions, as well as candidates for our internal sales, recruiting and resource management positions.  Rarely do candidates ask good questions.  I typically get the standard questions about how many candidates are interviewing for the position, how soon we’ll be making a decision and what are the next steps.  Don’t get me wrong, these are ok questions, but they aren’t giving you much worthwhile information.  Here are six questions every candidate should ask during an interview, the earlier in the interview process, the better:

  1. What did you see in my resume that prompted you to contact me for this position? The information you gather from this question will help you with the current position and potentially with tailoring your resume for future positions.  With regard to the current position, the answer gives you additional insight into what is important.  Asking this question early in the interview process enables you to tailor your answers to what they deem is important.   With regard to future positions, the answer helps you understand how recruiters review resumes and what caught their eye.  You may be able to use this to your advantage when applying for future positions.
  2. What is the profile of the ideal candidate for this position? This is an obvious question to ask, but is rarely asked by candidates during the interview process.  Again, asking this early in the interview process will give you an edge.  With this answer in hand, you’ll be able to focus your answers and ensure you cover the interviewer’s actual hot buttons, rather than perceived hot buttons.
  3. In what areas do I match that profile? A seasoned sales professional once told me that convincing someone to buy rarely works.  Instead, you need to help them convince themselves that they want to buy.  This question follows the same logic.  Your goal here is to help the interviewer solidify in their mind why you’re a good fit for the position.  It also helps you to validate whether or not you’re effectively communicating your strengths.  If they fail to mention experience that you obviously possess and that is obviously necessary for the job, you may want to rethink how you’re communicating that experience.
  4. In what areas are you unsure whether I match the profile? Notice that this is a softball question by design.  Using the word, “unsure,” helps to soften the question.  It implies that they are unsure, not that you are lacking in some skill.  The interviewer is more likely to give you quality feedback just based on how you ask the question.  In contrast, asking the interviewer what they perceive to be your weaknesses puts the interviewer in a difficult spot.  No one wants to tell someone else about their “weaknesses” or how they “don’t fit.”  If you ask the question with such finality, you’ll likely receive a fluff answer, such as, “Nothing comes to mind” or “I think you’re a great fit.”  As a result, you’ll never have the opportunity to help them be sure.
  5. What else can I provide to help you make the correct decision – more detail, references, personality test, etc.? As with question #4, phrasing is everything.  It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it.  With this question, it’s implied that the “correct decision” could go either way.  You’re not being cocking by assuming you are the “correct decision.”  Instead, you’re a consultant of sorts, trying to help them determine the best course of action.  Just by asking this question, you’re exuding qualities that most employers are looking for – selflessness, team work and honesty.  In addition, if they do have unanswered questions, it may provide you with the opportunity to provide information that sways them in your direction.
  6. With regard to other people who have been in this role, what have they done well and what were their biggest challenges? This is one of the best questions you can ask.  It typically results in cornucopia of valuable information.  This question often times helps you get under the hood, so to speak, to see what really is happening, and more importantly, the baggage you’ll be inheriting.  Regardless of your decision, it is always good to enter a new situation with reasonable expectations and your eyes wide open.

Asking these six questions will help you refine your interview performance, provide insight into what recruiters / managers are truly seeking in candidates, and help you determine whether or not this is a good fit for you.  Don’t ask questions for the sake of asking questions.  Instead, ask questions to obtain valuable information that will help you succeed – whatever that means for you.

The Recruiting “Secret Sauce”

By: Elias Cobb, Quantix Recruiting Manager

In dealings with end clients and hiring managers over the years, both my coworkers and I have noticed a question that comes up. They want to know how we are able to come up with qualified candidates for their open positions when they haven’t been able to fill them internally. Often we will come up with a good candidate in a few days to a week when they’ve been looking for months themselves. They ask us, “What’s your secret sauce?”

Now if there were truly a secret recipe to recruiting successfully, I probably wouldn’t post it here for all to learn. I’d hoard it for myself and my team. But in reality, there is no secret sauce. There are just a few things that we recruiters do every day, and I don’t think hiring managers and end clients always understand what goes into finding a qualified candidate. I’d like to shed a little light on some of the common misconceptions out there, and hopefully bring to the forefront what it takes to be a really good recruiter.

