As your company grows, there is no doubt you will need a dedicated IT professional to oversee and manage your technology – the lifeblood of any modern enterprise. In today’s ever-changing landscape, your data remains your most valued commodity, so hiring the right IT personnel to safeguard this data, avoid crippling downtime, and keep your systems running trouble-free is as important a decision as you will make for your business. You need someone that doesn’t just fix a problem, but proactively monitors your technology to detect problems before they happen. Qualified and experienced IT professionals are in high demand so attracting and retaining the very best can be a daunting task, with any number of important aspects to be factored in. But you can really help yourself out by first giving these 4 areas serious consideration:
4 Things to Consider When Hiring an IT Professional
- Timing – when is it the right time to bring on a dedicated IT professional?
- Needs – what specific services do you require? How complicated are your systems?
- IT Qualifications – Education vs. Experience
- In-House vs. Managed Services Provider (MSP)
1. Timing – Your Clock is Ticking
At some point, enlisting the help of your Sales Manager’s 15 year-old son to network the printer to various workstations and gathering the Finance team together to go over user manuals and install company-specific software while you waste time at your desk trying to troubleshoot issues with your telephone system just isn’t going to cut it. So when is the right time to hire professional IT help? Some people like to throw out numbers like when a tech company hits 20 employees or a non-tech company hits 50 or 70 employees. The thinking here being that tech companies run more complicated systems so will need more support sooner. I say forget about these numbers. The answer is simple: You need to hire professional IT help when the patchwork solution you have can no longer keep up with daily requirements.
Timing vs. Speed
And there is another time consideration, or maybe more aptly a speed consideration. As mentioned, skilled IT pros are in high demand. So you need to act fast. By no means am I suggesting you hire the first applicant you see. But if you find a candidate you like, that has all the skills and attributes you’re looking for, make them a fair offer fast. And be sure to highlight to them your company culture. Beyond the money, it is becoming more and more important to job-seekers that they share the values of a company and believe the culture will be a good fit. So where do you find these candidates? Networking is the #1 way to learn about who’s out there and available. Talk to people in your industry and others, attend industry conferences, spend time on LinkedIn, Indeed and other employment sites to see what the job market is like.
Enlist Some Help
All this research and setting a hiring strategy is necessary but time consuming. You may want to consider hiring a recruitment firm to help you out. They have spent the time compiling comprehensive lists of qualified candidates. They have the resources and contacts to help you find what you need at their fingertips. Yes. It costs money. But the investment will be repaid in the time you save by letting them sift through the hundreds, often thousands, of resumes, and whittling it down to a reasonable number of qualified applicants that reach your desk. Utilizing their expertise let’s you stick to yours: running your business.
2. Get What You Need (Notice the Stones Reference)
An important exercise while considering hiring an IT professional or team is to take a careful look at what your specific needs are in order to ensure you get personnel with the necessary experience. Presumably, your most immediate need is for desktop support, so you need someone who can fill that role immediately. Consider the complexity of your systems. What skill sets are required to manage them? Are you adding employees, new locations? Now think about what projects you have coming up. Looking to add redundancy to your critical servers and applications? Then you will need an IT pro well-versed in virtualization technologies. If you’re looking to enhance network security, you will want an IT pro with experience in DNS-based security solutions. For Hosted Email Solutions look for someone with experience administering solutions like Google’s G-Suite or Microsoft’s Hosted Exchange / 0365. These are just a couple of examples. It is important that you look beyond your needs of today and determine what kind of support you will require to succeed 3, 5, even 10 years from now. Planning for tomorrow today will save a lot of headaches down the road.
3. Don’t Need to See the Chef’s Diploma if the Food Tastes Good
There was a time when it was assumed that College or University was the required step on the way to a meaningful, rewarding career. But times have changed and the IT industry, in particular, keeps changing at an incredible rate. A Bachelor’s in Computer Science or a degree in Management Information Systems can put graduates on solid footing in the IT industry, but they are probably heading towards engineering and programming careers. There are some very good two-year technical college diplomas that provide a good, general IT education. However, these degrees and diplomas may not be a necessary component when looking to hire IT professionals. In fact, there are those who don’t care what degrees or certificates a candidate has. They are far more concerned about real-world experience. Taking these degree or certificate courses is certainly not a waste of time. They give people a solid base of knowledge to build on. But consensus seems to say of education and experience, experience is more sought after when hiring an IT professional.
