Tech Hiring Madness: The Elite 8 Skills to Recruit For

Community Contributor
5 min read

The tech talent shortage shows no signs of slowing down. According to the Americas’ SAP Users’ Group , one in four survey respondents cite retaining skills in supporting, developing, and upgrading SAP systems as their number one challenge . With the pool of qualified, experienced candidates across legacy and emerging technologies so scarce, making the right hiring decisions are more important than ever.

In the spirit of the NCAA basketball tournament, we asked our service delivery managers to name the elite 8 qualities hiring managers should look for in potential candidates. The suggestions encompass technical know-how and the interpersonal skills that help build relationships and championship-level teams . Their lineup includes:


Elite 8 Skill: Listening

When high-pressure situations arise, IT staff needs to act fast by understanding the problem at hand. “If they are unable to listen to what the client or their colleagues are saying, they are not going to be effective,” says Craig Mackereth, senior vice president global support .

Mackereth identifies this quality in candidates by asking questions that require an in-depth answer. For example, have them describe a real-world scenario and be very specific in how you ask the question. This let’s you know if they can listen and follow directions while under interview pressure.

Flagrant foul: Not answering the question as asked.

Elite 8 Skill: Collaboration

“We work in an Agile environment which centers around cross-functional teams who work closely together, leveraging all of their skills and experiences to deliver for our clients,” says Paul Henville, senior vice president global product delivery. “Proven experience with and enjoyment of working in a collaborative environment is a critical trait for our team members.”

During the interview process, Henville asks about a candidate’s experience in Agile environments and listens in for examples of team-orientation versus self-orientation. He also advises homing in on the difference between examples of truly working together rather than working adjacent and relying on handoffs.

Flagrant foul: Not acknowledging the efforts of the team.

Elite 8 Skill: Communication

“We are in an explosively connected and ever-changing world where the new speed at which we conduct business is faster than ever. The ability to communicate across multiple channels is a strong indicator of success,” says Heather Sepolen, vice president, chief of staff, global service delivery.

Sepolen recommends asking open-ended questions that give a candidate the freedom and space to provide detailed answers. This allows you to validate their ability to clearly express ideas. Direct questions also help her determine a candidate’s philosophy on the value of communication. Examples:

How would you describe good/effective communication?
What are your communication strengths and weakness?

In addition to evaluating verbal communication skills in the interview, follow up via email with a question that allows you to assess their written communication skills.

Flagrant foul: Inability to stay on topic.

Elite 8 Skill: Integrity

Says Mackereth: “Honesty is the best policy – it’s not a catch phrase.”

To gauge integrity, he asks disarming questions that force reflection, but which must have an answer. Big red flags, according to Mackereth, are if the candidate dodges the question, is unable to think of an example, or just talks in terms of theory. An example: It’s been great to hear about your successes, tell me about a time you were involved with a project failure, why did it fail, and what could you have done differently?

Hiring managers should also keep a keen ear out for inconsistencies between responses. Ask about experience with a particular software, for instance, then follow up with a software-specific question. If they can’t answer the specific question or their answer doesn’t make sense, it could indicate that they’ve been less than truthful.

Flagrant foul: Lying in the interview.

Elite 8 Skill: Problem Solving

The ability to identify an issue, come up with a solution, implement the solution, and evaluate its effectiveness is critical for Sepolen. “Anything that can be disrupted is being disrupted, and candidates need the ability to quickly identify and solve issues while adapting to the constant change,” Sepolen says.

To probe for this trait, she asks questions that require a candidate to describe in detail how they faced unexpected challenges at work. In the answer, she listens for the process the candidate uses to move from problem to solution — more so than the resulting solution. In doing so, she’s able to get a feel for how they approach problems instead of being swayed by a clever solution.

Flagrant foul: A quick answer that lacks details.

Elite 8 Skill: Accountability

Accountability is required to build trust within the team. “If someone makes a mistake, they need to own it and work with the team to make improvements,” says Henville. “In this way, the team works to become self-organizing as they identify their own opportunities to improve and commit themselves to reach higher levels of performance.”

Henville advises listening for key factors such as transparency, keeping commitments, and offering to help others. Ask the candidate to provide an example of a time that they made a mistake, and how they handled it. Are there indications of humility and growth? You want to hear how they worked towards a greater goal as opposed to just keeping their heads down focused on short-term tasks and waiting for their manager to tell them what to do.

Flagrant foul: Placing blame on others.

Elite 8 Skill: Discipline

You don’t want anyone on your team cutting corners to the detriment of their fellow teammates or clients. “Because we are in the business of 24/7 delivery of service to clients, having disciplined engineers makes a huge impact to our service delivery,” says Mackereth.

He asks how a candidate was measured in prior roles. Pay particular attention to how they react when you probe into their performance. If there was an SLA, did they deliver? If there was a project, did they come in under budget and on schedule? Drill into the successes and learn if they were a result of disciplined effort or good fortune. Beware if they suggest ways that they could’ve hit milestones by skimping on deliverables.

Flagrant foul: Compromising quality to meet deadlines.

Elite 8 Skill: Flexibility

Teams in an Agile environment should be always looking to improve and experiment with new ways of working. “All team members must be open to change and skilled in quickly adapting,” says Henville.

He asks the candidate to provide an example of change that came from an external source and how they handled it. He listens for indications of open-mindedness, negotiation, and problem-solving. You can also ask the candidate to provide examples of how they have added to team improvement and increased quality of work. Listen for active engagement in small improvement activities on a regular basis, rather than just working on that one big “improvement project” that was finally funded and resourced.

Flagrant foul: Complaining about change


Find more suggestions on addressing the tech talent shortage in Gartner’s “Quick Answer: How to Address and Plan for the Increasingly Severe IT Talent Shortage?


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