Misconception #1: Recruiting is easy! Wrong. IT recruiting is hard work. A lot of hard work. It’s plowing through literally hundreds of resumes, making hundreds of phone calls, conducting interviews and winnowing the list down to a few choice candidates. If it were as easy as posting a job on your career page, you’d never need an IT recruiter. But it’s not that easy. To fill one IT job, my team generally screens something like 400+ resumes. We then reach out to a large number of them, and phone interview as many as we can. We take that list and choose the top handful of resumes, and send those along to the end client. Throwing paper resumes at a job is easy, and if you suspect your agency isn’t talking to every candidate they submit, I’d recommend moving on from them and selecting a new staffing agency to work with.

Misconception #2: We already have an internal recruiter. We don’t need an agency. I guess this is a matter of opinion, but if your jobs aren’t getting filled in a timely fashion, perhaps you DO need an agency. Just because you have one person out searching for resumes doesn’t mean they’re turning over every stone. In fact, they’re probably not. They don’t have that kind of time. Plus, I’ve noticed in my years of working with recruiters that you can give the same job requirements to two recruiters, and they will come up with completely different candidates using the same tool (internal database, job board, etc.). No two recruiters source the same. Different people see different things in resumes and some people are better at seeing patterns and asking the right kind of questions to discern if a candidate is a good fit.

Image Credit: Next Media, Inc.

Image Credit: Next Media, Inc.

Misconception #3: Anyone can be a good recruiter. Not true at all. In my opinion there are three elements to recruiting (these are things I have noticed in years of hiring and training recruiters): First, knowledge. This covers things like understanding technology, understanding what a developer does vs. a DBA, using a job board, what basic questions must be asked, what does 1099 mean vs. corp-corp, etc. Knowledge can be taught. If someone is intelligent and has a willingness to learn, they can figure this part of the job out. Second, work ethic. Like I mentioned in point #1, recruiting is hard work. To be a good recruiter, you have to be willing to come in and work hard for at least eight hours a day. That’s not as common as you might think. This is generally ingrained in someone, but you could potentially train someone or micromanage them into working hard. I prefer to try and find naturally hard workers, myself. And third, intuition. This can’t be taught. This is when someone sees a resume and can intuit other duties the person might have done and call that candidate when most recruiters would skip over it because the key words aren’t there. This is when a candidate says something, and the recruiter knows what follow-up questions to ask and where to dig in. That can’t be scripted. This is when a recruiter can look over a resume and quickly determine if the person is worth calling. This saves a great deal amount of time every day. You can teach people some of the things to look for, but at the end of the day, intuition plays an enormous role.

Misconception #4: All agencies are the same. Not true in the least. As I mentioned in point #1, there are plenty of agencies who simply throw resumes at the hiring manager and hope one sticks. There are plenty of agencies who don’t have a quality process and environment and suffer turnover in their recruiting staff. I believe in retaining a top-notch recruiting team because my recruiters KNOW our clients. When a repeat client gives us a job, we all know what the environment is, what type of personality works well and the background that client likes. If an agency recruiting department has high turnover, they lose that knowledge. We also try to get to know our clients and managers. We don’t want to waste their time with bad resumes or candidates whose personalities won’t fit. Not everyone does that. All agencies are definitely not created equally!

So I guess there is a “sauce” after all, but I don’t think it’s all that “secret.” Take one part close client relationship, add a cohesive team of tenured recruiters, sprinkle in some knowledge and intuition, add the proper tools and mix in a large helping of hard work. Voila!

VMS – Hated By Virtually Everyone – Why Do Companies Implement Them?

By: John Hutchins, Quantix Vice President, Client Services

When I started in the IT staffing business as a sales person back in 1998, Vendor Management Systems (VMS) were almost nonexistent. Companies had vendor lists or gate keepers, but the monster that is today’s VMS was still in its infancy. Today, most large corporations and many medium-sized companies have implemented a VMS. Hiring managers, candidates and, of course, recruiters hate them – so why do companies continue implementing these systems?

Imagine this scenario – you’re a large IT organization with 35 managers. Each manager has their favorite two staffing firms. The company is now working with 70 staffing firms, each with their own unique way of doing business, including unique contract terms. Sounds like a mess? You bet! I’ve run across companies where no one, not even someone in accounting, can tell the executive staff  how many staffing firms they are working with, how many contractors are on staff or even how much they are spending on staffing services. If I were an executive in that company, I would freak out and demand that we implement a comprehensive system that provides detailed reports enabling me to make informed decisions, negotiate better terms and get everyone on the same page. In walks the VMS sales person, Cha-Ching!

