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I am having a hard time finding a qualified IT Manager for the company I work at. We need someone with some really strong management experience with the technology skills to back it up.

We keep getting in people who are either all management or all technical. Does anyone know where I should go to find some good people? This is a HIGHLY selective position and is a nightmare for me to fill.

We are a small company, but are not afraid to pay for high-level talent. It is a small IT department, currently only 3 people, but we are really wanting to expand. We are a Wintel based facility that is really just looking to support the efforts of Graphic Artists and Software Engineers.

The manager would be required to maintain about a dozen servers, setup and administer IIS, SQL Server, Exchange, Active Directory and all of the basic Microsoft products. Our current IT team is more of a small group of former Geek Squad employees rather then system administrators, so the person who comes in will have to get their hands dirty in both setting up the infrastructure and mentoring the current staff.

Just wanted to thank everyone for their insight. I guess my last question would be what is a good venue to go through for hiring this person? Are there specific websites that target this area that have job/candidate listings? For now we just have been using the normal careerbuilder and recruiter. I just checked and I guess we don't even have the position listed on our website, but I do welcome people to visit my user profile if interested.

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This should be a Wiki. –  KPWINC Jul 24 '09 at 19:30
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Hire me (if I were actually looking for a job). That may be the problem though...strong managers with good technical skills are probably well employed already and are not scanning Monster for new jobs. Your best option is to find someone in your network, through a personal referral, or by grooming someone internal. –  Doug Luxem Jul 24 '09 at 19:39
    
If you have the job posted somewhere and put a link up here, you might get some good folks to apply, although that might run afoul of the site rules. –  tomjedrz Jul 24 '09 at 22:05
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13 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I think it's a pretty fair assessment to say that the more broad, deep, and current you want the technical skills of the candidate to be the less of a seasoned manager type you're going to be able to find. For an individual to stay current with technology it's difficult to do any job other than work with technology. Perhaps there's a good candidate out there who has changed up their career and worked earlier in their career as a manager and has moved into IT.

I wonder, also, if you're not looking for too many skills and qualifications for not enough money. The "HIGHLY selective" statement you make gives me that impression right off the bad, though I can't say why.

There's no one definition of what an "IT manager" does. I've been a contractor in a large number of companies, and I've seen "IT managers" who can't even name all the major systems in their enterprise, and I've seen "IT managers" who have their hands dirty doing day-to-day admin work in more things than one person can handle.

Edit:

Good edit-- thanks for the additions.

Based on what you said I don't think you need somebody who is equal parts technical and manager. It sounds like you need somebody who is basically technical but has a good head on their shoulders re: business and management (budgeting, basic accounting, employee relations), working with upper management, and being a mentor to the rest of the IT staff. They probably don't need "rock star" type technical skills (not that they wouldn't help-- more that it'll just make them cost more for you) since your infrastructure doesn't sound tremendously complicated or off-the-beaten path.

A lot of "techie" people don't get any of that business / management experience because they end up "siloed" because of their job. Whether it's in large corporate / government IT or in IT contracting, a lot of IT-only jobs don't expose technical people to the business side of the business. I'd advise you to favor candidates who has have already had a similar role at another Firm, but I'm not sure how to tell you to market the job to them.

I would also favor candidates who have had experience being a trainer. I know that I found that my 8 - 7 years as a trainer "on the side" really improved my communication skills with respect to being a mentor. Having said that, I've known trainers who were horrible at their jobs, too (just like any field), so having experience being a trainer doesn't mean they were an effective trainer...

(Maybe I should ask my wife if she wants to move to Orlando... heh heh...)

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Step 1. Interview PRIMARILY on managment and people skills.

Step 2. Interview SECONDARY on technical skills and aptitude.

If you do it the other way around you're going to end up with a "shy/introvert" who can't communicate and wants to do everything himself because he can "do it better" than his subordinates.

If you look for a LEADER who can LEARN while effecively COMMUNICATING... you've got a winner.

