K-12 IT Management: Who’s on the Interview Team?

This is the ninth in a series of posts on IT management for K-12 schools.

Having compiled a list of behavioral and situational interview questions you wish to ask candidates, you’re ready to think about who should be part of the interview team that meets with the candidates. You will also want to think through the entire logistics of the candidate’s on-campus experience from initial greeting at your reception desk to their departure, meeting rooms, refreshments, breaks, and support materials and equipment.

Group Interviews
By group interviews I am referring to one candidate with multiple interviewers not multiple candidates in the same room at the same time. Interviewing multiple candidates simultaneously within the same room is not a practice I great experience with nor is it one I would recommend for education where a more personal touch is required.

There are several reasons to conduct group interviews for at least a portion of the candidate’s on-campus experience:

  • it is more time efficient, especially in schools where it is often difficulty to align teaching schedules of interviewers
  • group interviews provide the candidate with an opportunity to see the informal dynamics that operate within a team of colleagues, giving them a sense of the school’s culture
  • group interviews allow for several people to hear and interpret the same verbal and non-verbal messages from the candidate, and these multiple interpretations may result in a richer appreciation of the candidate’s remarks
  • group interviews also provide interviewers from multiple disciplines and departments to come together both before and after the interview to discuss the job opening and talk about what would make a successful candidate from their particular point of view
As with any group or team activity, it is necessary that roles be defined before meeting with a candidate, including:
  • who is leading and introducing the meeting; this person is also responsible for seeing that logistics are followed (see below)
  • which question(s) will be asked by which people
  • who will be taking notes or otherwise recording the meeting
  • who is the timekeeper and what is the time-frame that will allow the most important questions to be posed and how much time should be devoted to the the candidate’s questions for the team
  • interviewers should avoid monopolizing the conversation and allow the applicant to talk and to fully respond to the open-ended questions; the more the applicant talks, the more information the employer will obtain about the candidate

One to One Meetings
Group meetings are recommended when no one person in the group has veto power over the person being hired. Anyone who has that amount of sway in the decision making process should have a one-to-one meeting with the candidate. In addition to the hiring manager, the principal, superintendent, head of school, or some other administrative authority may hold veto power on hiring. Sometimes these authorities may just want to meet the candidate and relinquish decision-making authority to the hiring manager or will intervene only if there seems to be a lack of consensus among the interview team about a candidate.

As with group meetings, one-to-one meetings need to also be planned and the interviewer provided with questions to ask the candidates. Do not assume that your boss or any other senior administrator is a skilled interviewer. As the hiring manager you may determine that the appropriate role of a senior administrator is not so much to interview the candidate as it is to sell the candidate on the school. More about that later.

In your one-on-one meeting with the candidate you must be at the top of your game: cordial but focused, open to the candidate’s questions but determined to get clear answers to your own. You must have your “crap detector” on high alert, probing for real skills that may or may not underlie rhetoric. At the same time, you are assessing for if and how the candidate will enrich your department. In the long run it pays great dividend to find the right person and not accept someone who you think may work out. As Joel Spolskys writes in Smart and Gets Things Done, “Don’t lower your standards no matter how hard it seems to find those great candidates.”

Between one-on-one and group meetings, you should shoot for anywhere from six to ten people to have seen a candidate, including return visits, before making a decision.

Interview Logistics
How the day unfolds for candidates is a reflection of you, the hiring manager. You want the day to go off like clockwork to reflect the professionalism of your organization and to save the time of you, your staff, and the candidate. As I have said before, “how it is comin’ in is how it is bein’ in.” So make sure the details are covered:

  • One week prior to the interview make sure that all of the interviewers have the candidates’ credentials on hand and pester them to read them.
  • If necessary, hold a pre-meeting with interviewers to introduce them to the questions they are to ask, review “illegal” questions that may not be asked, and to clarify the meeting schedule and roles. If you have an experienced group, this can be accomplished via email or through your talent management software system (see previous post, Using Technology to Manage Hiring).
  • Be sure to reserve rooms, double-check interviewers schedules, arrange for refreshments in the room(s), allow for bathroom breaks, and alert the reception desk to be prepared for the candidate.
  • If the candidate will be presenting while on campus, make sure that they have the materials (white boards, projectors, etc.) that they will need and have backup systems available. If guest internet access is necessary, make sure that is up and working before the meeting.
  • Clarify what is supposed to happen after each one-on-one or group interview. I generally ask that interviewers not spend too much time talking with one another before sending me their impressions; impressions which can be on an interview rubric you have created and distributed or more informal. How do you want the feedback to come to you? I recommend using email or your talent management software, keeping in mind that any records could potentially be subpoenaed.

Selling the School
I mentioned above that one purpose of an interview is to “sell the school.” By this I mean that you want all candidates, even those who you can tell within a few minutes were a mistake to bring in, to leave the school with a positive impression that will enable them to be good will ambassadors on your behalf.

There is an important difference between selling the school and trying to convince a particular candidate to join your school. With the former you are conveying a general sense of the organization, its mission, and its fit within the educational community. You are candid about the school’s strengths and its challenges. In the latter case, you go beyond these messages to enumerate the reasons why your position and the candidate are well suited to one another. You are helping them see how their particular set of skills would contribute to the overall organization and how the organization will help the candidate fulfill their professional and personal goals. It’s a courtship.

Demonstrations of Proficiency
 In a future post I will describe how schools can use demonstrations of proficiency as part of the interview process, including formal presentations, problem sets, and tests of candidates to assist in hiring decisions. 

Other posts in this series

Space: The First Frontier
Writing Job Descriptions
Using Technology to Manage Hiring
Where to Post Jobs
What to Say in Job Postings
Screening Resumes and Letters of Application
Phone Screening Applicants
Behavioral Interview Questions

K-12 IT Management: Behavioral Interview Questions

This is the eighth in a series of posts on IT management for K-12 schools. Before we get to the logistics of how to approach the on-campus (in person or virtual) interview of job candidates it is important to consider the questions that are to be asked, who is going to ask them, and follow-up questions to candidates’ responses. In my career I have been interviewed dozens of times, and been in interviews with candidates hundreds of time, and it has been my experience that on both sides of the table you can tell when interviewers are prepared and who are simply flying by the seat of their pants. The latter are likely to start with questions such as these:

  • Refresh my memory on the highlights of your career experience.
  • Tell me a little bit about yourself.
  • What makes you think that you’d be a good fit for this job?
  • What is your greatest strength? Your greatest weakness?
  • How would you describe yourself?
  • Are you a team player?
  • What do you like most about [fill in the blank].

One of these question at the start of the interview is fine as an icebreaker, but if these are the only types of questions that are asked throughout the entire interview, you will have wasted the time of everyone in the room.

Behavioral and Situational Questions
A much better approach to interviewing is to ask questions that require the candidates to state what they have done in a particular circumstance in their past (behavioral questions) or to ask what they would do if confronted with a particular circumstance in the future (situational questions). Behavioral questions “are past-oriented in that they ask respondents to relate what they did in past jobs or life situations that are relevant to the particular job relevant knowledge, skills, and abilities required for success. The idea is that past behavior is the best predictor of future performance in similar situations. By asking questions about how job applicants have handled situations in the past that are similar to those they will face on the job, employers can gauge how they might perform in future situations.”1 Behavioral questions may work better with more experienced candidates whereas situational questions may work better for entry-level applicants with less job or life experience to draw upon. Behavioral questions usually start something like this:

  • Give me an example of…
  • Tell me about a time that…
  • Describe a situation in which…
  • Have you been in a circumstance when…
  • What did you do when…

Each behavioral question is designed to elicit a description of past behaviors on the part of the candidates. Some candidates may not be used to behavioral questions, and therefore I suggest that you (a) give them time to think about an example, (b) be comfortable with silence, and (c) be ready with follow-up questions to probe their responses for clarification, questions such as:

  • Walk me through your decision-making process.
  • What was your reaction?
  • How did it all work out?
  • What alternatives did you consider?
  • As you think back on this, what are your major take-aways?

