How to hire a tech person when you’re not a tech person

How to hire a tech person when you're not a tech person

Finding the right person for your organisation can be tough at the best of times.

But when the position’s field of expertise sits outside your own remit – like a tech role – finding the right match can feel insurmountable.

So what do you do when you need to hire a tech person – but no one in your organisation has the right expertise to guide the recruitment process?

As the general manager at abrs, the social enterprise venture of Barnardos Australia (Australia’s only charity-owned recruitment agency) and head of all internal recruitment at Barnardos, Nardia Munt is skilled in the art of hiring people across a broad spectrum of specialisations.

She’s helped countless not-for-profits find great staff – so she knows what it takes better than most.

So you need to hire a tech specialist, but there’s no one in your organisation with experience in the field. What now?

1. Find a tech specialist who can help you, pro bono

Munt suggests a simple solution: reach out for help from people in the know.

“Many charities have a board, or they’re able to call on people or ask for pro bono help,” she says.

Ideally, you would want to engage these experts throughout the entire recruitment process, from helping you to define your technical requirements through to sitting on the interview panel.

Munt says abrs itself engages this kind of help when faced with a particularly tricky appointment.

“For instance, we were hiring a head of technology recently and we asked our board to have somebody on the panel who was a technical expert,” she says.

And if you don’t have a board? Munt recommends reaching out to tech companies to tap their expertise – yes, really.

“[I would suggest] going to, say, IBM or Google Australia and just asking, ‘Do you have a senior person that would be prepared to give some free consulting to us – for just two hours, to help us verify some technical skills?’” she says.

“All you need is two or three hours of their time, and just to give a verbal opinion,” Munt says.

“While most people think, ‘Who would do that for us?’, pretty much all big corporations – if you give them a nice letter that says ‘thank you’ – are more than happy to do that.”

Finally, don’t forget to look for help closer to home. Munt says abrs often asks staff if they know anyone in their personal network who might be able to help.

“There’s probably someone in your organisation who has a wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend or flatmate that, if you asked, they would probably have a look at CVs for you,” she says.

Munt highlights that there are a lot of different types of roles in tech – from a coder through to IT support – and they all typically require very specific technical knowledge and experience. “So you really need to understand what the needs are,” she says.

2. Write a job ad that speaks to the right technical people

Technical jargon can often feel like a foreign language.

“It’s very different language than you’d use for, say, a case worker or a case manager, or somebody on the front line,” says Munt.

One of the first things Munt suggests doing is to undertake some field research, which will help lay the groundwork for an effective position description.

“If you don’t know, find out from existing staff members what technology you’re using,” Munt says.

“[Then] go and have a look in the market – or other job boards – and look at the way other companies have used language and put together technical advertisements,” she says.

“Familiarise yourself with the jargon so at least you have an idea when you’re screening resumes.”

This should help you develop an understanding of the key components of a technical ad and the terminology technical candidates might be searching for. For instance, what content management system (CMS), programming language, ‘frameworks’ or ‘stack’ do you use? Are you looking for a ‘front-end’, ‘back-end’ or ‘full-stack’ developer?

Developing an understanding of this jargon should also help you to effectively review applications and screen candidates.

3. Test candidates’ understanding of your goals as well as their technical expertise

Beyond having a technical person on your interview panel to tease out technical skills and expertise, interviewing tech people for a not-for-profit organisation requires a unique line of questioning.

Munt says one of the most important things to determine is the candidate’s understanding of how IT affects either front line staff in your organisation, or your clients, which she says many IT specialists often struggle to grasp.

“When we’re recruiting for IT people, we often ask for examples of when they changed something from a technical perspective and how that affected the end user,” Munt explains.

“In the not-for-profit sector, we’re usually seeking an end goal for a client or customer who may be quite disadvantaged.

“So we need IT people to understand timeliness, and how technology affects our workers and their ability to provide services.”

Munt also stresses the importance of listening to candidate responses and piggybacking off them – particularly as a means to probe them on past performance.

“For instance, if they talk about change and change management – particularly around server technology to cloud – we ask them about things like, ‘What was the downtime like? What’s the error rate? How long do their internal staff have to wait for tech help?’” Munt says.

“We need our IT people to really, really understand these things because we’re in industries where lives are at stake.

“It’s not like, ‘Oh, we get a little bit irritated if we can’t get access to internet banking’ – it’s more if we can’t get access to a child’s record and we can’t make a good decision for them, there could be really dire consequences.”

4. Use an online assessment tool

In the age of “Big Data”, there are new tools emerging every day that use data collected from thousands – or millions – of people to show you how your potential hire compares across a variety of evaluation areas and metrics.

Online tools can be particularly helpful in comparing candidates for tech roles where you’re not familiar with the technology itself. 

Sites like Codility and Test Dome allow you to specifically assess and compare candidates for a software role via coding challenges. That means you can compare scores for a task even when you have no idea how to do the task yourself!

Hiring someone to fill a tech role in your organisation can be daunting – particularly when you don’t have  a strong understanding of the tech world. But by employing a few key strategies and reaching out for help, it doesn’t have to be.

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