From the executive’s perspective, the VMS sounds great – a centralized system through which every internal hiring manager and every staffing agency has to work. And, of course, the best way to ensure everyone works through the system is to make that same system the vehicle for the staffing agency to get paid.

“Sounds great,” says the CIO, “But it also sounds expensive! I don’t want to spend the money to buy or implement this system. We’re already spending too much on IT staffing.”

“Not to worry,” responds the VMS sales person. “This system will be free for you to use and implement. We’ll make the staffing agencies pay for it!”

“Well then, if it isn’t going to cost me anything, make it happen,” says the CIO with a big smile.

And that is how it works… and one of the reasons IT staffing firms hate VMS. The VMS is paid for by charging a fee to the IT staffing firms who are required to utilize the system – typically between two and five percent of gross revenue. In other industries, that may sound like a kickback, not in our world.

PullingHairOutOther reasons why IT staffing firms hate VMS is because it becomes the communication conduit with hiring managers. If everything has to pass through the VMS, why not initiate the job order process from the VMS? And why not require all feedback to be passed through the VMS? And since, everything is going through the VMS anyway, let’s free those hiring managers from the pesky IT staffing sales people and forbid any interaction between the two! 

It may sound great in theory, but the IT staffing business is a “people business.” For the recruiter to find quality people, they need to have quality information regarding the job order and quality feedback throughout the process. If there is no personal interaction permitted, that quality communication quickly degrades. The job order added to the system becomes sparse (or outright incorrect), the feedback quits being added because hiring managers are busy people and don’t have time, and the recruiter begins to make assumptions – essentially trying to make educated guesses about what the hiring manager really wants. Sounds like a mess? You bet!

Hiring managers may like the idea of implementing a VMS, but most begin to complain when they see the quality of candidates start to slide. The savvier managers begin working the system by going around the VMS and talking to their favorite staffing agencies about job orders. Some even go through the entire interview process and choose their candidate before entering the job order into the VMS and having the staffing agency go through the VMS with the one candidate that actually already has the job. This works for the savvy hiring manager and the lucky staffing agency, but actually creates the reason candidates end up hating the VMS without even knowing why.

If you’re one of the lucky candidates working with the lucky staffing firm that works with the savvy hiring manager, you’re golden. You’ll receive quality information about the job order, good feedback from your recruiter and may even get the job without knowing a VMS exists. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the time, candidates are working with a staffing firm that isn’t a favorite or isn’t working with a savvy manager. As a result, they don’t receive good information about the job order, don’t receive good feedback and ultimately feel like their application ended up in a black hole.

The answer to the original question is that the VMS satisfies the needs of the company and its executives. It gives them information they use to track and control the use of IT staffing services. The fact that the VMS companies have figured out how to offer it to the company for free seals the deal. Unfortunately these benefits trump any dissatisfaction expressed by hiring managers, candidates and recruiters.

Beware Of The Dreaded Staffing Agency

By: Elias Cobb, Quantix Recruiting Manager

I say that, tongue planted firmly in cheek, because I work for an agency, and have always worked for an agency throughout my entire recruiting career.

You (hiring manager OR candidate) may not believe me when I say that working with some select agencies is a good thing. Yes, I know. Of course I would say that. I want your business. But believe it or not, there are some actual recruiters out there who truly care about both their clients and their candidates. It’s not ALL about commission checks and fees.

First off, if you’re a hiring manager, why would you want to work with us? We cost you a large chunk of money, right off the top. Shouldn’t your corporate recruiters or HR people be able to find these candidates? Isn’t that what you’re paying them for? First, let’s immediately stop blaming HR. Their job isn’t all about recruiting. They have a thousand other things to do, and digging up a JavaScript developer with Angular.js skills isn’t going to leave them with much time to do anything else. And corporate recruiters? From having spoken with many corporate recruiters, my understanding is that they juggle 30-50 open jobs (or more) at any given time. I’ll tell you right now, in IT, it is 100% impossible to actively recruit on that many positions at the same time. And with the market as tight as it is, companies aren’t receiving the same quantity, and more importantly, quality of candidates applying to their jobs. IT folks simply don’t have to apply for jobs right now. Recruiters have to go out and find them. And if you’re giving your corporate recruiters that many positions, they don’t have the time to find those candidates. OK, you might say, I’ll hire more recruiters. Fine, but you’ll have to let them go when your hiring cycle winds down. Oh, and good luck finding top notch recruiters on the market right now as well – they’re in extremely high demand too.