Keep the candidates on point. If they start to answer in generalities redirect them to the question, letting them know that you are asking for a specific situation and not generalizations.

Situational questions are much like behavioral questions, simply set in the future.

  • What would you do if…
  • Let me give you a situation and you tell me how you would go about solving it…
  • Here’s a hypothetical problem. Let’s say that…

Be ready with situational follow-up queries to probe the candidates’ thinking, such as:

  • How did you come to this decision?
  • What alternatives are there if your response doesn’t work out?
  • How is your response better for the end user? The school?
  • Are you comfortable with your response as a precedent for similar situations in the future?

Sample Questions by Position
Below are some possible questions for use with several typical positions you would find in a school IT department: Director of Technology, Network Manager, Webmaster, Academic Technology Coordinator, and Help Desk. Questions are behavioral unless otherwise indicated. Some specific follow-ups are suggested, but you can also use any of the general follow-up questions listed above. You may find that some questions are appropriate for several positions.

Director of Technology

  1. Prioritization. Give me an example of a time in which you needed to choose between two or more important priorities in making budget decisions wherein the organization could only fund one of them. Follow-ups: With who did you consult?  What “tipped the scale” for you in making your decision? How did the decision affect the organization?
  2. Employee performance. Tell me about a time when you had to work with someone you were managing who was not performing to standard? Follow-ups: How did the situation work out?  Describe your experience with performance plans. Describe your experience in terminating or laying-off employees. 
  3. Negotiations. Tell me about a time when you needed to negotiate something. It could be costs for equipment or software, salaries, or even a conflict between two people. Follow-ups: Would you describe the outcome as having a “winner” and a “loser?” Did the outcome affect any subsequent relations with the persons involved? What was your emotional state during the negotiations?
  4. Communications. Managers often have to communicate with different groups within an organization. Aside from the people they manage, K-12 IT managers must relate with faculty, staff, other administrators, parents, vendors, board members, and so on. Describe a situation in which you had to deliver the same basic message, but to different audiences. How did  you tailor your remarks for each group? Follow-ups: How did you use different media to make your point? Did you prepare differently for each audience? How do you mix different communication forms (oral, written, multimedia) to get your message across?
  5. Organizational structure. There are a number of different organizational structures in which the K-12 IT function can operate, for example within business operations, faculty, the library, the principal’s or superintendent’s office. Describe the setup from one of your past positions and the pros and cons associated with it. Follow-ups: Where do you see IT best fitting in school organizations of the future? How might cloud computing and software as service (SAS) models affect the reporting relationship of IT departments within 21st century schools? 
  6. Professional development. Professional development for faculty is usually the subject of intense interest and frequent in-service programs in schools. What have you done to address technology professional development of non-teaching staff: those in back-office positions such as accounting, human resources, fundraising, maintenance, transportation, and so on? Follow-ups: What was the outcome? Did the PD of staff and that of faculty have any common elements? What special needs did non-teaching staff have?
  7. Budgeting. Describe the system you have used to forecast and manage budgets. Follow-ups: From whom do you seek advice and input in creating a budget? How do you approach salaries? Describe the equipment replacement cycle that you have used. How far out do you forecast expenses? What have you done when actual expenses were going to exceed your budget?
  8. Hiring. What was the most successful hiring effort that you have led? Follow-ups: How did this process differ from others? What were you able to take from that to apply to other hiring situations? Where does hiring rank in the multiple priorities that confront managers?
  9. Strategic planning. Describe a time when you had to develop and present plans that anticipated new technologies not yet in use in your workplace. How did you go about researching them and creating a case for early experimentation and/or pilot programs? Follow-ups: What were the budget implications for the new technology? How did you convince others that something may be worth investigating? What happened as a result of your trial?
  10. Thought leadership. Who are the thought leaders in Information and Instructional Technology that you listen to and follow? Follow-ups: Describe your use of social media to discuss IT and educational technology and leadership issues with other professionals. What conferences do you like to attend? What makes them worth the time and expense?

Network Manager

  1. Troubleshooting. Describe a time when you experienced the failure of a mission-critical system in your networking or server environment. What were the steps you took in troubleshooting the issue, consulting with colleagues and/or vendors, communicating with system users, and restoring systems to their proper functioning? Follow-Ups: What did you learn from this problem? What steps did you take to minimize the chances of it recurring?
  2. Documentation. Describe a time when someone else had to rely on your documentation to address a technical issue? What happened? Follow-ups: Was the documentation on paper or online? Were they able to resolve the issue from the documentation alone or did they call or email you for clarification? What systems do you like to use to create your documentation?  What technical systems do you believe are critical to be well documented? Was there a time when lack of documentation adversely affected your department’s operations? What was the result and follow-up?
  3. Systems integration. Describe a situation in which you had to rely on different systems communicating with one another through a common protocol or had to create your own mechanism for data exchange. Follow-ups: What directory standards have you used? Why did you choose that one? How have you used open-source software in your postion?
  4. Back-ups. Most system administrators are familiar with backup procedures and recognize their importance within an enterprise. End users are often less fastidious about backing up their data. Describe the approach you have taken in the past in working with end users to assure that their data is properly backed-up. Follow-ups: What policies, procedures, software or hardware solutions did you employ? What was the outcome when you had to restore end-user data? Describe a situation in which data was irretrievably lost.
  5. Security. Describe the elements that comprise a network, server, and end-user computer/device security system to maintain system integrity and information confidentiality including physical security, hardware, software, and human factors. Follow-ups: Talk about a security breach, large or small, that you had a role in resolving. What was the situation? How did it happen? What steps were taken to mitigate the damage? 
  6. Ease of use. Describe a time when you had to balance the need for security and ease-of-use for your end-users. What was the issue and how was it resolved? Follow-ups: How do you work with employees and students to enlist them in your efforts to maintain a secure computing environment? Should employees have administrator access to their computers? What about students?
  7. Cloud-based services. (situational) How do you see the mix of site-based services and cloud-based services changing over the next five years? Follow-ups: What are the pros and cons of site-based versus cloud-based services for the IT professional? For end-users? How might cloud-based services impact networking needs in a school?
  8. Trade-offs. A commonly cited conundrum in information technology is that when it comes to installing new systems you can: get it fast, get it cheap, or get it really high quality. Describe a time when you were involved in choosing a new technology system. Did you find this old adage to be true? What were the trade-offs, if any, that you had to make? Follow-ups: Is it ever possible to satisfy all three? Most schools have limited funding, does this mean that high quality will always be difficult to achieve?
  9. Software releases. Describe the approach to installing, testing, and releasing major network patches and upgrades. Follow-ups: Talk about a time when you had to regress to an earlier version. What happened? What are your pre-release testing procedures? What criteria do you use in determining that an upgrade is worth the time and effort to roll out?
  10. Schools vs. businesses. (situational) Describe what is (or might be) different and what is the same between IT in a business setting and IT in a school setting. Follow-ups: How do the missions of schools and businesses differ? Are “best practices” situation dependent or universal?