UPDATE:

I was by no means attempting to pick on or belittle introverts or those who are arrogant. I think most of us have been accused of being both... along with worse things. ;-)


After reading the poster's "clarification" it sounds to me like what you are looking for is a "sys admin" (first) with some people skills (second).

In that case, I think I'd let your existing techs participate in the hiring process so that everyone is happy and can get along as a team.

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Don't be mean to introverts, many communicate well and are by no means arrogant. How to care for your introvert: theatlantic.com/doc/200303/rauch :-) –  Kyle Brandt Jul 24 '09 at 19:49
    
Yeah, and I'm only a little introverted and a lot arrogant! Don't throw me in a group with this highly introverted people! –  Evan Anderson Jul 24 '09 at 20:06
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I'd recommend that you use some of your (better) tech people to pre-filter all applications just to weed out anyone who isn't going to be worth wasting your managerial interview time on and then follow your strategy. –  Helvick Jul 24 '09 at 20:09
    
+1 agree 110%! Not only that but it helps when the tech folks get to participate in "picking their manager" (sort of). Its certainly a lot better than FORCING some unknown on them and saying "Just deal with it". –  KPWINC Jul 24 '09 at 21:01
    
Introverts are just people who get their energy from themselves, rather than from other people. I know exactly what you mean by introverted, but it's the wrong word to use. –  Mark Henderson Jul 27 '09 at 3:47
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I suppose there are a lot of opinions on the subject, but I will toss mine in as well.

Great managers are scarce. Great managers who are also strongly experienced and current in "IIS, SQL Server, Exchange, Active Directory" are really really scarce - and are likely happily employed already.

In the sysadmin trades it seems that we largely get our managers by one of these two paths: either

  • a technical person is promoted to the position without any management training/experience, or
  • a management person is brought into the position without any technical training/experience.

Management is all about communication and compromise, of course. Sysadmin work tends to encourage lots of head-down concentration and/or after-hours work (few orgs want major reconfigurations done during business hours, whether they realize this or not). Additionally, the systems we admin tend to be a lot more brittle than people - there's not a lot of "give and take" in them. Our systems demand that we speak and listen to them very precisely. Many of us sysadmins begin expecting the same level of speaking/listening precision from all of our working colleagues, which of course gives us our famous reputation for being stubborn and hard to work with.

In this sense the two professions are somewhat orthogonal - especially if no cross training is applied.

Personally I think it is possible to have a techie grow management skills, or a manager grow techie skills, but I think it very unlikely you'll find a person who is great at both trades naturally. So I think it's wise to look for someone who gained one of the skills through career experience, and has spent some effort to gain the other skill via formal training.

I'm a techie who took management courses. I recall thinking how silly and commonsense much of that management training was, while I was taking the courses. And yet how often I now draw on that same training, and how often I watch people who haven't had such training make classic communications/management mistakes.

So my advice would be: find a good and gregarious sysadmin with technical experience to resolve your technical needs immediately, and have him/her do a formal course of management training during the first year of employment. It doesn't have to be a degree course - your local community college probably offers some sort of seminar series.

Please note, I think it's possible to go the other way as well - get a manager and train him/her up on the tech. But you probably have tech needs that are going unmet right now, and can't wait too long to get that technical expertise in-house. Whereas you probably do have managers in-house who can take your techie/manager-in-training under their wings for a time.

Good luck finding/nurturing your ideal person for the job!

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Do you want someone to run your IT department? Or do you want someone to teach the former Geek Squaders how to be SAs?

IMO, you have two viable options:

  1. Look for a mid/high level SA who's looking to break some new ground. This individual's job will be to get the house in order and supervise the three PC techs that you have now. If you go this route, this individual will spend his or her time in the trenches and will spend some time doing higher-level technical tasks.

  2. Look for someone with a technical (not necessarily IT) background who has moved on to management roles. This person is a manager, not a supervisor. Someone in this role needs to understand procurement, budgeting, and how to manage a group of people. If you go this route, you're either going to drive some of the existing staff out, or are going to push/train them into whatever role you want them to fill.

You may also want to look for someone who can nudge the team out of whatever internal social/cultural rut the group is in.

