Career Coach - 8

How would you recommend a small business owner hire his first IT employee and start building an IT department?

Dear Career Coach:

How would you recommend a small business owner hire his first IT employee and start building an IT department? While I feel comfortable defining the scope of the projects that we would like to accomplish over the next three years, I do not feel that I have the technical skills to qualify a candidate.

As the owner of a small business with approximately 50 employees that is growing and expects to employ 150 in 12 months, I have historically assumed the responsibilities of application development, network management, and systems management… While I do have an undergraduate MIS degree, these functions are not my primary responsibilities; nor do I feel have the current technical skills appropriate to the task. Our growth requires bringing IT professionals in-house.

So how does a small business owner bridge the great divide between IT professionals who are seeking career opportunities and those of us out here in the small business community that need to bring them onboard?

Greg Watson

Gary Bronson

Career Coach: Gary Bronson

I think there are a few issues that should be addressed separately when filling this type of role:

Determine whether your first step needs to be to add a member to your management team or whether you just need to offload some technical tasks. This will depend on the core specialty of your business and where your growth in employment is expected.

Determine what responsibilities you would be able to keep and what responsibilities you must offload now to continue to be successful in your business. Since you have been carrying on these particular tasks, Id recommend that you phase in these responsibilities while you establish the trust and validation you are looking for. You dont want to jeopardize your operation by handing off critical responsibilities to someone who is learning on your nickel. It is often difficult to find that experienced IT generalist who can manage IT, keep current on new technology, implement the most cost effective solutions and perform routine IT tasks and who is willing to come aboard for the amount of money you can afford to pay.

Get a bid or two from an outsourcer to handle those responsibilities. You may want to look at outsourcing the small projects that require current IT skills and focus on bringing in someone who is more adept at basic IT skills and who can focus on keeping your business up and running. It may be beneficial for you to understand the cost difference between bringing in staff or outsourcing so you can make the conscious decision on controlling this aspect of your business.

Once the actual role is defined, the decision on who to bring in should follow the same logic you used to fill other jobs in your company. How do you trust someone with whom youve never worked with before? Going through an interview process will reveal a persons communication skills, but it wont give you a guarantee on the persons work ethic or loyalty. Nor will it answer how long the person will stay with you. You need to check references on all new hires. Validate credentials. Hire an expert in the field to assess the candidates technical expertise.

Gary Bronson is IT enterprise operations manager at Washington Group International, in Boise, Idaho.

Randy Dugger

Career Coach: Randy Dugger

You are in that gray area of what to do. Should you hire someone or outsource your IT department needs? When I was the IT director at a drug company, I went through almost that same scenario.