Webmaster

  1. Websites and web applications. Describe the websites and web applications that you have worked with, including any interoperability. Follow-ups: Which systems were hosted in-house and which systems were cloud-based? How did the systems communicate with one another? Who was responsible for the “big picture” of all of these various systems?
  2. Content and content management. Describe your role in creating and managing the content of your web site(s). Follow-ups: What content management system did you use? What were the pluses and minuses of this system? Who else was responsible for content? How did you deal with multiple content authors?
  3. Social media. Describe your role in working with work-related social media. Follow-ups: What was your role in creating and pushing content to social media outlets? Describe how you responded to social media messages. Give an example of how you deal with any social media “attacks” or negative messaging about your organization.
  4. Design. Tell me about a time when you had to make a decision about web site design. What were the issues and trade-offs, and how did you determine what to do? Follow-ups: Who else was consulted in making the decision? How did the design work out? What changes were made as a result of end-user feedback?
  5. Metrics. Describe how you gather feedback about the site using site metrics. What metrics do you consider to be the most important? Follow-ups: How have you made changes to a web site based on metrics? Which metrics, if any, are irrelevant in a school setting?
  6. Maintenance. Talk about how you maintain a website to assure that the content remains fresh and accurate. Follow-ups: What tools do you use to check for dead links? How do you create pages that self-expire on a given date? 
  7. Multimedia. Describe how you have incorporate multi-media into web sites, including the types of media and means used to present it to users. Follow-ups: What alternatives did you consider for video content and what did you choose to use? How did this work out? Did you promote your organization’s multimedia content on other web or social media sites? 
  8. Usability. How did you go about determining the usability of your web site? Follow-ups: Describe any usability studies you conducted. Tell me about the experiences that web site visitors with limited vision or other physical impairments had with your web site. What web standards guides your work?
  9. Security. Tell me about a time when you had to work with internal or external resources to address security concerns associated with your work. What was the issue, and how do you go about resolving it? Follow-ups: What are the security considerations for software or practices such as Java plugins, Adobe Flash, passwords, single sign-on (SSO), and https. What do you consider to be the greatest threat to web security? What steps did you take the ensure the privacy of end-user data?
  10. Reliability. Describe how you measure reliability of your web site and services. Follow-ups: What automated systems did you use to alert you to possible problems? How did you work with other IT staff to make sure that Internet connectivity and internal web site servers were up to industry standards? What level of service agreements did you insist upon for external vendors?

Academic Technology Coordinator

  1. Technology integration. Describe a successful technology integration project that you are especially proud of. Follow-ups: What was the “secret sauce” that made this project turn out so well? What lessons did you take away from this regarding other technology integration projects? Describe a time when a project did not go so well.
  2. Leadership and vision. (situational) Imagine that you are ten years into the future in a technology-rich American school. How would this school look different from a typical classroom of today? Follow-ups: What led you to this particular vision? What pre-conditions would be necessary for this vision to come to pass? What could be done today to start on the path towards this vision?
  3. Educational applications. Provide an example from your past when you were able to recommend a focused educational application or web site that was superior to general desktop tools that contributed significantly to teaching and learning. Follow-ups: Describe how you have used educational gaming, science probeware, GPS mapping, or robotics in teaching and learning.  
  4. STEM. Describe a cross-curricular, multi-disciplinary STEM project that you initiated or assisted with. Follow-ups: What was your exact role? How did the curriculum planning process work? What were the take-aways? Did the project spur interest in similar efforts?
  5. Assessment. Tell me about a time when you helped a teacher use technology as part student assessment, something beyond the simple use of grade book software. Follow-ups: Was this individual or group assessment? Was the technology component assessed separately from the project content? What was your role in designing the assessment rubric?
  6. Student co-curricular activities. Provide an example of a student club or co-curricular activity you were involved with that went particularly well. Follow-ups: What was the extend of your involvement? What other adults were involved? What could have gone wrong but didn’t? How did you maintain student engagement?
  7. Standards. Tell me about a time when you used standards such as ISTE NETS, P21, or other technology standards in designing professional development activities for educators. Follow-ups: Which standards did you use? What led you to make this choice? Who else was involved in making this decision? What was the outcome?
  8. Change. Describe a situation in which you were able to change a negative opinion of educational technology to a more positive one. Follow-ups: How do you determine what might be the right approach to use with a teacher? Tell me about a situation where you have failed to influence someone in the desired direction. How do you approach working with change-resitant users?
  9. Acceptable use. Handheld portable devices are increasingly being used in schools in both official and unofficial capacities, creating IT and classroom management challenges. Describe a time when you had to deal with inappropriate use of a portable device by one or more students. Follow-ups: How do you approach the subject of “acceptable use” policies? How might the definition of acceptable use be changing? What role should students and parents play in determining acceptable use?
  10. Online learning. Describe an outstanding online experience you have had, either as a student or as a leader. Follow-ups: What are the hallmarks of a great online experience? What makes an online experience fail? At what age should students make use of online instruction? What is the role of online learning in K-12 schools?

Help Desk

  1. Diagnose and solve technical issues. Tell me about a time when you were presented with a technical glitch (hardware or software) that was difficult to diagnose. What did you do when normal diagnostic procedures failed to yield the expected result? Follow-ups: With whom did you consult? How did you keep the user(s) informed of progress on resolving the issue? What was the outcome? How did you document the problem?
  2. Hardware repair. Describe your experience in making simple hardware repairs. What components have you replaced or fixed in laptops, computers, printers, copiers, or other devices? Follow-ups: How did you acquire these skills? What tools do you use to diagnose hardware failure? What resources do you rely upon that guide you in making repairs?
  3. Inventory. Tell me about your experiences in receiving, tagging, inventorying, and tracking new equipment in an organization. Follow-ups: Describe a time when equipment appeared to be missing. What was the outcome? How did you use bar-codes in your inventory process? How were assets tracked in your organization?
  4. Disk images. Describe a time when you found an error in a disk image. Follow-ups: How do you perform quality assurance on disk images? Describe the step-by-step process you use in creating a new disk image. What disk image and management tools have you used? How do you deal with different drivers and operating systems?
  5. Preventive maintenance. Describe a time when preventive maintenance processes you had in place warned you of an imminent hardware failure before it could become a serious problem. Follow-ups: What systems do you like to use for preventive maintenance? What do you recommend to end-users to enlist their assistance in preventive maintenance? When a computer comes for repair or other problems, what other work do you routinely perform before putting it back into service?
  6. AV support. Tell me about a time when you were providing technical support for an event and there was an equipment failure of some sort. What happened and how did you address it? Follow-ups: How do create contingency plans in case of equipment or connectivity failures? How do you check that all AV systems for a presentation are in place and functioning correctly? How do you prepare for outside presenters who bring their own equipment and/or content for use?
  7. Help desk software. Tell me about your practices with help desk software systems. What were its primary functions and how did you make us of it? Talk about a specific feature that made your job considerably easier (or harder). Follow-ups: How did end-users interact with the system? How did the system interact inventory, preventive maintenance, disk imaging, or other help desk tasks? Did you manage the help desk queue or were tasks assigned to you by someone else?
  8. Computer labs, carts, and loaners. Provide an example of how you worked with a teacher to support a group of students in a computer lab or in a classroom using a laptop cart. Follow-ups: How did you deal with problems the students may encountered that required your intervention? What systems did you have in place to make sure that the lab was ready for students to use? Where did students store their files, and what were the pros and cons of that system? What systems did you have in place to make sure that labs would not serve as entry-points for computer malware?
  9. Consumable supplies. Describe how you manage consumable supplies (such as paper, toner, batteries). Follow-ups: What systems do you use to alert you that certain consumables may need replacement soon? How do you track use of consumable supplies to help control costs? What procedures do you follow to make sure that e-waste is properly disposed of?
  10. Work and storage areas. It departments can often have an unkempt, even messy look to them. Describe how you have organized your work area so that tools, current projects and repairs, trouble tickets, and the like are maintained in an orderly fashion that allows you and others in your department quick and easy access to needed tools, equipment, and supplies without compromising physical security. Follow-ups: Describe the system you used for organizing spare parts and tools. Describe how you set-up staging areas for new equipment. Describe your practice for maintaining secure storage areas.