Go With Experience …
I spoke to a friend of mine with extensive experience in hiring IT professionals (in fact, he recently hired 30 IT pros for a project with IBM) to get his take on things. Doug Garrard is the Sr. Field Services Manager, Eastern Canada – Critical Power and Cooling for Schneider Electric. (How’d you like to haul around that business card!?) “When it comes to education vs. experience in an IT professional,” says Garrard, “I tend to weight things pretty heavily towards experience. There is value to education. There are some technical colleges that give people a good solid, but very general foundation. What they don’t teach is how to act under fire. I need people who can think on their feet, act with urgency and adapt and react quickly. That comes with experience. And when it comes to desk support, often a company’s first need, I would put experience way above education. A good trajectory is someone who started out in desk support and moved their way up into networking and systems administration. ”
But Make Sure it’s the Right Experience
So how do you know if a candidate has the experience you are looking for? Well, besides taking them at their word on their CV (ahem), throw them a little test. Have them configure a computer workstation from scratch. Install and configure software, implement security protocols, install a router, etc. Look beyond those who simply perform the tasks to the people who come back with questions and suggestions. And, in addition to the technical abilities, have a look at their soft skills. They may have all the technical knowledge in the world, but if they don’t also have the communication skills, the ability to talk to the non-techie in non-techie speak, then it doesn’t amount to much. You want someone outgoing, confident, a critical thinker, a problem-solver, a leader eager to grab the reins when a new project comes up. IT pros deal with everyone from the mailroom guy (do they still exist?) to the CEO, and everyone in between. They need to get along with all sorts of different personalities. So what you need, dare I say it, is a “people person.”
“There are two types of IT people,” says Mr. Garrard. “There’s the one with inferior technical skills but high levels of customer service, and the pure techie geek who knows everything, except how to interact with the customer. I’ll take high levels of customer service every time.”
4. Who Do You Let Hold the Keys? – In-House Staff vs. MSP
This is an interesting question that sparks much debate. There are definitely arguments for both sides. Whatever decision you make will have direct implications on cost and service levels. First of all, experienced, full-time IT professionals do not come cheap and are, as mentioned earlier, in high demand, allowing them to demand even higher salaries. According to PayScale.com, a Computer/Network Support Technician (at the lower end of the abilities scale) earns in the neighbourhood of $43,501.00 per year, or around $21/hr. A Network Administrator (somewhat more experienced) earns roughly $53,666.00 a year or about $26/hr. These are by no means insignificant numbers to a small or medium size enterprise. But the investment can be worth it if they provide not only the technical abilities necessary to keep your team running smoothly, but also the leadership and communications skills to help propel you to the next level. A Managed Services Provider (MSP) on the other hand, can cost as little as $13/hr, depending on the size of the client company. Also, with an MSP, you don’t have employee carrying costs (CPP, paid holidays, benefits, sick days, etc.), additional charges for remote monitoring, or hardware and software replacement costs. And there is also the issue of scalability. The cost of an outsourced team getting paid only while they work should scale incrementally as your company grows, as opposed to large leaps in salary expense with every new in-house hire. You’re paying only for what you need. But cost is only one factor in deciding between an in-house IT team or a Managed Service Provider.
Considerations Beyond Cost
Some companies feel that an in-house IT staff gives them total control over their technical operations. They have the time to develop a deep understanding and knowledge of the company’s infrastructure and immediate needs (and internal politics – not to be underestimated) and can respond immediately should problems arise, perhaps making them better troubleshooters. Also, some companies have extremely complex systems that may take time to learn and need the attention of a full-time staff. On the other hand, an MSP gives you access to more bodies, ensuring there are always enough people to handle day-to-day operations AND move ahead on other projects. And you get the minds that go with those bodies. You get a range of expertise from entry level to CTO. Hiring an in-house person runs the risk of getting someone too inexperienced to do the heavy lifting or too experienced to want to do the grunt work. Some people believe dragging cable or lifting servers is beneath them. A good MSP will have every skill set you need. And they work proactively. Preventing problems before they happen to reduce downtime and keep your business running smoothly. They have the buying power to access the very best tools because they manage thousands of workstations, not just the 25, 50 or 100 you may have. In terms of remote support, particularly if you have multiple locations, an MSP can provide better support than a head-office IT department. They will have a dedicated remote support team and a dedicated field team.
Best of Both Worlds?
There is an argument to be made that the best IT solution for your growing company is a combination of in-house and outsourced help. This could provide the best level of support and cost efficiency. The internal team handles the systems and day-to-day operations with an external team to supplement their skills and proactively monitor their technology. This allows you to scale support as needed. Not all skills are necessary all of the time. Things like network imaging or disaster planning only happen every couple or few years. So why have that knowledge on the payroll? This pairing of internal and external IT staff might be a luxury to some growing businesses. If you need to choose one or the other, the benefits of a good and reputable Managed Services Provider outweigh those of an in-house IT pro.
There is a tonne of things to consider when hiring IT staff for your expanding enterprise, and it is one of the most important decisions you will make for your business. At Nerds On Site, we’d be happy to help you assess your needs and look at your options.