And a good agency can actually save you money. Yes there’s a fee. But what are the indirect costs in lost productivity by that position staying open for 6 months? Or the lost productivity in time the manager spends reviewing hundreds of resumes, or interviewing unqualified candidates? A good agency can get you candidates quickly and allow you to make a hire in days or weeks rather than months.

Image Credit: Some Interesting Facts

Image Credit: Some Interesting Facts

There is a caveat here. Not all agencies are created equally. In fact, there are a lot of bad ones out there. I’ve heard, time and time again, from hiring managers that some of their vendors will submit candidates to them without ever speaking to the candidate. Why would you ever continue working with that agency? They don’t care at all about your time. You may review resumes and request interviews, and you don’t even know if the candidate is available or interested in your company! Fire that agency immediately! However, there are some of us who thoroughly interview candidates. I personally try and visit as many of our clients as I can to make sure we understand our client’s culture. This allows us to have a meaningful discussion with candidates about the client, and actually submit candidates who want to work there. We can also help educate our clients on the state of the market, salary ranges, candidate availability based on skills, and more. If you choose to partner wisely, an agency can be a wealth of information for you.

From a candidate perspective, it makes a lot of sense to work with an agency. Why wouldn’t you? It costs you nothing. You can gain access to companies you never would have found on your own. And they can help you with the interview process – not in giving out interview questions, but in at least preparing you for the people with whom you’ll meet, interview style, etc. Again, as above, you need to make sure you only work with reputable agencies. Don’t allow anyone to submit your resume without telling you who the client is, and the position for which you are being submitted. No reputable agency would withhold that information. And if you find a good recruiter, they can and will help you with your resume. For free! And they may be able to make introductions into companies you are targeting, even if they won’t make a fee on it. I know, it’s hard to believe, but there are a lot of recruiters out there who will help you without getting paid.

I read more and more these days about the state of recruiting, and how the human touch has gone out of hiring. I agree, it’s happening more and more. But by working with a couple of really good, reputable agencies, you can put the human element back into hiring.

Why Your Hiring Process Doesn’t Work

By: Elias Cobb, Quantix Recruiting Manager 

Ok, so I’m jumping to a conclusion that your particular hiring process is broken. If it’s not, then stop reading right here. However, if you’re one of the many, many companies that are out there struggling with hiring, feel free to read on and comment!

I also know that many of you in hiring positions may not trust the word of an agency recruiter on hiring. After all, we’re just here to convince you to hire our people, right? Well, although ultimately that’s the way we make money, we really want to partner with you to help you make the right hire.

Another reason to listen to an agency recruiter (or me in specific): I’ve seen literally hundreds of hiring processes in my years in the industry. It’s pretty easy to pick out the ones that work. And it’s equally easy to see the ones that don’t.

Here we go (and by “you” in these, it could either be a person or company that holds fast to these characteristics):

  1. You focus on things (skills, attributes, background) that don’t really matter. I see this all the time. For example, passing on a candidate with over 10 years of experience because they don’t have a degree (when there is no corporate requirement of a degree). Or looking for skills in a resume that aren’t going to be used in the job at all. Or looking for a degree in a specific discipline when you have had successful employees who don’t have that same degree.
  2. You have a lengthy interview process. This is especially relevant now, when IT candidates have a lot of choices. Why can’t an interview process be finished in one to two weeks? Why does it have to drag out over four+ interviews and more than a month? It’s ridiculous. If you have candidates you like, then speed the process up. What wastes more time, getting hiring decision makers together quickly, or dragging it out so long that you have to go through the entire process over and over again?
  3. You refuse to compromise on any “required” skills. I’ve seen hiring processes take so long because managers won’t relent (literally six months+) that they could have hired someone with 75% of the skills and trained them on the other 25% in the time it took to look for that “perfect” candidate.