Soft Skills

The behavioral questions provided above are in large measure designed to elicit responses for sets of job responsibilities. Equally important, and perhaps arguable as important in a school setting, are “soft skills,” what Wikipedia defines as ”relating to a person’s ‘EQ’ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient), the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people. Soft skills complement hard skills (part of a person’s IQ), which are the occupational requirements of a job and many other activities.”

Listed below, courtesy of my brilliant daughter and organizational management expert, are examples of soft skills questions that can and should be part of interviews for any position within your school.

  • We’ve all had occasions when something that was our responsibility escaped our attention at work. Give me an example of when this happened to you and how you handled it.
  • Give me an example of when you took initiative to improve a process or situation.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to adjust quickly to a significant change in priorities. How did the change affect you? What did you do?
  • Not all organizational changes are clearly explained and/or communicated. What have you done when you found out about an unexpected change or were confused by a change?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to change your plans to help a peer at work. How did it affect you? What did you do?
  • Sometimes we need to make changes when the way we’ve been doing things is no longer effective. Tell me about a time when you had to change your approach or method of work. What did you do? What were the results?
  • Tell me about a time you had to climb a steep learning curve. How did you approach the new learning?
  • Tell me about a time when you felt overwhelmed by a situation at work. How did you respond?
  • Walk me through a situation in which you asked a lot of questions of several people to get the information you needed to make an effective decision. How did you know what to ask?
  • Describe a situation in which you needed to analyze and interpret a situation in order to make a recommendation.
  • Sometimes we have to make decisions very quickly. Tell me about a time when you made a decision TOO quickly – what happened? 
  • Give me an example of an idea you had to improve your organization’s processes. How did you come up with the idea? What happened?
  • What strategies have you used to encourage others to challenge established assumptions?
  • Tell me about the greatest lengths you’ve gone to in order to satisfy a user.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a user who made unreasonable demands. What did you do?
  • Tell me about a situation in which you had to understand the exact nature of user needs or problems. Walk me through the situation and what you said to draw out the information you needed.
  • Tell me about a particular user and how you went about establishing a relationship of trust and respect.
  • What have you done to understand a user’s point of view about a problem? Please give me an example.
  • Tell me about the most memorable presentation you made in the last year. 
  • Tell me about how you have adjusted your presentations to different audiences. Give me a specific example.
  • We’ve all made presentations in which something went wrong – tell me about a memorable time when something went wrong.
  • Describe a time when you had to provide support for an end-user who was using a computer or device that you were less familiar with. Follow-ups: How did you approach the problem and what was its resolution?
  • Describe a time when you had a major disagreement with a subordinate, co-worker, or your supervisor. What steps did you take to resolve the issue and what was the outcome.
  • Describe a time when you have worked (or volunteered) with a mission-driven organization, such as a non-profit, volunteer organization, school, place of religious worship, etc. What brought you to that place? How important was the organization’s mission to your job or volunteer satisfaction?
  • Describe the best boss you have ever had. What were the characteristics that made that person stand out?

Other posts in this series:

Space: The First Frontier
Writing Job Descriptions
Using Technology to Manage Hiring
Where to Post Jobs
What to Say in Job Postings
Screening Resumes and Letters of Application
Phone Screening Applicants

K-12 IT Management: Phone Screening Applicants

This is the seventh in a series of posts on Human Resources for Information Technology Managers.

Having sorted through resumes and letters of application for your technology department opening you may find yourself wanting to phone screen candidates to whittle down the numbers a bit more before conducting on-campus interviews. Online interviews, by phone or videoconference, can be very time-efficient. As with the sorting and scoring that occurred in the previous step, the hiring manager can delegate this step to a trusted colleague or perform it personally. Under most circumstances I recommend that hiring managers make such calls.

Logistics
While I recommend that hiring manager conduct the calls, there’s no reason why they need schedule them. Anyone knows who has tried to coordinate the appointment calendars of several people knows that this can prove to be time-consuming. I recommend that the scheduler not use email for this step, but instead call the candidates to make the appointments. Be prepared to offer several different days and times based on the hiring manager’s schedule. Be reasonably accommodating to candidates’ needs, especially if they need to exercise discretion with their current employer or reside in a time zone different from your own.

Allow for ten to fifteen minutes before the scheduled call to test connections and make sure that hiring managers and anyone else on the call are settled into a quiet space before actually starting the interview. You will also want to allow for 20-30 minutes following the call for hiring managers to make notes and, if there were others on the call, discuss the interview.

Video or Phone?
My personal preference is video calls as they can convey so much more information than voice alone can. One can pick-up on non-verbal cues and clues that are more opaque in voice only communication, especially the so-called soft-skills of communication styles, friendliness, openness, professionalism, optimism, humor and so on.

However, video will also reveal characteristics of the candidates such as race, ethnicity, handicapping conditions, age and other “protected class” attributes that could trigger bias in some interviewers. Such bias is unethical and illegal. Be sure to treat the candidates as if they are in the room with you, making sure that neither you nor anyone else involved with the call engages in any discriminatory non-verbal behavior or off-screen messaging.

Having declared my predilection for video, lat me also say that a good phone connection is vastly superior to an interview with poor video performance. Teleconferencing company Polycom has a practical guide for good video conferencing should you want to review checklist prior to the call.

Recording the Interview
You may wish to record the interview. Screen capture software makes this very easy for video and audio conference calls made through a computer. A recording also makes it easier for you to review what was said to make sure you have an accurate recollection for your notes and to share the interview with others involved in the interview process.

However, recordings of this kind are subject to certain federal and state laws which may not be easy to sort out. Your school’s attorney may need to provide guidance. One place to start for advice on recording phone calls is the Citizen Media Law Project which cites relevant federal and state statutes.

Phone Screen Rubric
In my previous post I wrote of the need to use rubric for screening resumes and letters of application. You will want to use a different rubric for the phone screen, one that clarifies any significant questions you may have and which looks at the previously mentioned “soft skills” that can’t be easily assessed by simply reading the candidates’ materials.

Listening and Selling
This is also your opportunity to listen carefully to the candidates’ questions and to “sell” your school and why it is such a great place to work. Have the major points of your pitch outlined before the meeting, preferably engineered to what you believe may be the specific interests of the candidate.

Salary and Benefits
My feeling salary and benefits should be discussed in person with candidates. If it comes up during the phone screen, speak in vague terms and only if candidates initiate the question.

Discuss Next Steps
Candidates who are phone screened know that they have already passed one hurdle. It is appropriate to tell them where you are in the hiring process and a general timeline for making decisions about next steps. Hiring managers will usually know within a day of the phone screen if they are interested in going to the next step, which might be additional phone interviews or even moving to on-campus interviews. My advice is to not drag out this step, but let the candidate know as soon as you have made a go/no go determination. It’s up to you if you deliver the news via email or a phone call. If you have the time, a phone call is more respectful even if it may feel awkward.

Others in the IT Management series:
Space: The First Frontier
Writing Job Descriptions
Using Technology to Manage Hiring 
Where to Post Jobs
What to Say in Job Postings
Screening Resumes and Letters of Application

 

K-12 IT Management: Screening Resumes & Letters of Application

This is the sixth in a series of posts on Human Resources for Information Technology Managers.

Having strategically posted and advertised your department’s job opening you now face the challenge of dealing with applicant phone calls, emails, snail mail (sorry USPS), and in-person document drop-offs.