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Yeah, former geek squad generally suggests that they're not particularly competent. –  Paul McMillan Jul 25 '09 at 8:33
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@Paul: We all started somewhere... Geek squad is probably as good a place as any. I started with pizza delivery before getting into computer repair and then the IS/IT realm, where I am quite good at what I do. The fact that the OP is looking to hire someone more experienced than the current team speaks to their willingness to learn, which is one of the most important success indicators of a good SA. –  Sean Earp Jul 25 '09 at 15:48
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What are the qualifications you are looking for?

Sometimes people have trouble finding someone because they are looking for too many specific things. For instance, 'We need someone who really knows X Linux Distribution.' When really, the company just needs someone who is smart that knows Linux. Generally, you shouldn't be looking for everything you want.

If you are trying to find someone with all the qualifications, you better be willing to shell out a lot of cash :-)

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Ugh. I once had a recruiter tell me that I needed version numbers on all the servers I run in my resume. As if that somehow didn't change on a month-to-month basis or something, or that somehow my experience with X v1.2 would be totally invalid for X v1.3. –  Ernie Jul 24 '09 at 20:22
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@Ernie: Is it the recruiters that make applicants do that? I always just figured that applicants were trying to make their resume longer than it would otherwise be by running some sort of inventory on their computer and pasting in the results. Why do I care that you know how to use CompuServe 2.3.6.14r1396? <sigh...> After a day of reviewing resumes filled with this useless information, I put up the following post: blogs.technet.com/seanearp/archive/2007/10/13/resume-tips.aspx :) –  Sean Earp Jul 25 '09 at 15:54
    
@Sean Earp: hilarious! I've had similar resumes, it really drains the soul. Great blog post :) –  Andrew H Jul 26 '09 at 10:05
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I managed a small subset of an IT / Engineering Dept for 3 years. Many of the problems I encountered were in the realm of 1) expectations (qualified, reasonable, and obtainable), and 2) goals (Specific, Manageable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-framed). My manager wanted a person who could manage people AND perform at the same technical capacity as those I managed. Basically, she wanted two employees for the price of one.

This mindset is inherently flawed, and sets up anyone in that position for failure. There aren't enough hours in the day to perform both roles with any reasonable expectation of competency. I learned the hard way.

Mr. Anderson's post nailed the subject:

I think it's a pretty fair assessment to say that the more broad, deep, and current you want the technical skills of the candidate to be the less of a seasoned manager type you're going to be able to find. For an individual to stay current with technology it's difficult to do any job other than work with technology.

For those who are confused about the difference between management and leadership, I suggest the Manager's Tools website BTW, I'm an unemployed IT manager. I'd be happy to answer any questions you have about my experience as an IT manager.

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+1 for the Manager Tools Link –  BillN Dec 18 '09 at 22:14
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You are advertising for the wrong keywords in the wrong venues.

Advertise for a Lead System Administrator, not a manager. Advertise in geek websites and related professional organizations.

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What would a good 'geek website' to advertise in be? –  Eric P Jul 25 '09 at 3:29
    
@Eric: jobs.serverfault.com would be a good start :) –  Sean Earp Jul 25 '09 at 15:55
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Problem finding good managers is because most managers regard their job as more important than it actually is. A manager should not necessary lead people, but make sure that there are no obstacles for the people who are experts in their field to do their job.

Unfortunately most corporate settings are almost branded into classic management style and due to the specialized nature, the problem with classic management shows itself the most in the IT section.

You need to find a manager that is aware of this situation, knows how to play the game to do the right thing. Problem with that is that those people usually set up their own business because they are sick of the incompetence they see around them.

So you are looking for someone willing to learn, but already in the possession of reasonable social skills and always striving to improve stuff.

Yes that could mean that you hire someone not having a background in management, but I would say that this is actually an advantage.

