Great IT staff is hard to find, says Elvis Cernjul, senior director of technical services at Spiegel Brands. But one key to finding — and hiring — great IT staff is the knowing how to interview really well.
Interviewing is a skill Cernjul — a 2008 CIO Ones to Watch winner — has honed over the last 20 years. "I've learned a lesson from every hire I've made," he says. "I've captured the good things about the best hires I've made and I've learned a lesson from the hires that didn't work out so well."
Passing such hard-earned wisdom along to his staff is one of Cernjul's priorities, and he follows through by giving his staff opportunities to help him interview candidates for jobs at Spiegel.
When appropriate, Cernjul includes his managers and other staff members in interviews. Afterwards, he brings his team together for a discussion: How effective were the interview questions? What did you think about how the candidate responded? How could we have interviewed more effectively?
As for what interview questions work particularly well for Cernjul, one stands out: "What do you hope to achieve here?"
With that one question, he can suss out "what goals and objectives people have in their lives." He points to the example of a desktop technician he hired just out of high school. The applicant may have been young, but he knew what he wanted, "I want to be a systems engineer."
"Sure enough, a year a half later, that's exactly what he was."
"I don't look for hardcore technical skill," says Cernjul, who instead believes in hiring for potential. "I look for people who have inspiration, desire and aspiration to better themselves."
Cernjul says the company also finds good job candidates through "tryouts" — that is, through internship programs and IT contractors. This gives his team a chance to see if there's a good fit between the Spiegel Brands' IT group and the prospective employee. It's also a way for the job candidates to see that the company is a good place to work.
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