Opinion: Human resources ain't that bad

Hoo boy! I recently suggested - among other things - cutting the human resources department out of the IT-shop hiring loop. What a hot button - I got comments from IT-shop veterans and students, career changers and consultants who'd prefer a steady gig, all of them snarling for the heads of the people in HR. Not a single programmer, network administrator or operations guy had a nice word to say about the gatekeepers who make it so hard to get an interview. But I was wrong.

Just taking HR out of the process won't solve the problem. For one thing - as several recruiters, HR people and hiring managers wrote to tell me - HR doesn't dream up those loony 10-years-of-XML-experience requirements. Hiring managers and department heads do that. For another, good HR people actually work hard to get the right requirements specified and the right resumes in front of the hiring manager.

And anyhow, hiring is such a complicated legal morass these days that no big company can afford to do without HR specialists.

So how can IT job applicants get past those HR gatekeepers? Maybe by doing some things that actually make the whole process smoother and more successful for everybody.

Do the research. Find out what's in demand. Check out Web sites with current job-market information. If you want to work in a particular industry, pick likely employers and dig deeper to find out what they need. Sure, they all want experience - but doing what?

Target your resume. Don't waste HR's time or anyone else's. Work over that resume like it's critical code. Make your resume clear and easy to read - in every sense. If it's electronic, make sure it's in plain text, not some word-processor format. If it's on paper, forget the fancy fonts - you want those automated scanners to recognise the buzzwords you researched.

Talk to friends. Most companies - around 90 per cent - like to hire people their own employees referred. Most managers will feel a lot more comfortable about you if Mary the programmer or Al the system administrator says you're OK.

Ask around. If you can't get an employee referral, you can still schmooze at user-group meetings. Ask your brother-in-law. Ask your next-door neighbour. Pick up the phone, call potential employers and ask if they're hiring, what they're looking for and how to pitch your resume.

Toot your horn. If you're a Java specialist, say so up front. If you've been managing Oracle databases for years, make it known. If you're a business-process expert, tell them. Don't make anyone guess what you're good at. And don't make yourself sound like a generic IT grunt. Nobody's filling a generic job.

Know your price. And be realistic - it'll be set by supply and demand, not your skills and experience. In-demand specialists make big bucks because they're hard to come by. If experienced IT people make more, it's because they got smarter, craftier and more productive, not just older. Generic programmers and operations workers are cheap. That's cold, hard and ugly - but it's true.

Sell yourself. You say you're not a salesman? You are now. Chase leads, track prospects, make cold calls, follow up - and you'll have a much better shot at getting past those HR gatekeepers.

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