Many managers and HR representatives complain about the deluge of applications they receive, and if you are not adequately prepared someone in your organization–perhaps you–will end up with a lot of paper on their desk and emails in their inbox to sort through. Here are some steps to help you save your sanity and find great candidates…

  • Use your talent manager software. See my previous post, Using Technology to Manage Hiring, or at the very least…
  • Set-up an auto-response or email template. You want to acknowledge that you have received a candidate’s resume and letter of application, and give them a general time-frame for your next contact. This may prevent additional calls to the school or email messages, and it is simply the polite and professional thing to do.
  • Sort people in rather than out. This is a mind-trick I’ve employed when trying to make a quick sort through incoming messages. When I get an immediate and positive feeling about a candidate they are move to my “in” pile or file folder.
  • Reject generic resumes and those with typographical errors. This is an employers market. If the applicant refers to your school IT department with a phrase such as “help you optimize your organization’s growth and achieve its mission” then they are not really interested in your job, just any jobOut the airlock!
  • Get help. There’s nothing saying that the IT manager needs to look at each and every resume that comes in. If you have a trusted associate or an assistant, a colleague in HR let them do the initial sort for you. Not done this before? Simply sit together with that person and go through a dozen together, with the hiring manager looking at each resume and vocalizing their thinking as they review it, followed by a declaration of “in” or “out.” Make your thinking transparent to the assistant so he/she knows how you approach such things.
  • Use a rubric. Create a rubric or evaluation form, tied to the job description, that can rate each candidate against the required skill set and experience. You can use a scale such as
    • exceeds job requirements
    • meets job requirements
    • lacks job requirements, or one with more or different criteria. You could assign point and an overall score, remembering that such ratings are highly subjective and can provide only a rough means for helping to sort in or out.
  • Re-read “ins” from back to front. Most resumes are written in reverse chronological order. For those applicants in you are giving a second look you can get a better sense of their job history by reading it in chronological order. You will want to look for significant and unexplained career gaps, (more common in our present economy,) and multiple jobs held for relatively short durations. You should hope to see a career with increasing levels of responsibility, achievements and awards.
  • Google “ins.”  You are hiring for a technology position and you should be able to find evidence of an active and appropriate online life. Check Linked-In, Facebook and use other search engines such as Bing to see what a candidate’s online persona is like. Inappropriate photos and rants? They’re no longer “in.”
  • Contact definite “outs.” Using a personalized but formulaic email, contact those candidates who are definitely not good fits as soon as possible to thank them for their interest and  let them know that it is not a fit. Ignore candidates who write back and ask why they were not selected, at least right now, as time is limited and you have to focus on hiring. Letting candidates who don’t have a snowball’s chance in Hades of getting a job at your school wonder what is going on is a bit sadistic and unprofessional. Leave them with a positive impression of your school. They may represent a future employee (albeit most likely in a far different role), parent of a student, or perhaps even a donor.

In my practice I usually only read the letters of application of those I have chosen for a closer look. Letters give you another peek into the applicant, one in which they are freed from the constraints of the resume format and can let their creativity, fit, and interest show a bit more. Most of the advice for resume screening applies to letters as well. Letters, however, do not have to be as formulaic as resumes and therefore may give you more insight into the applicant’s creativity, job fit, and level of interest.

Others in the IT Management series:
Space: The First Frontier
Writing Job Descriptions
Using Technology to Manage Hiring 
Where to Post Jobs
What to Say in Job Postings
Phone Screening Applicants

 

K-12 IT Management: What to Say in a Job Post

This is the fifth in a series of posts on Human Resources for Information Technology Managers.

Having identified where you want to post your job opening, you are now faced with what to write in it.

In my experience, most job openings seem to be written by formula, and a dull one at that:

[Insert school here] seeks a (choose adjective(s) here: dynamic, innovative, experienced, creative, etc.] for the position of [insert boring job title here]. [Insert School here] is a [insert adjective(s) here: leading, rigorous, challenging, etc.]  located in [insert chamber of commerce description here, e.g., dynamic, peaceful, affordable, beautiful.] blah, blah, blah.

At this point, the text usually starts to list qualifications, requirements, and job duties which no one person could possibly perform and also lead anything resembling a normal life. You might as well tack on “walks on water and then turns it into wine, heals the sick, gives sight to the blind, and is willing to die a horrible death.”

Despite these unearthly expectations, people still apply for these jobs because (1) it’s a terrible job market and (2) they stop reading after the first couple of items.

But let me be clear: Job  postings are not always about the applicants. Sometimes its about the candidates who see your posting but don’t take action.

Steve Jobs reputedly hired John Scully away from Pepsi by asking him “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?” While many people may argue that Scully’s tenure at Apple was a really bad hiring decision, Jobs question was nonetheless one heck of recruiting ploy. The query altered Scully’s mental framework. Knowing how to frame a question, or how to frame a job posting, can make the difference between finding good candidates and great candidates; between the solid and the spectacular.

Consider using different text depending on where you are posting the position. For example, on your school’s web site you may reasonably expect that candidates are interested in K-12 education in your geographical area. You can reasonably infer to use text that is more in keeping with other job postings and overall marketing message of the institution as a whole.

On job boards, especially those frequented by geeks, perhaps you’d like to be a bit more experimental and bold.

You could try issuing a challenge:

  • Think you’re re really smarter than a third grader? Prove it!
  • Did high school suck for you? Make it better.
  • Would you rather fix the computer for some marketing nerd who could care less about you or thirty kids who think you’re the goddess of computerdom?
Or you might try appealing to a candidate’s sense of public purpose and mission:
  • Anyone can make money. Only a few can make lives.
  • American education is broken. Fix it.
  • Would you rather build your resume or build the future?
And the a dash of humor might even be worth a shot:
  • Work for the coolest school this side of Starfleet Academy.
  • Geniuses wanted. The merely brilliant need not apply.
  • Dilbert wishes he had gone to school here.
Another “out-there” idea: A video job posting. Put your posting on Vimeo or You-Tube, following a scripted description of the opening. Don’t have time to make one for a specific job? Consider making one just about working at your school, being sure to involve multiple people (faculty, staff, students) talking about why your school is a great place to be, revealing a bit more about your culture and facilities. Schools aren’t Google, but you can get a sense of what Google’s culture is like from this video:

Getting a Bit More Specific
When you create a job posting, whether somewhat formulaic,”edgy” or something in-between, there are certain elements that it should always contain. In no particular order, be sure to:
  • describe why someone should be interested in your school. What distinguishes you from other schools? How is this particular job going to be better than a similar one in another school? (Tip: substitute a competitor school’s name for your own and see if it still holds true. If so, you have not distinguished yourself.)
  • get a second opinion. Run your posting by a trusted colleague, especially someone from another school, and ask them how they would respond if they saw it online.
  • describe how to take action. Be very clear about the steps candidates should follow to apply including any or all of the following: letter of application and what it should include, a resume or longer curriculum vitae, an online portfolio, and to complete any online application that your school uses.1 Don’t include phone numbers if you don’t want calls. Don’t include personal email addresses but rather one that can be auto-forwarded to whoever is handling your hiring process. Do include physical addresses so applicants can Google your location and get a birds-eye view of it.
  • use an industry-standard job title. Assume that some candidates might find your job by using standard search query terms. Even if your posting is on the creative end of the spectrum, try to include more common terminology to allow for search engines and searching humans to discover the information.
  • keep it short. The posting is not the same as a job description nor is it a reiteration of annual performance objectives. It should be relatively short, 2-3 paragraphs in length. See “walks on water” above.
  • format for the web. Depending on your posting site, you may be able to embed graphics and hyperlinks in the posting. If you can, make strategic use of these to draw attention to your posting and make it convenient for applicants to take action.
What have you found to be useful in creating job postings? Feel free to comment below.
  1. The reason you ask for candidates to complete an application is that it often concludes with a statement indicating that the information in it is true and factual. If you later discover that the candidate lied on the application, that can be grounds for dismissal whereas misrepresentation on a resume may not.

K-12 IT Management: Where to Post Your Jobs

This is the fourth in a series of posts on Human Resources for Information Technology Managers.

