What CIOs really look for

It is not all about technical skills when it comes to getting the job, honesty is really the key.


William Howell holds strong opinions about hiring IT professionals.

When someone asks me what I'm looking for, I say an infrastructure person who also has business analysis and project management skills... I view these people as miniature chief information officers.

The vice president and chief information officer at Accellent, a $500m manufacturer of medical components, detests "Microsoft" type questions, brain teasers intended to test a developer's problem-solving skills. He's perturbed by the number of people who use the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator to pigeonhole job seekers. And he thinks most companies do a mediocre job training up-and-coming hiring managers in how to suss out candidates. The best training ground, according to Howell, is the school of hard knocks.

He should know. Howell admits to having made a few hiring mistakes, including one big one in the 1980s while working for the University of North Carolina (UNC), which he discusses in this Q&A. The incident at UNC irrevocably changed his hiring process, and his experiences have taught him to trust his instincts, to prize a candidate's integrity above all and to rigorously check references. If you've got any skeletons in your closet, Howell will unearth them.

Howell shared his lessons learned over the course of his 30-plus-year career in IT, and his secrets for identifying whether candidates have the right stuff for a job in his 35-person information services organisation, for finding objective references and for using LinkedIn as a recruiting tool.

What IT projects are you working on, and how do they impact your hiring?

Our biggest initiative is an Oracle ERP deployment. Three years ago when I joined the company, the chief executive officer at the time was very focused on implementing a common platform upon which to consistently gather and analyse business data. He saw that platform as a way to consolidate operations under one umbrella. We are implementing this initiative across 19 manufacturing facilities worldwide (15 in the US, three in Europe and a very large one in Mexico) in a controlled manner. We do two plants at a time and have done seven plants so far.

Most of our hiring falls into two or three areas. In particular, we hire Oracle ERP experts for our Boston corporate headquarters, senior business analysts and senior developers. These individuals are tied into our Oracle ERP deployment. They also support the sites that are now running on Oracle ERP.

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