As a followup to the Head Meets Desk posts, I asked techs and administrators from around the Web to send me their best advice on hiring IT staff for a library. What follows, here in Part Two, is the advice received from both administrators and library techs, specifically on items relating to creating job ads and specific requirements for IT employment. (See Part One here.)
If you have anything to add here, please post it in the comments!
So, what advice do you have concerning the ads that libraries create to attract potential IT hires?
- Some of the positions I have hired for have been written where the qualifications vs time & compensation were wholly incompatible. I learned to hire someone with the right attitude and the ability to learn rather than the person who already had the skills. Until I learned that, I went through three assistants in a couple of months as “a paycheck to tide them over” until they found a real job.
- Determine your real needs, with maybe a few pies in the sky. Using that, do a salary survey to get an idea of the going pay & benefits for that type position. If nothing else call a few vendors for their hourly rates on some of the potential work.
- Form realistic education, work experience requirements vs. the pay & benefits you offer. I’ve seen many job offerings I’d never consider applying for, if I was looking.
- I have been thru this several times and here is my experience. We , the director and I would post for a tech in several places. After resumes would come in we would look at several things and then narrow it down to 3 or 4 being interviewed. I was for all purposes the IT dept. We did need a Systems Librarian. After 40 plus resumes we had 4 interviews. I went with a young girl out of college. No experience. She has now been with us 6 years and is wonderful. Her and i later tried to hire and assistant tech. We went with a person who was experienced and set in her ways. We paid the price for that one. We now have a fresh out of high school intern. He has been a treat and very useful. I also played a part in the hiring process of our Director. There were 4 of us who interviewed 3 people then gave our choice to the Board. They agreed ed with us. She has been here 7 plus years and is a great leader and individual. To wrap things up, i would go with experience or knowledge of the tech duties, but not at the price of them not being able to follow the chain of command. They should understand what is expected of them and accept that. Promotions in the future are another thing.
- You need to know what you need. Don’t hire an expert on iOS if you don’t intend to do mobile apps. Some hiring admins ever think things like “Oh, this guy can do apps! Maybe we should start doing those?” Big mistake. Hire for existing needs, not potential futures for which you may never build a business case.
- Having a list of certs that may be more about the ability to take tests and pay for them than taking that information and applying it to real world problems.
- Make the job posting realistic for the salary. I recently saw one that wanted 5 years of extensive AD, Cisco, VMware, Exchange, server visualization, and cloud based services in a corporate environment. And a B.S. in Computer Science, Management Information Systems, Business Administration or other related discipline. For a position with a salary cap of $35k. We used to call these ” …and walking on water would be useful” ads.
- I can’t tell you how many IT job ads in libraries I’ve seen, where I’ve shared them with other techs, inside and outside of libraries, and they just shake their heads and/or just outright laugh. I know libraries don’t have a lot of money, but the expectations versus salary are often fodder for laughing or crying.
- I have not been in a position to hire or fire IT staff for a good long while, but about… oh… man, like in 1998 we hired an IT person who we had to “let go” after approximately 5 months as he was not showing up to his assigned shifts and had a piss-poor customer service ethic. The place I was working wasn’t unionized but did have a probationary period where after 6 months you would be considered permanent staff, so after that time it would have been difficult to fire the guy. So there’s a regret. I’ve had explicitly-temporary IT staff (co-op students) that I’ve nominally been involved with the hiring and regretted also — these almost always boiled down service ethic issues, not technical competency. Unless you’re completely unsuited to technical work, a decent ethic can trump inconsistencies in technical experience.
- Certifications? Useless. Or something almost-at-useless-but-not-quite. In my experience, the presence of a MCSE/CCNE/Red Hat cert or whatever is only good at indicating a very bare level of competency but is not a very good indicator of quality beyond that. Experience will trump certs *any time*.
- High school/GED at a minimum, PSE (college or university) is nice but again not *necessarily* an indicator that a particular IT person is going to be awesome. We have a very good programmer here who has a GED but nothing past that (but is now on approximately a 10 year plan to get a philosophy degree) and I’ve never considered his lack of post-secondary experience to be that much of a hindrance.
- I’ve had some very good self-educated techs at our library. However, my own feeling is that things are way more complicated than they used to be, and I’m not convinced that this is a good route anymore, especially for IT department managers.
- Are certifications necessary? No. An interest in systems, experience and competency are more important than certifications. Certifications can help provide evidence of interest and competency, but they aren’t necessary on their own. I look for an ability to do the job, or the capacity for learning quickly to do the job.
- What kind of education do I expect from an IT hire? Nothing in particular, but I do like some education as evidence that they’re open to more education. The library is a learning environment, and the skills of my staff will have to constantly grow.
- Because of what libraries pay, I see our positions as paid apprenticeships that people hold for 4-5 years before moving up.
- Computer science, related degree requirements, or professional certifications: Having had the fortune to work with several excellent self-taught techs that don’t have IT degrees or even any certifications, I’d try not to place too much emphasis on those requirements, if possible. Many hiring managers rely on the certifications and degrees as a quick way to sort out candidates. Unfortunately, some REALLY GOOD tech candidates can fall through the cracks without a second glance
- Look for tech staff that has formal training and credentials for the assigned tasks. The days of self-taught tech staff are over. Things have gotten too complicated. The one exception to this might be simple workstation break/fix.
- Realize that, in many cases, the salary of a credentialed tech is higher than many of the existing library staff. It is simply a market factor. Technical expertise is in high demand and, in many cases, expensive.
Coming up next: How to Hire a tech: Part Three (The interview)