You’ve been informally advertising and building your department’s IT “brand” by word-of-mouth through parents, vendors, and other school visitors and they’re impressed by what they see. You and your colleagues have been participating in listservs, social media, and conferences to further enhance the word on the street about you. You have up-to-date job descriptions and are confident that you have the right positions in place, or will have with your next hire. And you have a job management system to track the hiring process. You’re ready to start recruiting. What’s the next move?

Your Recruiting Strategy depends on several factors:

  • your capacity to read and process letters of application and resumes. The larger your capacity, the broader you can search.
  • the seniority of the position. The more senior the position, the more focused the search needs to be.
  • the amount of time you have to conduct a search. The greater the lead time, the more deliberate the process can be.
  • your budget. Some recruiting efforts are free or low cost. Using search firms will incur fees, usually equivalent to about 1-3 months of the candidate’s starting salary.
  • the “mix” of skills required in the job. Schools sometimes talk about hiring teachers who are “triple threats,” candidates who can teach, coach, and perform dormitory duties. Triple threat candidates in an IT context might be those who can teach one or two classes, provide professional development training to adults, and manage highly technical systems. The more unique the mix, the longer the search may take.
  • academic requirements. I personally think that community colleges can be a great place to look for entry-level personnel, but if the baseline for your job is a bachelor’s degree, don’t even look there.
  • your school’s geographical location. Rural, isolated schools will need to have a broader geographical reach than those located in urban areas.
  • the job market. It is currently an “employers” market, meaning that there are many un- or under-employed potential candidates; however, that is no guarantee that there are a lot of really good candidates.
  • your school’s commitment to affirmative action. Women and certain groups of people of color are underrepresented in IT fields (http://goo.gl/Db3tD). By law, all schools must have statements of non-discrimination in hiring, but this does not mean that de facto discrimination in hiring does not occur, and it can start with your recruiting efforts. If you’re not looking in the right places, you will not find underrepresented candidates.
  • “fit” to culture. In a previous post (http://taffee.edublogs.org/2012/05/14/fit/) I wrote about what people mean when they talk about an employee as being either a “good” or “bad” fit, and how “too much “fit” may not always be a good thing [and] we need the right mix of friction and fit in order to keep the gears of our schools moving smoothly.” If your IT department is highly functional, admired, generally perceived to be on the right course, then you will want to advertise in places where you are more likely to find candidates that will blend with your existing culture. If, on the other hand, your IT department is dysfunctional, stagnating, or in need of re-invention, then looking for non-traditional candidates who can “shake things up” might be a better bet.
Answering these questions should help you decide on how much time, effort, and money you want to invest in finding your next hire. Hiring may be the most important task a manager faces, so in my book you should maximize all of these items, but money dictates that this is not always possible.
The Usual Suspects for Recruiting
  • Print Media. Just say “No!” Since you are recruiting for an IT position, unless there are extenuating circumstances or policy obligations, forego traditional print media.
  • Craig’s List.  Posting to something with a huge readership such as Craig’s List will likely inundate you with applications. But it’s affordable and if you have time and capacity to sort through the applicants you may turn up some great people. Be strategic in determining the geographic spread for your posting.
  • General Job Boards such as Monster.com, Indeed.com, and CareerBuilder.com. You will pay a bit more than Craig’s List but reach a broader geographic audience.
  • Government-sponsored Job Boards such as American Job Center and its state affiliates for the unemployed.
  • Specialized IT Job Boards such as Dice, JustTech, 37 signals, The Ladders IT Jobs, Slashdot Jobs will get you to highly technical people, some of whom may be interested in working in schools and (perhaps) a few who are actually qualified to do so.
  • University and Community College Job Boards. Entry-level personnel can be often found in two-year programs be both interested and willing to work at a school, particularly if your school offers some form of tuition-reimbursement or other incentives for them to complete a 4-year degree.
  • Social Networks. Use both your personal and school-based social networks including the usual suspects, Linkedin and Facebook’s Social Jobs Partnership, but also smaller groups such as Nings, blogs, and other sites frequented by you and others in your school community.
  • School Association Job Boards. NAIS and their state/regional affiliates. You’ll need an account with the National Association of Independent Schools, but its part of your membership fee. Likewise, look to the National Association of Girls Schools, the Council for American Private Education. and others.
  • Professional Listservs and IT Association Job Boards. My personal favorites are the BAISNet (SF Bay Area) and ISED-L (national, independent schools) listservs, and the ISTE job site. Please add a comment about your own favorites.
  • Underrepresented Candidates Job Boards such as Mentor.net, Women in Technology, SystersPOCIS (Northern California People of Color in Independent Schools EdNet), National Minority Employment Network, LatPro (Latin American, bilingual candidates), The Black Collegian, Saludos (Hispanic professionals), Diversity Jobs, Native American Jobs, and others.
  • Hyper-local News Job Boards, such as those run by AOL Patch, EveryblockDNA Info (New York and Chicago), Daily Voice (CT, MA, RI), OutsideIn, see others listed by the Columbia College of Journalism. The jury is out on whether or not hyper-local web sites will be economically viable, so use them while you can.
  • School and Alumni Web Site. Listed last because your school’s web site is (a) both obvious and (b) likely to be seen only by candidates who are looking in your specific region or at your particular school, so they are finding you, not the other way around. When you do use your school and alumni web sites, be consistent when you post, keep the information current, and make the ad copy something that a reader can confidently forward to friends.
The Unusual Suspects
  • Former employees. Perhaps this should be in the category of “usual suspects,” but it has been my experience that when someone leaves a school or company little effort is expended to stay in touch with them. Yet former employees, especially those you valued can be a fantastic source of referrals. They know your school and presumably liked working there. Keep in contact with them, and not just when you need them. Make them part of your schools alumni network.
  • Parents. I’ve mentioned how parents can be given positive impressions of your IT department simply by how it conducts its business and maintains a professional looking operation. Many schools have an technology advisory committee including parent representatives. That is a start, but ask your Development or Advancement office to provide you with the names of parents who are in IT careers and reach out to them. After all, parents have e deeply vested interest in seeing their child’s school be the very best.
  • Places of Worship. Members of the clergy often know who in their congregation is looking for work. Places of worship can also be means for recruiting underrepresented candidates.
  • Geek hangouts, such as computer and electronics stores, computer user groups, Comic-Con, Trekkie conventions, science fiction book clubs, libraries, book stores, and coffee shops. Just as good hocker players skate to where the puck will be, good recruiters know to go to where the geeks and nerds hang out.
  • Senior Centers. Gray hair and gray matter often go together. Senior centers may be great places to find part-time, entry-level help, consultants, and experienced full-time employees who are less interested in money but highly motivated by benefits and a mission-driven organization.
In the end, your best recruiting strategies will cluster around the category of “word of mouth.” It’s important, therefore, to have as many mouths getting the word out as possible. How you do that is dependent upon your personal, professional, and extended networks which is why you need to be constantly expanding and tending to them.

Others in the IT Management series:
Space: The First Frontier
Writing Job Descriptions
Using Technology to Manage Hiring 
What to Say in Job Postings
Screening Resumes and Letters of Application
Phone Screening Applicants

K-12 IT Management: Using Technology to Manage Hiring

This is the third in a series of posts on Human Resources for Information Technology Managers.

