Can Alternative Education Shrink The IT Skills Gap

One reason it takes so long to fill open IT positions is that there just aren't that many candidates for the jobs. IT jobs are often very specialized and even candidates with solid credentials—degrees from good schools or a few years of work experience—may not tick all the required skills boxes. New educational paradigms may provide a way to find qualified candidates who've built their skills through less traditional paths. Here's a look at some new ways IT job candidates are developing skills to add to their resumes.

Boot Camps

Military boot camps last up to 13 weeks and provide intensive, focused training during that period. New recruits learn necessary individual skills as well as the teamwork needed to complete objectives.

Coding boot camps are similar, except without the shaved heads and yelling drill sergeants. Instead, coding boot camps offer intensive training in programming languages and development methodologies. Students work on projects both individually and in teams. By the time they complete a final project, boot camp graduates are capable of completing entry-level programming assignments.

MOOCs

MOOCs—massive open online courses—put university lectures onto an online platform. These courses may have thousands of students enrolled, and rely heavily on peer review to grade assignments. The quality of these programs varies greatly, with some courses taught by faculty from top universities.

Students often have the option to audit a MOOC without completing any project work. If a candidate lists a MOOC on their resume, find out if they received a certificate attesting to their completion of the coursework.

Nanodegrees

Nanodegrees are an extension of MOOCs. Instead of receiving certificates of completion for individual courses, students follow a specific course of study structured much like a degree program with prerequisites, required courses, and electives. There is also a required project assignment. At the end of the coursework, a nanodegree is awarded.

These programs are highly tailored to skills needed in industry. As one example, the MOOC firm Udemy has partnered with AT&T and other technology businesses to design nanodegrees for front end development, back end development, and other technical roles.

How Capable are Graduates of Alternative Education Programs?

Just as university degree holders differ in their capabilities, the graduates of these programs also will differ in their capabilities. They still need to be screened through technical interviews for their ability. But technical ability isn't the only factor to be considered. Graduates of these alternative programs have demonstrated their motivation to develop themselves for careers in technology. That can go a long way in getting the job done.

Why You Must Ask These Questions When Hiring For A Virtual Job

Hiring someone to work in a virtual job requires a lot of trust. You won't see the person every day and won't be able to supervise their work as closely as you could if they came into the office. You need to hire workers who will thrive in that kind of situation. Make sure you ask interview questions that will help you judge whether the candidate is a good fit for that kind of work.

Does the candidate have any experience in virtual work?

If they were previously successful in a virtual job, that's a positive sign that they'll be effective as a virtual worker for you. Ask what challenges they faced in their previous virtual role and how they overcame them. Also find out about their home work environment to make sure they have the tools needed to get the job done.

Does the candidate have the motivation to work on their own?

A virtual worker needs to be able to take the seed of an idea and run with it to completion. Ask about what motivates them to get a job done and for examples of projects they completed remotely. Find out how they expect to communicate with their manager and co-workers and what kind of recognition they want for a job well done.

Does the candidate have the discipline to work on their own?

Along with being able to motivate themselves, virtual workers need to discipline themselves to do the work. They need to track projects and deadlines. Ask them what they do to stay on top of schedules. Find out how they deal with issues that make meeting schedules challenging, such as technical problems—do they tackle solving them for themselves, or does their work stop until someone else resolves the problem?

Does the candidate have the ability to solve problems on their own?

How will the candidate solve problems without input from colleagues? When they need input from someone else, how do they get it?

Does the candidate have the technical skills for the job?

Last but definitely not least, don't forget about the technical skills needed to do the job. Because the worker won't be able to pick the technical brain of a colleague one cubicle over, it's even more important they are highly qualified in the technology.

Dont Blow Your Networking Efforts By Making These Common Mistakes

Everyone says the best way to find a new job is through your network; but it can feel like building your network is your second career. Take networking as seriously as you take your career, and don't make these mistakes that will undo all your efforts:

You don't network until you need something.

Sure, your network can help you find a new job. That doesn't mean you should wait until you need a new job to work on it. If you only reach out to people when you need something, they're less likely to want to help you. You need to be able to give something to the people you network with, not just take.

 You only network online.

There's no question that online networking is easy. The problem is, because it's so easy, people don't take it seriously. Of your thousands of Facebook friends, how many could you actually turn to if you needed help? Probably just a handful that you know and interact with in real life. The same applies to professional networking; you can build deeper connections with people you meet in real life. Go to professional meetings and make the effort to introduce yourself to a few people.

You aren't specific.

If you're going to make a request of a network contact, be specific about what help you want from them. If you leave it to them to figure out what you want to do, they won't know what they can do to help. Be precise about your qualifications and the kind of career opportunity you're looking for.

You don't follow up.

Making initial contact is just that, making initial contact. To build a deeper relationship with a connection, you need to connect more than once. Don't depend on the other person to do all the work. Reach out with updates occasionally, but don't overload them with too many messages.

You don't say Thank You.

When someone in your network goes out of their way to help you, thank them for it. Let them know you appreciate their efforts on your behalf. A quick email is all it takes to make someone feel good about helping you and keep them willing to help you again in the future.

Why Its Crucial To Check Out Candidates Social Media Profiles

When candidates send in a resume and answer questions at interviews, they do their best to present themselves in a good light. Answers are rehearsed, and even questions like "What is your greatest weakness" have canned answers that subtly put a positive shine on the candidate.