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I think good managers are really important to an org. It's just that when someone's experience is mainly of bad or so-so managers, it's hard to believe that such a thing as "good management" exists. Sadly there are a lot of us in this boat. –  quux Jul 25 '09 at 21:00
    
I don't say that managers are unimportant, I am saying that their importance is overrated, by them self and most people around them. As long as you have a manger that does not understand that the people who (s)he manages are actually the people who are doing the job, it is better to have no manager at all. I have experienced a wide style of management across different settings; military, schools, large multi-nationals and voluntary. My experience is that vast majority of management task is there to provide administrative support, leadership is secondary sometimes non-existence. –  Martin P. Hellwig Jul 27 '09 at 13:52
    
If you have a manager who "does not understand that the people who (s)he manages are actually the people who are doing the job", then you have a bad manager. And somebody should be looking for a better one. We do not disagree in this! I do however, disagree with "most managers regard their job as more important than it actually is". –  quux Aug 28 '09 at 0:15
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As someone else already wrote, I would recommend you to search more for a Lead System Administrator than for a manager. The team is too small to have a full time manager. Unless there is a lot of politics involved in this job. In this case I would recommend you to look more for a manager-type person and try to get the technical knowledge from an external guy. (I am currently in such a position. One of of my customers has a team of 4 people. Their Lead System Administrator quitted and the management wanted to have someone with more project management skills as the new head of IT. One of the first decisions this guy made was to hire someone [in this case me] with a lot of technical skills. And now I am working there 20-40% as an external guy. And one of the main objectives is to teach the current system administrators.)

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Please edit your post and add the specific technologies that you would require an applicant to be proficient with as well as what skills and certifications, length of experience, etc that you would prefer for a candidate. I understand that may be hard to qualify but most people are going to have a hard time interpreting what "qualified person" is for your organization. This coupled with the fact that you already state it is "highly selective" means it is probably not worth anyone's time to respond to your post without more concrete information up front.

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This should probably be a comment I think, but you are right ... –  Kyle Brandt Jul 24 '09 at 19:33
    
Yeah it should be, for some reason on his post I was having a hard time finding the option to make a comment. –  Charles Jul 24 '09 at 19:41
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The reason that you're having a hard time filling this position is because it's generally hard to be good in a management context and good in a technical sense.

Those that have a strong technical background who find themselves moving into management, have a harder time keeping current with their technical abilities as the management (business end) takes up more and more time.

Perhaps taking a different look at your org structure is in order. Find a really good manager from a business perspective (with a strong technical background) who has really strong technical lead positions that he can rely on.

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It is much harder to find someone who is a good manager and leader than it is to find someone who is good at tech. I would look for someone with a broad background, maybe (especially?) even outside of IT, as having the ability to work in different careers shows an aptitude for transitional skills (sometimes referred to as soft skills) that have more bearing on management and leadership than whether the person knows the code d'jour.

The phrase "code d'jour" leads to my next point. As we are all painfully aware, Tech changes. Just when you are getting good at the game you're playing (coding, sys admin, help desk), someone comes around the corner and changes the rules on you. Having a more generalized background shows that the person can pick up new concepts quickly, and will not only be able to learn your current environment, but will also be able to quickly adapt to changes in the future.

I am not downplaying the need for technical expertise in the least, as it is still very important. However, there are so many ways of doing things, that if you get someone who doesn't have the exact technical fit, but is an able learner with great communication, leadership, and management skills, you will be much happier than finding that person who has all the tech skills, but poor soft skills. I mean, we learn how to calculate subnets and write in C++ in a short time, but it takes a lifetime to develop good people skills.

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From what you have posted, I assume you want to target your search toward experienced IT professionals, rather than the wide net of craigslist or your local job boards. Here are some potential ideas:

  • Do you have contacts in your local IT community? You can let people know that you have a position open and you have some specific criteria.
  • Do you belong to any local IT groups? That is another potential pool of candidates.
  • Another way of reaching people are virtual groups on networks such as LinkedIn (for example the ITSpecialist group on LinkedIn).
  • Of course there is jobs.serverfault.com if you want to reach this community.
  • Do you work with any local IT firms? While you don't necessarily want to poach people from them, they may be better plugged into the local IT scene and they may know someone that fits your criteria.

These are some places where you might find candidates that more likely to fit your criteria.

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