If you have had the pleasure (yes, I mean that) and responsibility for hiring someone, you know that there’s a lot of organization required to do it right, including managing:

  • job descriptions
  • job postings and other recruiting efforts
  • reading and evaluating resumes
  • scheduling interviews
  • making and managing offer and rejection letters
  • handling on-boarding and new employee orientation
  • moving data between various business systems
And as techies, we know that if there’s something that needs organizing, it’s probably a good candidate for using technology to help. And there are a lot of options available for organizations to use that go far beyond spreadsheets and email.
In the commercial sector big players in the field include Taleo (acquired by Oracle), SuccessFactors (recently acquired by SAP), Kenexa (recently acquired by IBM), and ADP (so far not acquired by anyone.) These are expensive, complex systems. Fortunately, there are more affordable, smaller solutions available.
Before going much further, it may be helpful to think about the specific tasks and requirements that a school might need from job management software. (Such software may also be called talent management, applicant tracking, or recruiting management software)
  1. Integration with your current email, document sharing and calendaring systems. There will be letters of application, resumes, recommendations, interview questions, interview results, and other documents that will need to be shared among a variety of people. You will want a robust file permission system so that confidential documents are treated appropriately and deleted or archived according to school policies. Automatic routing of emails to the right people at the right time can save a lot of manual oversight. There will be phone screening calls, interviews, and other deadlines and meetings to manage. Ideally, this will be happen seamlessly through your existing calendaring and scheduling application.
  2. Integration with web applications, job boards, and social media. You may be using social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to communicate with your school community. Wouldn’t it be great if your job management software could automatically post to these services on your behalf? Similarly, the ideal solution would also post job openings and updates to your school’s web site. Finally, there are probably several job sites you use to advertise your position. Integration with big job sites such as Monster.com and Craig’s List are likely to be part of some systems, but postings to smaller boards such as NAIS or POCIS will not be a standard part of such offerings. Colleges and universities often have systems that share openings with one another. It would be ideal if your system could email an opening or fill out and online form to targeted higher education institution, search firms,  and area newspapers.
  3. Integration with your school’s HR Management system. If your HR or Payroll management system is from a larger software company, they may offer a talent management module.  Some HR departments want to track all applications whereas others wish to track only those candidates who are hired. At the very least, most HR departments require that candidates complete an application in addition to submitting a resume and letter of introduction, so look for a system that support web-based job applications.
  4. Support for multimedia. More and more candidates are submitting or being required to submit videos, portfolios, and other multimedia could take a lot of disk space and, of course, leaves open the possibility of incompatible file formats. Your system should be able support multiple media types. In the case of IT candidates, it is not too much to ask them to submit their files in a given format. In the case of faculty, you may wish to be more lenient and be able to convert their files to something viewable by all necessary personnel.
  5. SIS and other systems. In the case of teachers, especially mid-year hires, it may be helpful to simply be able to replace one teacher with the new hire’s name in your Student Information System and transfer ownership of class folders and other work-related files.
  6. Auto-replies and updates for candidates. Candidates often feel like they are throwing their information into black-holes. Treat them as professionals and worthy of respect. They may represent a future colleague, and all represent people who will remember how they are treated by you.
  7. Resume scoring. If you are a school with a lot of openings and a lot of applicants, you may want software that pre-sifts resumes on your behalf, based on searching for key-words and scoring resumes accordingly. I personally think that this is overkill for most independent schools, but I could see its utility in very large school districts.
Products that Work with Google Apps
Longtime readers know that I am a big supporter of Google Apps for schools. In that spirit I offer some job management software systems that purport to integrate, in various degrees, with Google Applications.
If you are a Google Apps user, here are several systems you may wish to consider:
In smaller schools, IT departments may hire infrequently, but chances are that your school hires a number of people each year. So, IT Managers, if you make the job easier for yourself you will also be investing in technology that will pay dividends for others across the school. Come on, you’re techies. You know you want to use tech to manage this.

K-12 IT Management: Job Descriptions

Important Note: Job descriptions should be reviewed by your school’s HR Department and/or legal counsel.

I may be in a minority of managers who actually likes to write job descriptions.

Some people think that job descriptions are obsolete. Such critics point out that job descriptions:

  1. take valuable manager time to create,
  2. are often unread by the people they apply to, and
  3. rapidly fall of-ouf-date.

But the problem is not with job descriptions per se, but with the process used to create them. While it is important what the job description says, more important is what the job description does. And what a job description should do is force you to think about your IT department’s structure, the skills, knowledge, attitudes, and abilities needed to make it function, delegation of duties, cross-training, and the flexibility to change and evolve with new technologies and institutional needs.

The Job Analysis

In a previous series of posts (see The Goldilocks Number) I wrote about the variables that are entailed in determining the appropriate number of staff for an IT department. For the sake of this post, we’ll assume that those decisions have been vetted and you ready to move to hiring.

Before writing the job description it is helpful to conduct a job analysis. In the case of a replacement hire, you may already have much of the information you  need, in your head if not written down. Even so, a savvy manager will take a close look at what their department requires and if it still makes sense to do it the same way. For example, If you have a Senior System Administrator leaving, perhaps some of her or his responsibilities could be given to a more junior member of the team who has earned the right to more challenging work. If the position is incremental, it is it likely that the duties of the new hire have been spread among one or more other staff who will be asked to give them up and provide guidance to the new gal or guy on the block.

The job analysis should try to answer questions such as these 1:

  • What physical and mental activities does the worker undertake?
    • For example, physical tasks such as the ability to lift and install a 40 lb. UPS into a rack, walk a laptop cart from one building to the next, perform basic keyboarding and mousing functions, identify colors, speak clearly on the telephone, or climb a ladder, and mental tasks such as the ability to think clearly under stressful conditions, in confined spaces, create a logic flow chart, or prioritize tasks with little supervision.
  • What qualifications are needed to perform the job?
    • You are in an academic institution and academic credentials carry credibility. It will be a hard sell to hire someone into a technical position who does not have at least a Bachelor’s degree, so think twice about pushing hard for someone lacking such credentials.
    • Technical degrees are no guarantee of competence, so you may want to hedge your bets and not specify particular majors and minors, but rather knowledge of particular technologies.
  • What are the working conditions?
    • Physical spaces such as offices, classrooms, server rooms and network closets. Noisy children. Possibly in front of or in proximity to large audiences.
  • What machinery or equipment is used in the job?
    • Computers, servers, switches, but also copiers, printers, projectors, handheld devices, TVs, and practically anything with an on/off switch and a silicon chip.
  • What are the work duties, tasks, and responsibilities that need to be accomplished?
    • Think about what a typical day and week might be like, as well as periodic duties that happen less frequently, such as building new disk images, checking in new inventory, and start of school workshops.
  • What are the most important outcomes or contributions needed from the position?
    • Measures of success. How do you apply standards of performance to the duties, tasks, and responsibilities listed above?
  • What is the level of compensation associated with positions like this in other companies and schools?
    • It is sometimes hard to get this data. Public schools usually have published salary schedules. In Independent Schools, the Head of School and Business Officer have access to private NAIS salary data.

Do not complete the job analysis in a vacuum. Talk with others in your department especially, if practicable, the a person who leaving the position. Talk with colleagues in other schools. And most of all, talk with your HR department so their is clarity about what you are looking for and that your job description meets its standards.

A Job Description Template

The elements in the job description outlined below are ones that I learned years ago as a manger at MECC, and they continue to be commonly found in many other organizations. Your school may have additional elements.

job description template

(1) Job Title. Titles can be a touchy subject for some people. Employees are often overly fixated on them, particularly in larger organizations where where titles can designate expertise, seniority, and reporting relationships.

In academia, titles have largely been slow to change and are seldom “cutesy.” Among college faculty, titles normally follow a predictable hierarchy: assistant, associate, and full professor. A similar system may hold in staff positions, such as assistant, associate, and senior systems administrator.

IT departments in business, companies that relish creativity, out-of-the-box thinking and the nerd culture, may include titles such as “IT Overlord,” “Network Ninja,” “Help Desk Diva,” or “Technology Kahuna.” The question you need to ask yourself is if such titles fit within your department and school culture, and if such titles will help or hinder staff who leave the school.