Cutting through the spin means finding out things the candidates won't tell you directly. One way to do that is through speaking to references. The problem with references, though, is that they're pre-selected by the candidate and you can be pretty sure they'll also paint a positive picture. Even if a reference wanted to present a complete picture of the candidate, faults and all, corporate policies often prevent them from doing anything more than confirming dates of employment.

So you have to do a little digging to find out more about the candidate. Background checks have their place, but they tend to focus on big issues like criminal records or lies about earned degrees. Sometimes it's the smaller things in how a candidate conducts themselves in their normal lives that will impact your organization.

Fortunately, these days it's easy to observe a candidate's behavior outside the interview room. Candidates put their uncensored selves online in social media like Facebook and Twitter. More than half of employers looked at candidates' profiles. Should you? Here are the kinds of things you might find out.

The candidate brags about drug or alcohol use.

If your company has a serious drug-free policy, anecdotes about illegal substance use should throw up a red flag.

The candidate expresses intolerant opinions.

Everyone's entitled to their opinion, but you need to maintain a non-hostile workplace. A candidate who puts racist or sexist opinions on their profile may bring them to the workplace, placing you at legal risk.

The candidate bad-mouths their current employer.

If you hire this person, your company becomes their current employer. Do you want them publicly posting negative opinions about your business?

Not everything you learn from a social media profile should factor into a hiring decision. Social pages often reveal things like marital status or religious affiliation, neither of which should be used as part of the candidate review. But hopefully you'll identify some positive characteristics of the candidate from their profile that didn't come up during an interview, such as their active participation in a charity.

Don't forget to review the candidates' profiles on professionally oriented social media sites like LinkedIn as well. Profiles there should appear professional and support the candidates' qualifications. If you can't find a profile for the candidate, that's a significant sign as well.

Hiring decisions should be based on a well-rounded picture of the candidate. Today's social media sites can help paint a large piece of that picture. Combining a review of a candidate's social media activity with their credentials and formal qualifications can help you understand what the candidate will bring to the office and help you make the best possible hiring decision.

IT Employees Need to Be Left Alone to Thrive

Code is an artifact. Despite what you may think, the job of an IT employee isn't to write code. The job of an IT employee is to come up with the ideas behind the code. The brainwork is the most valuable part of their job; actually typing the code is mostly mechanical.

Encourage Productivity and Improve Morale

Developers need a quiet environment to write the best code; these days, it's unlikely you'll be able to give them real offices with doors, but at least give them partitions high enough to block out a lot of noise.

It's not just about noise, though. For developers to do their best work, they need minimal distractions so they can focus and concentrate. That means reduce unnecessary interruptions. Reduce the number of meetings, and make sure they have a purpose. Don't send emails to the entire distribution list if only one person needs to respond. Encourage your team to get out of the habit of checking emails constantly. Give workers flexibility to adapt their jobs to their lives by allowing them to work from home occasionally. Don't micromanage. Basically, just leave your employees alone to get the job done.

The benefits of leaving IT employees with time to think go beyond getting code done faster and with higher quality. IT employees are intellectual workers who enjoy thinking and solving problems. Leaving them alone gives them time to focus on these mental tasks they enjoy, meaning they're happier at work. It gives them autonomy and demonstrates your trust in them, which feels good. Making your IT team happy and improving morale means they're likelier to stay with your company; considering how difficult it can be to replace a highly skilled technical employee, that's a big value to you.

New Thoughts, New Ideas, New Products

Plus, giving employees time to think means giving them time for new ideas. New ideas can mean new, better ways of performing business processes or translate into new products and new profits for your business. The information technology industry depends on innovation, and most innovations come from the employees, not the managers. Which isn't to say that managers don't come up with useful ideas, also. If you reduce unnecessary meetings with your team and reduce your involvement in issues your staff can handle, you free up your own time for thinking as well. What value will you create for your company with that extra time?

The Importance of a Diverse IT Pipeline

Technology has a diversity problem. The shortage of women and minorities in STEM fields including computer science and engineering is well known. As a result, it's difficult to have a diverse workforce. That doesn't mean it's not possible; it just means diversity won't happen on its own—you need to work at it. Make sure diversity is addressed by every step of your hiring pipeline.

Look for Candidates in the Right Places

If you look for candidates in just one place, you're likely to find just one kind of candidate. Widen your net to find a bigger, more diverse pool of potential employees. For example, don't limit yourself to elite universities; graduates of second tier schools aren't second rate. And while there are definite advantages to hiring based on employee referrals, those candidates are likely to be similar to the employee who referred them.

Write Job Descriptions That Appeal to a Wide Community

No one writes job descriptions today that say they're looking for a man, but the language you use can unintentionally turn off women. So avoid describing the job by making analogies to the military or sports teams; even terms like rockstar developer can drive away diverse applicants. Think carefully about word choices; to build a team, lead a team, or manage a team can all attract a different applicant pool. Even the way the job description is formatted can have an impact, with high or low numbers of bullet points driving away male or female applicants.

Make Sure Technical Screenings Focus on Technical Skills

While you want to evaluate all candidates' interpersonal, communication, and leadership skills, don't mingle that evaluation with the technical interview. Conduct a separate assessment that focuses solely on technical ability to avoid any impact from unconscious biases. For coding tasks, ask the candidate to solve them on the computer. This ensures they can solve the problem in a situation close to the real work environment; some candidates are uncomfortable working at a whiteboard, which isn't a requirement when building technical solutions once hired.