IT Candidate Selection: Here's How to Narrow Your List to the Final Three

IT Candidate Selection: Here's How to Narrow Your List to the Final Three

The candidate selection process isn't easy — just ask those trying to fill in-demand positions such as data scientist or web developer.

Not all tech positions are as challenging to fill, but no matter what job you're hiring for there comes a point in the candidate selection process when you have to make your top choices for an in-person interview.

Use our Salary Calculator to find out what starting salary to offer your final candidate.

Here are some candidate selection tips to narrow the field down to the top three IT candidates:

1. Tally up their qualifications. The job description in the employment ad should list all the required and preferred qualifications the applicant should possess; use that as a guideline for candidate selection. Make a list of the educational level, years of experience and technical skills needed for the open position. Review the applicants’ materials alongside your list, and check off all the must-haves and nice-to-haves that each person fulfills. This process will leave you with a clear visual representation of the most qualified IT candidates, based on their applications. Take the top 40 or 50 percent of IT candidates from that list.

2. Assess their soft skills. Today’s IT professionals need more than technical abilities to succeed in their jobs. So, the next step in your candidate selection process should be a preliminary evaluation of the applicants’ nontechnical abilities. You won’t be able to get a full picture of a potential hire’s interpersonal skills from words on paper, of course. But one thing you can assess is the all-important written communication skill.

Are both the cover letter and resume well organized and easy to read? Are they free of typos and other errors? Poorly written applications show a lack of attention to detail (and could be an indicator of how IT candidates might approach their technical work). Also, did the applicant address the letter to you personally, even though your name wasn’t on the job posting? This could demonstrate initiative.

A cover letter’s content and overall tone also can shed some insight as to whether a candidate would be a good fit for your corporate culture. Is the letter stiff and formulaic, or is it appropriately respectful and engaging? After reading it, do you have a better picture of the person who might become your employee?

3. Examine their work history. Pay close attention to resume red flags, such as how long a candidate has held previous positions. You want employees who are driven to succeed, but a history of job-hopping every six months could be a sign that a candidate is undependable or unable to commit.

Also, take note of any extended periods of unemployment, but don’t assume the worst. There are many valid personal and professional reasons why a technology candidate has one or more lengthy gaps in their full-time work history. Just consider how uncertain working in tech can be: It’s possible an IT professional simply had a run of bad luck working for startups that never took off. So, be sure to give otherwise stellar IT candidates a chance to explain any significant employment gaps.

4. Make initial contact. Once you’ve whittled the list of potential hires to less than 10, reach out to each applicant through a phone screen interview. Schedule these interviews via email to get an idea of their response time as well as another look at their communication style.

One hiring trend is to conduct a phone interview without advance notice, but this tactic isn’t really fair to IT candidates. You don’t want to write off qualified applicants just because you catch them at a bad time and they aren’t fully prepared to speak with you.

During the phone interview, pay attention to how candidates present themselves. Do they seem engaged? Is their tone enthusiastic and friendly? Do you get the sense that they have a personality that would complement your team?

Also, be sure to keep the questions consistent across phone interviews so you can easily compare the responses of all the IT candidates you’re considering.

By following these four steps, you can make the IT candidate selection process easier. Once you narrow down the field of applicants to the top three IT specialists, you'll invite them for in-person interviews.

Being systematic about the candidate selection process can help avoid a bad hire, and puts you on the path to finding the right team member to help your organization innovate and grow.