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Finding Great SharePoint TalentThe U.S. economy is hardly a shining beacon of light these days. In fact, it’s rather the opposite. However, SharePoint skills remain in demand and the market is driving something of a SharePoint feeding frenzy. Good times, indeed. However, while the SharePoint job market provides some very attractive opportunities, but it there are some very real perils for hiring managers and job seekers alike.
Hiring managers face a major problem in the SharePoint market today: anyone that takes the job hunting process seriously can create a credible-appearing resume. The days of screening candidates on whether they reference “event receiver” or “web part”, whether they use “WSS” and “MOSS” correctly in context - those days are long past us. Although it does mean hiring managers need to work harder to find good talent (or even merely adequate talent), it is a good sign for SharePoint overall. It wasn’t all that long ago that many people had concerns that lack of qualified SharePoint pro’s would stifle growth.
Hiring managers need new and better screening techniques to find the truly talented SharePoint candidates and separate them from inexperienced hopefuls. A successful hiring strategy employs the following techniques:
• Effective screening: Even though SharePoint is a hot market and good talent is scarce, there is no shortage of people submitting near perfect resumes that, sadly, puff up their minimal SharePoint experience.
• Strong phone and in person interviews: Many candidates on the other end of the phone or sitting across your desk have been carefully prepped. Book knowledge will go a long way and if you don’t work hard to get below the surface, you’ll find yourself bedazzled by a slick talker. Of course, this isn’t specific to SharePoint.
• Show me the money! Use shared web session and live meetings to give candidates an opportunity to demonstrate their skills. This is where the rubber hits the road.
When you post a new job (either directly yourself or indirectly via your HR or recruiting department), you’re bound to receive many resumes. You can streamline the process by providing a screening sheet to your recruiter. The screening sheet should ask about areas such as: Search, out of the box web parts, security, InfoPath, branding, custom development (including web parts, timer jobs, event receivers), document libraries and metadata, workflow and any other area of SharePoint that your company uses on a daily basis. Don’t ask your screeners to analyze the candidates’ responses as being correct or incorrect. Instead, screeners should ask just two questions:
1. Do you have experience with this facet of SharePoint?
2. If yes, please rate your skills in that area on a scale of 1 to 10.
Screeners should emphasize that these self-ratings will be passed on to the hiring manager and place a key role in the hire/no-hire decision process.
Based on these quantitative results, you can decide who to interview by phone or in person.
You need to follow a different path when interviewing candidates in the SharePoint world, as opposed to candidates in other fields. SharePoint is both deep and broad. Other fields, such as real-time financial applications or integration solutions using BizTalk are deep (and in fact, generally deeper than SharePoint) but not broad. Many candidates these days have worked on SharePoint projects which, as a whole, leverage a wide array of core SharePoint functions. However, the candidate’s individual role may have been much more limited in scope. This poses a special challenge because the candidate can safely say things like “we built an end to hire to retire application leveraging SharePoint 2010, custom web parts, integration with SAP and extensive branding.” However, the candidate’s role might have been to write use cases and had very limited hands on experience in the project. When interviewing candidates, set the stage for a conversation that avoids this kind of ambiguity by following these simple rules:
1. Set expectations. Tell the candidate the interview is the candidate’s opportunity to demonstrate a) their knowledge of SharePoint and b) explain the course of the discussion how their relevant experience will help you, the hiring manager, solve your problems.
2. Encourage and (if necessary) force specificity. Given SharePoint’s business solution focus, it’s easy for candidates to say something like this: “We created an InfoPath form that submitted data to a web service that starts a workflow for expense approval.” It sounds good, but almost anyone that’s been involved in a SharePoint project, even superficially, can make a statement like that. Ask the candidate to drill down into detail: How was the InfoPath form created? What is the process for creating an InfoPath form? Would you have used this approach with WSS (answer = probably not)? Who wrote the web service? What kind of issues did you run into with the web service and InfoPath? How did you handle security? How did you handle exceptions? Candidates that provide good, thoughtful answers to these questions are keepers.
3. Take notes. Odds are good that you’ll interview many candidates. As simple as it sounds, take notes and save them into a candidate database in SharePoint. You can create a custom SharePoint list in minutes that has the candidate’s name, date interviewed, responses to the screening questions and a diary of free form notes that you (or your colleagues) update after every contact with the candidate.
Although this approach is very effective, there is still one powerful in your interview arsenal: live meetings.
Nothing proves real experience like a hands-on demonstration. Ask the candidate to demonstrate their knowledge via a live meeting. The candidate’s response will tell you a lot:
• The candidate may refuse.
• The candidate may accept but need you to provide an environment.
• The candidate may accept and use his own environment.
If the candidate refuses outright, that probably tells you that you don’t need to spend any more time chasing that person.
Candidates who demonstrate their skills via a live meeting using their own hardware show that they are committed professionals. This isn’t to say that other candidates are not also committed, but it shows a investment in time and resources that tends to separate them from the crowd.
The mere fact that they are willing to provide a demonstration like this is a good sign.
Interviewing candidates is difficult and won’t get any easier. Put some thought into a screening process, conduct focused and detailed interviews and follow up with live meetings and you’ll get very good results, guaranteed.
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