HR ain't that bad!

Not a single programmer, network administrator or operations guy had a nice word to say about the HR gatekeepers who make it so hard to get an interview.

Hoo boy! Last week I suggested — among other things — cutting the human resources department out of the IT-shop hiring loop. I might as well have wired every copy of Computerworld straight to wall current.

What a hot button — I got mail from IT-shop veterans and students, career changers and consultants who’d prefer a steady gig, all of them snarling for the heads of the people in HR. Not a single programmer, network administrator or operations guy had a nice word to say about the gatekeepers who make it so hard to get an interview.

But I was wrong.

Just taking HR out of the process won’t solve the problem. For one thing — as several recruiters, HR people and hiring managers wrote to tell me — HR doesn’t dream up those loony 10-years-of-XML-experience requirements. Hiring managers and department heads do that. For another, good HR people actually work hard to get the right requirements specified and the right résumés in front of the hiring manager.

And anyhow, hiring is such a complicated legal morass these days that no big company can afford to do without HR specialists.

So how can IT job applicants get past those HR gatekeepers? Maybe by doing some things that actually make the whole process smoother and more successful for everybody.

Do the research. Find out what’s in demand. Check out Web sites with current job-market information, like Computerworld US Careers or the Riley Guide. Research the right buzzwords for your résumé. If you want to work in a particular industry, pick likely employers and dig deeper to find out what they need. Sure, they all want experience — but doing what?

Target your résumé. Don’t waste HR’s time or anyone else’s. Work over that résumé like it’s critical code. Make your résumé clear and easy to read — in every sense. If it’s electronic, make sure it’s in plain text, not some word-processor format. If it’s on paper, forget the fancy fonts — you want those automated scanners to recognize the buzzwords you researched.

Talk to friends. If you don’t have friends in IT shops, make new friends. Most companies — around 90% — like to hire people their own employees referred. Most managers will feel a lot more comfortable about you if Mary the programmer or Al the system administrator says you’re OK.

Ask around. If you can’t get an employee referral, you can still schmooze at user-group meetings. Ask your brother-in-law. Ask your next-door neighbour. Pick up the phone, call potential employers and ask if they’re hiring, what they’re looking for and how to pitch your résumé. Call your college’s placement department — they’ll be asking for alumni donations for the rest of your life, so you might as well ask back.

Toot your horn. If you’re a Java specialist, say so up front. If you’ve been managing Oracle databases for years, make it known. If you’re a business-process expert, tell them. Don’t make anyone guess what you’re good at. And don’t make yourself sound like a generic IT grunt. Nobody’s filling a generic job in the US.

Know your price. And be realistic — it’ll be set by supply and demand, not your skills and experience. In-demand specialists make big bucks because they’re hard to come by. If experienced IT people make more, it’s because they got smarter, craftier and more productive, not just older. Generic programmers and operations workers are cheap. That’s cold, hard and ugly — but it’s true.

Sell yourself. You say you’re not a salesman? You are now. Chase leads, track prospects, make cold calls, follow up — and you’ll have a much better shot at getting past those HR gatekeepers.

Hayes, staff columnist with Computerworld US, has covered IT for more than 20 years. Send email to Frank Hayes.

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