Instead, Schmitt taps the eight members of his network support team to conduct group interviews for open positions in their department. He himself doesn't attend; he wants candidates to feel comfortable asking about "the boss."
Schmitt has found his employees to be universally willing to help vet candidates. "I do my best to get the team involved. They like to know they're really making a good decision about a teammate -- someone they may be spending more time with than they spend with their spouse."
If gotchas are out, what kinds of questions do help reveal the qualities Schmitt is looking for? He goes for a line of inquiry that's both open-ended and specific. "Tell me a time when you successfully adapted to change." "What does a good day at work look like?" "What about a bad one?" "How do you resolve disagreements?"
And one of his favorites: "Tell me about something you documented for others." This gets at the candidate's commitment to teamwork as shown by the effort he puts into making his work accessible to others, explains Schmitt, who has been in IT for 15 years, five as a hiring manager.
Such questions bring out a side to candidates that a skills-specific question may not. "People tend to come prepped to answer the technical questions," Schmitt says, less so the situational or behavioral ones. "I feel we're getting genuine responses to those."
Social skills, social questions
Thad Neal has been in the IT business long enough to see the way the interviewing process has shifted. "When I graduated in 1990, the questions were all the standard ones: 'Tell me about your successes.' 'Tell me a time you overcame a failure.'"
Neal, a consulting director for Junction Solutions in Englewood, Colo., which provides ERP consulting services for the retail and food and beverage industries, has watched over the years as IT has moved from being one business function among many to serving as strategic lynchpin. With that shift in focus comes a shift in the balance of skills IT departments are interviewing for.
Since the people Neal hires will be working with external client companies, they must have a strong range of social skills in addition to technical expertise, but Neal isn't fazed by that requirement.
"Identifying social skills is pretty simple," Neal says. "How do they speak -- do they look you in the eye or down at the floor? How do they dress -- purple oxfords with silver ties or fairly conservative? What are their hobbies -- do any of them include personal interactions with humans?" he asks, adding, "and I don't mean playing Halo online."
Not every company has mastered the art of assessing social skills, Neal asserts. "We've seen a lot of hiring at other companies go wrong," he says. "People get too focused on folks' technical abilities. They're so fixated on the fact that the guy in front of them is the best .Net programmer out there that they're willing to look past the fact that he looks like an unmade bed."
Rambling isn't always wrong
Joseph Morgan, a data power architect at Netsmart in Kansas City, Mo., says his company is on track to hire 200 people in IT alone this calendar year. As a senior employee with 25 years of experience in the business, he is often called on to conduct interviews.
He is not a fan of gotcha questions. "Asking the kind of questions that get candidates flushed and fumbling isn't productive," Morgan says. "When people get defensive, it's a bad interview on both sides."
At the same time, he believes interviewers ought to stay away from questions that begin, "Tell me a time when you..."