Mike Rollings

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Mike Rollings
Research VP
5 years at Gartner
28 years IT industry

Mike Rollings is VP of Gartner Research within the Professional Effectiveness team. His research discusses what IT professionals need to know about transformation, innovation, human behavior, contextual strategy, collaborative organizational change, communication and influence, and cross-discipline effectiveness . His research can be read by IT professionals with access to Gartner for Technical Professionals (GTP) research. Read Full Bio

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IT job postings ask for the wrong thing

by Mike Rollings  |  April 5, 2012  |  1 Comment

My report “Job Postings – Hiring for IT’s Past” published today on Gartner.com. This Gartner for Technical Professionals (GTP) report is a wake-up call for IT organizations because it shows that most IT organizations are hiring for the wrong requirements.

In late 2011 and early 2012 we sampled current job postings in six major job markets. We removed consulting and technology companies from the mix so that we would only see end-user IT organization postings. We determined several postings to be truly unique; that is, they asked applicants for something besides a list of technical skills and competencies, and provided applicants with something other than a list of job responsibilities that are positioned as tasks. We were particularly interested in postings that asked for the unique qualifiers in the main portion of the posting, rather than wording such as “can work well with teams,” “strong willingness to learn new technologies,” or “excellent communication skills” tagged on at the end of a list of skills as an afterthought.

We found that 95% of the postings may ask for the latest technical skills, but they lack attention to the nontechnical skills demanded by the future of IT work. Instead of seeking influencers, collaborators, brokers, integrators, persuaders, innovators and problem solvers, organizations continue to seek out technical drones.

Lately there has been a lot said about the problems with IT, the work environment, and hiring. Unfortunately for IT, my job postings research confirms many of their claims.

The CIO.com article Building a Great Place to Work examines what is important in the work environment. Read it and ask yourself if your organization is creating the “typical employee grind” or a “successful and fun place to work”, then read your active job postings to see what they say about your work environment. I bet you’ll be shocked.

MIT Sloan Management Review articleSkills That Will Remain in Demand In a Computer-Rich Worldasks “How do we win the ‘man-vs.-machine’ battle?” The author, Leslie Brokaw believes that the key is not to compete, but to partner — to develop new ways of combining human skills with ever-more-powerful technology to create value. Another essential (as discussed in Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee’s articleWinning the Race With Ever-Smarter Machines”) is to work on skills that help you couple the best of human creativity with computer power. Does your organization care about these skills? Do your job postings and internal job descriptions say so? Do you evaluate and reward people based on them? Probably not.

A February 2012 study published by the Harvard Business School, “Breaking Them In or Revealing Their Best? Reframing Socialization around Newcomer Self-Expression”, presents two studies revealing the importance in preserving a person’s need for authentic self-expression. The two studies show that organizational and employee outcomes are better when socialization tactics encouraged authentic self-expression of newcomers’ personal identities and signature strengths. They also show that employees are more engaged and satisfied with their work, performed their tasks more effectively, and are also more likely to continue their employment when they are able to be authentic and when they have opportunities for self-expression. Have you looked at a job posting lately? Do you think we want compliant drones or dynamic individuals that openly share contrary opinions? What does your organization do when contrary opinions are shared? Do you kill the messenger or do you openly question long-standing beliefs?

The Soft Stuff Is the Hard Stuff discusses that problems of intention, understanding, communication, and interpersonal effectiveness are hard, not the typical ROI stuff. But do we say anything about this in job postings? Have we really cared what went into a posting except what a search engine can interpret effectively versus what would inspire and attract a potential employee? How long has the requirement “Must have excellent communications skills” been in you job postings without any elaboration about why you care?

Here’s What Happens When You Hate Your Job is about dysfunctional hiring processes and a need to focus on culture. The author states “There is more to our professional success than having the chops, and it comes back to how well we fit the company culture, the team’s work dynamics and our manager’s style.” You wouldn’t know it by looking at job postings.

MIT Sloan Management Review article “IKEA: Hiring on Values As Well as Skills”. This article discusses how IKEA’s standard job questionnaire downplays skills, experience or academic credentials, asks about job applicants’ values and beliefs, and comments about values and beliefs become the basis for screening, interviewing, and training and development. Even internal applications for new jobs or leadership positions focus on values “in an effort to ensure consistency”. I bet by now you are thinking “I could quit my IT job and go to work for IKEA, I might actually be inspired.”

A job posting is the beginning of the employment relationship and it is the first opportunity an employer has to reveal the best in an employee. Is your organization responding to fundamental societal changes and an individual’s need for meaning, not just a paycheck? Job postings say “No!” In fact job postings say that these fundamental human needs are not a priority, and they also indicate that the only staff expected to have non-technical skills are managers (and that’s even a stretch).

If this were online dating, would your organization be eternally single?

A job posting needs to catch the eye of the people in the room who are tired of the status quo and are secretly looking for something bold and honest and for an organization that speaks their language. As the IT landscape changes, the jobs that technology professionals do are changing and will continue to change. We all know that. But job postings have not changed to reflect the new reality. More specifically, if the job postings have not changed then, it is likely that the processes companies use to hire new people or to fill old positions have not changed either. It is also likely that the way organizations engage their employees has not changed — that is, what the organization expects, what they evaluate and what they reward.

The lack of human engagement elements in job postings is alarming. It signals a problem for IT organizations that rely on poorly-defined job descriptions to entice engaged contributors into their workforces. Managers and practitioners alike can benefit from my research findings and recommendations. Managers, especially those who have active postings, will learn how to update postings to reflect their organizational values and the most beneficial nontechnical skills. IT professionals will learn what to do to prepare for their own career advancement.

The future of IT depends on a lot more than technical skills. Recycled job descriptions aren’t going to attract the innovative, flexible and engaged thinkers and workers that organizations need to succeed. Job postings need to change, and it is likely that other employment related aspects must change too.

So what do you think?

  • When was the last time you looked at job postings?
  • What kinds of requirements or responsibilities made you more interested in a position?
  • What kinds made you roll your eyes?
  • Have you – (either personally or your company) written a job description you’re really proud of? Did you notice different caliber of responses than normal?
  • Have you seen a job description lately that is truly pathetic? What made it so bad?

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