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7 Tips for Recruiting an IT Team Member as a Non-Technical Interviewer


Phil Telfer


December 9, 2020

As technical leaders, we’ve interviewed hundreds of developers, testers and database administrators. One question we hear a lot is: how do you successfully recruit a technical team member if you’re not technical yourself?We’ve seen this go badly wrong before. Often the candidate is able to ‘fool’ the interviewer purely because the interviewer gives the candidate the benefit of the doubt – the doubt they have in their own mind about being able to accurately screen the best candidates.

Check out this list of tips gleaned from our years of successful recruitment in the technology sector.

1. Are they a good analyst?

Forget about the fact you’re interviewing someone for technical skills you don’t have. Interview them as if they’re coming in as a Business Analyst or Business Development Manager. Are they going to understand your business, be motivated by your purpose and always ask the right questions? The best developers are great analysts. Without the analysis skills and the business understanding the candidate won’t be aligned with your expectations.

2. Do they have good interpersonal skills?

Forget the stereotype of the developer who struggles to make eye contact or who doesn’t empathize with others in the organisation. This is a tired cliche that should be consigned to history. In your business, you’ll need people to be “people people” no matter what their technical specialism. The best people in any role have a good working knowledge of the roles that interface directly with them, for example a developer should understand (and therefore strongly empathize with) Business Analysis, Testing and Support roles at the very least.

3. Do they know what they don’t know?

Any good technical person will always know what they want to be learning next. They might already know a little bit about it, have read a few articles or played with the technology for a pet project. But if you’re interviewing someone and they don’t have their sights set on the next thing on the horizon at all, they’re probably resting on their laurels, happy that they no longer need to learn.

4. Is the candidate obsessed with the next new technology?

This is a balance – we’ve already said that someone with no eye to the future should be viewed with suspicion, but someone who is always looking to get their hands dirty with new stuff may lack focus and attention to detail. If a developer wants to learn a brand-new technology, they might ignore their better judgement and decide to test the technology on your business. No problem if there’s a new component being tested that can be backed out if it subsequently becomes obviously inappropriate, but we’ve seen organisations where every project has been created in a completely new platform as developers have been free to try the ‘New Thing’ time and again. They’ve then moved on, leaving the company with a complete mish-mash of technologies where it becomes almost impossible to recruit for.

5. Are they a team player?

Ask them why they don’t want to work for an established IT Development team. You may strike it lucky and find someone who can pick up the baton and run with it, taking your organisation to the next level, recruiting a great team beneath them and building an effective development function. The danger is you recruit someone who just doesn’t want to be held accountable or closely scrutinized, thinking they can pull the wool over the eyes of the non-technical employer. One way to root these people out is to ask them to articulate the business benefits of their top skills. Being able to understand how their skills fit into the bigger picture will help you determine whether the person wants an easy ride or genuinely wants to help your business.

6. Do they have active interests outside of IT?

Sitting at a desk all day doing brain-work is great but without something to redress the inactivity balance, you’ll be heading for an unhealthy lifestyle and all the downsides associated with it. If a candidate cycles to work, goes running in the evening or does Taekwondo at the weekend, they’re going to lead a more balanced life than someone who goes home, shuts the curtains and plays on the Xbox all night. Try to select people who do most of their sitting down at work and you’ll find the person has more energy to focus on their work.

7. Can they design and present a solution so that a non-technical person can understand it?

Ask them to draw on a whiteboard a proposed solution for a business problem you have. This will give you a chance to assess their analysis, interpersonal and software design skills. Even if they’re in a junior position, this exercise is well worth doing. You should be comfortable that the candidate understands you and has various options around solving the problem. You’d also expect at this point that the candidate becomes more animated and enthusiastic. This is their world. This is what they’re (supposed to be) good at. If they seem tired and dismissive, you know to send them on their way.

Take Away – there are plenty of important attributes that an individual must possess other than the ability to write code. All of which can be assessed by a non-technical interviewer.

We hope this helps you leverage technology in your organisation.

If you’re struggling with this process, we do offer an interview service where we can talk to the candidates on the phone, carry out a video call or meet them in person. We’ve interviewed hundreds of candidates, recruited a steady stream of them and refined our interview processes over that time. If you’d like help with this, please send us a message or arrange for a call back.


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