    Image Credit: Jobbook

    Image Credit: Jobbook

  4. Your salary is nowhere near market rate. I know, this one can be tough to change depending on the company. However, with the IT market the way it is, it’s more relevant than ever. If you want top talent, you have to pay what the market will bear, or have some really compelling reasons for someone to work at your company. The market sets the price for talent, not individual companies. And if you can’t pay top dollar, then think about aligning your expectations with your salary range.
  5. You require a certain number of years of experience in skill areas. So you’re telling me, for example, that someone who spent 10 years doing maintenance coding on existing applications is more skilled than someone who has spent five years building applications from scratch and coding everything? Obviously a general example, but total years of experience are not a true measure of skill.
  6. You have to have a few candidates to compare against each other. That never works well. So if you’d really rather hire the best of a group of bad candidates than hire one really good fit, just because there’s no comparison? Evaluate your talent against your job description, not against each other. Sometimes the first candidate through the door is the right one.
  7. You have unorthodox interview questions tests, or procedures that no one seems to be able to pass. Think of those crazy questions we all used to hear that companies like Google used to ask. Problem is, last time I checked, there’s only one Google. You can get away with more when you’re one of the most desirable places to work. If you’re that, fantastic! You can likely ignore all my advice because people will wait for your lengthy process and deal with the crazy questions. If you’re not Google or someone like that, don’t try to act like you are. And before you institute some sort of technical test, aptitude test, or the like, I suggest you administer the test to your existing employees. If your best employees can’t pass it, it’s probably not a good way to evaluate incoming talent (yes, I’ve seen that).

When push comes to shove, it really boils down to this: Figure out what core skills you need, the personality you want and the salary you can pay. Look for people who meet those characteristics, and don’t worry about their years of experience, what they made in their last job, where they got their degree or if they have one, and then make decisions quickly.

The Shift From Contract To Direct Hire Opportunities For IT Professionals

By: John Hutchins, Quantix Vice President, Client Services

During the last four years, we’ve noticed a dramatic shift in the types of positions our client companies are asking us to fill – contract vs. direct hire positions. Based on conversations with friendly competitors, it appears that this shift has occurred throughout the IT employment sector. For example:

  • In 2010, 80% of the positions we were asked to fill by client companies were contract (temporary) positions and only 20% were direct hire – meaning the client intended to pay us a fee and hire the candidate immediately.
  • In 2012, the number of contract positions fell to 55% and the number of direct hire positions increased to 45%.
  • Thus far in 2014, 39% are contract positions and 61% are direct hire positions.

What caused the shift from contract to direct hire? We’ve seen this type of shift multiple times over the years. The typical cycle coincides with the strength of the economy. When the economy is struggling, companies tend to utilize contract labor. Our theory is twofold: (1) money used to pay for contract services comes from a different funding pool than money used for the salaries of direct hire employees and contract labor is perceived differently by shareholders; and (2) direct hire is viewed as more of a long-term commitment with more strings attached.

Image Credit: AML Source

Image Credit: AML Source

The economy has taken a long time to recover from the ‘Great Recession’ that started in 2008. Although the IT sector was not hit nearly as hard as other sectors, it still experienced a staffing downturn from 2008 until 2010. The first signs of life were client companies wanting to hire contract labor. This trend continued until companies began to feel more secure about the future – approximately 2012. At that point, we noticed the trend away from contract and toward direct hire. This trend builds quickly upon itself – almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. As more companies are willing to hire candidates directly, candidates become more particular and are only willing to consider direct hire opportunities. This, in turn, causes even more companies to begin hiring directly because they can’t find candidates for their contract positions.

As a side note, here’s an interesting twist that eventually occurs at some point in this cycle. When direct hire becomes the norm, some highly skilled IT professionals figure out they can make a whole lot more money working contract and, with the strong economy, they don’t worry about the temporary nature of contract positions. Near the peak of the direct hire frenzy, companies begin to lose their top talent to contract and consulting gigs.

How does the shift from contract to direct hire impact candidates and the hiring process? Candidates are impacted in multiple ways. The biggest positive impact is the perceived stability of direct hire. Although there are numerous examples of contract opportunities lasting longer and paying better than direct hire opportunities, candidates feel more comfortable when a company commits to them by hiring them directly. Negatives include a longer hiring process and hiring managers becoming increasingly picky with regard to whom they hire. The hiring process lengthens because direct hire brings with it a greater sense of commitment which requires more company representatives to be involved in decision making. With contract positions, it’s usually just the manager who interviews and decides on the best candidate. With direct hire positions, multiple managers, team members and human resources weigh in on the decision making process. This increases the number of interviews which lengthens the process.

Based on previous experience, this most recent shift to the direct hire preference will change back to a contract preference when the economy stumbles, as it eventually always does. There is nothing inherently bad about the current shift or the overall cycle, but it is an interesting phenomenon that explains some of the behaviors IT staffing companies and our candidates are experiencing in the hiring processes of our client companies.