What do you look for?

Dave Ballantyne, vice-president of advanced technology, research and development, Pi Media, Toronto: Since we are a heavily Mac and Unix based shop, we’re looking for very little in the way of Windows networking or Windows security skill sets. We tend to look for people with Linux and Unix experience. They become familiar with the Mac requirements fairly quickly, it being Unix-based. We’re also looking for people with router/switch skills and an over-all sense and skill set in security, ideally with Cisco products, which we tend to use.

Bob Schaffer, senior manager IT infrastructure, Kingston General Hospital, Kingston, Ont.: From a technical and certification level of things, we are a Cisco shop, so we would tend to look for Cisco certifications, and more specifically the first foundation of the whole program is what they refer to as a CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate), and they have a whole bunch of sub-specialties beyond that as well. The next most valuable to us after that would be Microsoft network certifications.
In a more generic sense, what I’m looking for in those positions would be somebody with either a computing and information sciences or engineering type background, with very strong analytic skills and then secondary to that would be their communication skills. Ideally I’d like to be able to have both, but unfortunately the reality of the marketplace is it’s pretty rare to find somebody who’s got both strong technical and analytical skills as well as really strong communication skills.

Bradley White, manager of distributed computing, Toromont Industries, Mississauga, Ont.: Our view of networking in our environment consists of three areas. They are data networking, hardware infrastructure and network OS and apps. When looking for networking staff we seek people who have knowledge and experience in at least two of these areas. The successful candidate will also need to have strong interpersonal skills along with strong communication skills.

Mark Stevenson, manager, resourcing, CNC Global Ltd., Toronto: Right now the top skills in networking are VOIP, Cisco and Vista.

Do certifications matter?

Stevenson: They are especially important with new and emerging technologies when very few people have experience. They offer some assurance that the individual’s skills have been validated and approved by the vendor of the product. In addition, there’s some evidence that they result in better support agreements. However, accreditations lose impact as the general IT population gains knowledge in a given technical area. For example, MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) and CNE (Certified Novell Engineer) certifications are no longer valuable.

Ballantyne: To us, certifications matter very little. We find it’s more important to look at what the candidate has actually accomplished, and what their day-to-day role has been in the past. Attitude, willingness to learn and problem-solve are even more important than their experience. Since networking technology, security and the landscape is changing so quickly, past skill sets become less important than a passion to for them to be keeping themselves ahead of the curve, and the ability to solve problems creatively.

Schaffer: Certainly if I had two candidates, all things being equal, if one had the CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) and one didn’t, the CCNA would get the nod. I think we have that as an additional factor. I don’t think it’s a mandatory requirement in our current job description, but certainly we are seeing more and more of that in our job descriptions as they get revised over time.

White: Certifications matter, as they show that the candidates are committed both to the industry and to their own personal growth.

Are good people hard to find these days?

Schaffer: It’s a challenge, particularly in a small market like Kingston. It can be quite difficult. Now on the other hand, having said that, in order to attract those types of people they are very well paid so that we keep them, so that when we do find one they’re usually a fairly long-term employee in that position.

White: Our experiences show that there are a number of people in the (greater Toronto area) that have a variety of skills and abilities. At a general level candidates do not have a wealth of skills and abilities in the data networking area.

Ballantyne: They aren’t too hard to find. Many candidates are Windows-focused, even if their resume shows Unix experience, so it’s important that we qualify those that have deep knowledge, versus a passing familiarity that is placed on their resume.

Are there any particular skills you find are in short supply?

Stevenson: CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional) security and VOIP specialists are hard to find, especially those that can deal with large enterprise-wide security-related issues.

Schaffer: Certainly the Cisco certification – those are few and far between in this market. The Microsoft, there’s certainly more available.

How do you go about recruiting?

Ballantyne: We generally recruit through our human resources department and then evaluate candidates brought to us. Our HR dept. usually advertises online for these types of roles, with sites such as Workopolis.ca or Monster.ca.

White: We have had success in using Workopolis in posting job openings.

Schaffer: In our case we would typically use the local media. We would also go through our hospital associations, and we probably for senior positions advertise those in the Globe and probably also use headhunting services. And certainly by word of mouth, so in this area for those senior positions we would recruit from Queen’s or Empire (Financial Group) or City of Kingston, sort of the larger shops, Du Pont, Alcan.

Stevenson: You may have some success with associations and job boards, but given the high demand for these skills, it’s best to tap into your networks through employee referrals and even, where appropriate, third-party staffing organizations.

What are the most common mistakes in hiring networking people?

Ballantyne: I think the most common mistakes are looking at the credentials and skill sets listed in the resume and placing too much emphasis on them. It’s important, though more difficult, to gauge how much actual interest, experience and accomplishment the candidate has in the areas we are filling with any advertised role.

Schaffer: They tend to focus too much on specific technical capabilities and devalue or don’t value enough the interpersonal and communication strengths of the individuals. The last thing I need is somebody who is very technically skilled but is unable to communicate that with their peers.
I guess the other mistake would be not spending enough time in the screening process to ensure you have a good fit of what the organization has to offer that person with what their growth expectations are.

Stevenson: Many organizations over-promise in order to attract candidates. It is important to set realistic expectations regarding what will be experienced and what will be required.

Another common mistake is to use only technical or academic tests to validate a consultant’s experience. These can often yield false negatives.

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