Organizations can also opt to have two titles for a position, one that is uses within HR and another used informally within the school and as part of  IT signature files in email and business cards. I used to tell my staff that they could call themselves anything that was non-offensive and was not my title. For more information, see “What’s in a Job Title, from Inc. Magazine.)

(2) Revision Date. Enter the date that you are writing or re-writing the job description. It’s up to you if you wish to enter revision numbers, file locations, and so in this area. Some organizations stipulate that revision dates, revision numbers, and file locations be specified in document footers. In any event, enter data here that will help you remember when the job description was created and revised.

reporting relationships; who they report to and who reports to them

first year or probationary period stipulations

Exempt or non-exempt

(3) Department Name. Probably a no-brainer, unless this is a dual-appointment, in which case there may be even two job descriptions. There may also be “dotted line” relationships, in which there’s a close working relationship with someone other than your formal supervisor. For example, a school’s web master may formally report to an IT manager, but have a close working relationship with the school’s Director of Communications.

(4) Reports to (Title) and (6) Reports to (Name). Enter the name and title of the person to whom this position is reporting. My own personal experience is that reporting to more than one person is often more trouble than it is worth unless there’s a very high level of trust and communication among all of the participants.

(5) Exempt/Non-Exempt. 2 Your HR department will make this determination based on applicable Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regulations. The FLSA has specific regulations concerning technical employees that apply. See their 2006 opinion and fact sheet. While it may be tempting for schools to try to fit their help desk personnel into the exempt category, you do so at your own risk. As they say in their fact sheet: Job titles do not determine exempt status.  In order for this exemption to apply, an employee’s specific job duties and compensation must meet all the requirements of the Department’s regulations.

(7) Job Summary. This area consists of several sentences that describe the general duties of the position. The language should be simple enough for a lay person to understand, and acronyms should be spelled out. The summary should talk about the why of the position and its place within the organization. Here’s an example of such text from a position I once held:

The Director of Technology is responsible for setting and implementing the overall strategy and operations for the school’s technology curriculum and its computer and telecommunications systems. The Director is also responsible for all administrative and interpersonal aspects of management for the Technology Department including budgeting, staff development, and employee performance.

Resist the temptation to get too specific here. You can drill down in the next section.

(8) Essential Job Duties and Responsibilities. Once again, the language should be simple enough for a lay person to understand, and acronyms explained. This section is characterized by action verbs (see suggestions from Ethan Willing’s list and Post-Doc) followed by nouns and sometime one or more criteria. For example, a system administrator’s job description might include:

Maintain servers to achieve an “uptime” standard of 99+%

This section should not be a list of all of the duties required to fulfill a given goal. It is enough to state up-time of 99+% and leave the specifics of how that is achieved and measured for other documents, such as employee goals or department procedure manuals.

The verbs you use are important as they designate a level of authority and independence of action that can distinguish between entry-level and senior level positions. Take for example the tasks associated with server log files.

  • Entry-level: Verify that logs are being generated for all assigned servers
  • Mid-level: Analyze server log files to identify possible performance problems
  • Senior-level: Direct improvements to server performance based on log files and other data

You may wish to include information about important interactions between the person in this position and others in the department or organization. If the employee is part of a permanent, cross-functional team you can spell it out here. If the employee has one of the aforementioned “dotted line” relationships with another manager, describe it here and use a verb to convey who makes the calls. Perform is much different in tone and intent than negotiate.

IT staff in schools are subject to changes in job routing due to the seasonality of schools. Different work occurs when school is not in session, be it for a few days here and there or extended vacation periods. For example, many schools build new master disk images once a year during the summer. If your IT staff is on a 12 month contract, be sure to factor that into your thinking and writing when completing the job description.

Finally, in this section be sure to include the wiggle-room afforded by other duties as assigned to provide needed flexibility for unanticipated needs.

(9) Educational and Experience Requirements(10) Education Part 9 is designed to help to set the expectations for what you expect this person to already have as part of their past that gives you confidence that they can do the job you are asking of them in the present and provide them with a platform to build upon for the future. Remember, as minimum qualifications these criteria can help you quickly sort through stacks of resumes and applications.

The first of the qualifications described in this section is education, including technical certifications.

Working in an educational environment, it’s hard to see how a professional IT department could hire anyone (other than an intern) who does not possess at least a Bachelor’s degree. This requirement will eliminate some candidates who may be self-taught technical wizards. And people in technology love to talk about college drop-outs who have had huge success in business. But such people are rate exceptions, and you are not looking to build a company but to staff an IT department. Every other professional position in a school requires a college degree, and you risk denigrating your profession if you do not.

The field in which the degree was granted is less important. Many outstanding school IT professionals do not have technical degrees, but came from the classroom into technology. But that was probably ten to twenty years ago. So the way around a hard and fast rule is to required something like “Bachelor’s degree required. Degree in technology-related field preferred, or equivalent on-the-job experience.”

Certifications are another matter to consider. All of the major equipment and software manufacturers, Cisco, Apple, Microsoft, VM Ware, and so on have certification programs which grant credentials indicating that someone has followed a particular curriculum of study and successfully passed examinations. Such credentials used to demand a premium over other candidates, but with the job market as it is now, and the number of certified people out there, my hunch is that this is less the case.

Schools must also ask themselves about their current computing environment and where it may be in five years. As more services move to the cloud, the need for on-site expertise may become more crucial for networking than for server administration. Even so, some schools are moving to managed, plug and play networks. In theory, this means that as long as your Internet connection is maintained, almost all other services could be cloud based and outsourced, leaving more resources for technology integration or other uses.

(11) Skills and Knowledge. Part 10 identifies the academic and training requirements while Part 11 identifies what the job actually calls for. While you can call for specific skills such as “advanced Excel skills” or “administer Cisco Call Manager” I recommend avoiding brand-specific skills, which can be quickly learned on the job, and instead write “advanced spreadsheet skills” or “administration of Voice Over IP telephone systems.”

(12) Physical Requirements. I don’t think enough managers think about this aspect of the job description. There are aspects of working in an IT department that can be physically demanding, such as lifting heavy equipment, crawling under tables and desks, working in hot server rooms, using precision tools and tiny parts, and so on. Some of these activities are not easy to accommodate in the workplace. Ask yourself if there are certain handicapping conditions, such as blindness, deafness, lack of mobility, limited physical strength or dexterity, that would render it impractical for someone to perform the job. The language in this area could protect you from charges of workplace discrimination under the American Disabilities Act. Your HR department can help assure that any requirements in this area are bona fide occupational qualifications (BFOQ), ”a quality or an attribute that employers are allowed to consider when making decisions on the hiring and retention of employees—qualities that when considered in other contexts would constitute discrimination and thus in violation of civil rights employment law.”

(13) Business Equipment, Systems and/or Tools Required. By this point in the job description this information may seem redundant or self-evident, but it pays to be explicit. In an IT department, people will be working with computers, servers, printers, copiers, and other electronic equipment. Repair technicians will need to use a variety of hand tools and use repair manuals and online resources.

Job Description Maintenance
A study published in the European Journal of Social Sciences of 126 companies found that the majority feel that job descriptions have a positive role to play but too often fall out-of-date and need a regular schedule of updating to remain relevant and helpful to the company. My own personal sense from the listservs I follow indicates that school IT managers are regularly polling one another for suggestions on job descriptions, suggesting that there use remains widespread in schools and that a repository of job descriptions would be of value to this community. Readers are encouraged to add comments to this blog if they know of or would like to start such a repository.

At a minimum, job descriptions should be reviewed annually as part of the employee review process, a process that will be the subject of future posts.

Others in the IT Management series:
Space: The First Frontier
Using Technology to Manage Hiring 
Where to Post Jobs
What to Say in Job Postings
Screening Resumes and Letters of Application
Phone Screening Applicants