Katherine (Kathy) Tamer likes to have a master staffing plan to assist her with hiring decisions. As vice president and CIO of NASA contractor United Space Alliance (USA), Tamer leads a 400-person IT organization, so it's no wonder she needs a master plan to guide all that staffing. Her master plan identifies all the technical and professional skills her IT organization collectively needs to carry out its mission, which is to provide IT support for space shuttle operations. In this Q&A, she shares her hiring strategy and process, and she discusses the effort she and her staff put into developing a workforce of the future.
Jane Howze: What do you base your hiring decisions on?
Kathy Tamer: When I am hiring management, I look for people who can enable a team to be successful. Team dynamics are critical. There are some folks whom I could hire who might be able to do a job, but who would be totally out of sync with the dynamics of the team. I have a team today that is managing multiple sites, and they are doing a great job working together. They cover each other's backs, and if they hear something that could impact the others, they make sure they know about it as a team. Hiring is a piece of the team-building puzzle.
I also look for people who think at a level appropriate for the position I'm filling. If I'm hiring a director, I want them to think at the director level. If I'm hiring someone at the senior manager level, I want them to think at that level. Thinking like an employee on the floor and not understanding what the management issues are tells me a candidate is not ready for a management job.
Do you have a hiring strategy?
If you have the luxury of starting from scratch and you have a master plan for your organization, you'll know what kind of skills you need for the team as a whole even if you don't know what skills each individual on the team has to have. You have to have that [master plan] before you hire anyone. If I don't have the right plan for what I need, it won't matter who I hire because I won't get the right person. You have to have a plan, you have to understand what you need, and then you have to hire the right person.
What's your hiring process?
Basically, I define the requirements for the job and I post the position. Our human resources department has set up management hiring so that anybody applying for a management position must be interviewed and selected by a panel of three people. I typically select for my panel internal customers [for] whom the candidate will provide key services, or who will work in the same location as the candidate.
Last year, when one of my direct reports retired and I needed to hire a replacement, I had two of my key customers-the vice president for safety, quality and mission assurance and the deputy program manager for ground operations out of Florida-as members of my three-person hiring team. Sometimes a human resources person sits on the team. I meet with my selection panel, and we discuss interview questions.
When we conduct interviews, we have a set number of questions which we rotate through. The interview is followed by a free-form discussion. We typically set aside two hours for the interview and discussion. Then we make our decision. The hiring manager gets a veto vote, but typically the three people on the panel make the selection.
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