Getting Beyond the HR Stone Wall

IT HR staffs frustrate even qualified job seekers, but there are ways to break through the big block.

You have everything you need to land that job. You know the technical territory and have relevant experience to spare. Its a perfect fit. Theres just one problem: The interviewer sitting across the table from you doesnt have a clue about the job youre applying for and insists youre not qualified.

Sound familiar?

Many enterprises are setting up IT-specific human resources departments to process the mountains of IT résumés coming in. But, instead of facilitating the hiring process and selecting the best candidate for a position, some frustrated IT hopefuls say, these specialists act more like a barrier to employment.

IT job hunters say thats because HR people often know little about what skills are really needed and dont know what questions to ask in an interview.

"More often than not, [the hiring team is] given a list of ... skills they would like a new employee to have, never realizing that experienced IT pros can learn new software in a relatively short time," said Orlando Salinas, an IT professional in Houston whos been looking for work for more than a year. "It used to be that if you had most of the requirements, you would be given a chance to prove yourself. Now, if you do not have everything on [a companys] laundry list, you will not be considered," Salinas said.

Robert Gramcko, a systems analyst at Phenomenex Inc., in Torrance, Calif., agreed. "The hurdles that can be put up by the IT HR system are challenging," Gramcko said. "Its rare to find IT recruiters who know what a given business needs."

And thats true of contract IT recruiters as well as in-house IT HR staff, experts say. Many IT recruiting outfits use people who have no business recruiting for highly technical positions, said John Kennedy, a technical staffing professional specializing in contract placement for IT personnel at Belcan Corp., a Cincinnati-based recruiting and placement company. "Theres a real churn-and-burn mentality" among some recruiters who are rewarded for how many calls they can make, not how many people they can place well, Kennedy said.

Jobs Go Unfilled

The result is a painful paradox: Highly experienced IT professionals remain jobless, even while some employers claim they still cant find people with the skills they need. According to the Information Technology Association of Americas third annual report on the state of the IT work force, released last summer, although companies expect their need for more IT workers will rebound this year, many of the newly opened positions will go unfilled because workers with the right skill sets cant be found.

What can an IT job hopeful do to get beyond the HR stonewall? A good start would be to acknowledge that the HR team or person on the other side of the table isnt going away. Enterprises with jobs to fill need some way to sort through a much larger pool of qualified candidates than ever before, said David Rheingold, executive vice president of Computer Horizons Corp., an IT placement company based in Mountain Lakes, N.J.

"Because of work force reductions ... theres an unusually high number of [IT professionals] looking for work," said Rheingold. "The overwhelming number of responses [to job openings] are swamping recruiters." And online recruitment sites are only contributing to this flood, he said.

What can an IT job seeker with most, but not all, of the requirements for a position do to get past this? First, come to the table armed with an extensive IT background and verifiable achievements. Second, stand out where you can in other ways, said Dwayne Black, an IS administrator at Kamtel Inc., a circuit board manufacturer in Springfield, Mo. One way to do that, Black said, is to show you are versatile, able to solve more than one problem an employer might have.

"Employers [might] want someone who can multitask in non-IT departments," said Black, who has followed his own advice, working for two years in Kamtels HR department in addition to fulfilling his IT duties at the company. "IT people ... need to be able to show an employer/client the value of having them on board," said Black.

Having a recommendation from someone inside the company you are targeting is another big plus, according to Computer Horizons Rheingold and many others. In a word: Network. This is age-old advice, of course, but looking for candidates with internal references is also the No. 1 recommendation from IT hiring outfits and recruiters to hiring managers and HR experts.

And be prepared to network outside of conventional IT circles, said Kennedy, who worked in IT before joining Belcans IT recruiting division eight years ago. In some cases, even an informal reference from someone at the company—inside or outside of IT—is enough to land you an interview.

For other positions at other companies, however, that isnt enough. Whats vital is the "chain of trust" that comes with a recommendation based on in-depth knowledge of a person, Kennedy said.

Finally, job seekers can always take the pole-vault approach to breaching that wall. If you think youre qualified for something, but an HR staffer says youre not, go up a level, if possible, and explain your qualifications to the hiring manager or HR director, Kennedy said.

Certainly, theres risk in that approach. But, in the current IT job market, its important to "hit every avenue there is," said Kennedy.

Labs Managing Editor Mary Stevens can be reached at

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