How to assess specialist technical contractors (if you're not a techie)
There have been some noticeable changes in hiring patterns across Europe in recent years, with companies now increasingly looking for highly-skilled contractors.
Many businesses favour external labour for certain projects because they offer greater flexibility. Rather than bringing in a full-time employee and training them, some firms think it makes more sense to hire an experienced contractor who can make an instant impact within their organisation. This is particularly common in the IT sector, where companies often require a skilled developer to step in and complete a short, one-off project.
There has been a lot of debate about perceived skills shortages in Europe, particularly in more technical fields. With a limited pool of talented IT freelancers and engineers available, HR departments can find it difficult to source the right candidate.
With businesses in all sectors of the economy becoming more reliant on modern technology, there are many examples of HR professionals who do not come from an IT background having to find and hire new staff. This can be a daunting task, as HR specialists who have limited technical experience might not know what to look for in a new IT contractor.
Here are a few things you should be doing when assessing the credentials of someone who has a set of skills that you find unfamiliar.
Cyber security experience
The best way to narrow down your search for an IT contractor is to separate people who have extensive experience of working on cyber security projects from those who do not.
A study published by Eurobarometer in November 2013 showed that 76 per cent of internet users think the risk of becoming a victim of cyber crime has risen in the past 12 months. The research - which questioned more than 27,000 people - also suggested that 12 per cent of Europeans have already had their social media or email account hacked.
There has been a significant rise in the number of people accessing the internet via mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. According to the Eurobarometer survey, 35 per cent of Europeans now surf the web via a smartphone - up from 24 per cent last year.
Many companies are trusting their workers to use mobile devices to do their jobs remotely and this increases the risk that sensitive data might go missing. It is likely that most technical specialists will have a good understanding of cyber security and what is required to keep hackers at bay, but it is always worth checking CVs for specific examples of previous projects they might have worked on.
Somebody who has previously worked with a government agency, for example, would be an excellent addition to your organisation. This will show they are capable of introducing new systems and technology without risking the security of extremely sensitive data.
Look for as many recommendations as possible
If your technical knowledge is limited, you need to rely on the thoughts and opinions of people who know what they are talking about. Placing your trust in somebody else obviously carries risks, so it is important that you identify as many respectable sources as possible.
HR professionals are increasingly using social media to find, and interact with, the most talented contractors. LinkedIn is proving to be a very useful tool for companies that do not have a high level of expertise in a particular area. The platform has a recommendation system, where freelancers and contractors can receive reviews from companies and clients they have previously worked with.
This can help a HR specialist verify the recommendations listed on a person's CV. The most powerful businesses and entrepreneurs in the world have an official LinkedIn account, so it is easy for companies to ask a technical expert to give their thoughts on somebody. Statistics show that executives from all Fortune 500 corporations used the platform in 2013, which reiterates the calibre of professionals who are active members.
Work with a specialist consultancy
The best way to ensure you are hiring the right people is to work alongside a specialist consultancy.
A consultancy that has expertise in technical fields - including engineering and IT - can not only help you assess the credentials of contractors you may have identified yourself, they will also have a database of talented workers for you to choose from. They will know what type of person is required to complete your project and can hand-pick a candidate with the necessary skills.
It is always worth checking the track record of a consultancy to see how many successful IT projects they have been involved in. Have they been recommended by large corporations? Have they provided assistance on large-scale developments involving the very latest technology? A reliable firm will understand the end goals of an assignment and will be able to put you into contact with a technology contractor who has managed similar projects in the past.
Another important consideration is the amount of time it takes for a consultancy to deliver results. If your project is starting soon, it makes sense to work alongside an organisation that has a reputation for providing skilled and highly-experienced contractors at short notice. A firm that has an extensive network of highly motivated IT talent can help you find the right person quickly.
Have they worked internationally?
With skills gaps emerging in certain parts of the world, companies have to look further afield for the most experienced technicians.
It is worth checking a contractor's CV to see if they have worked anywhere other than their homeland. This is something that a specialist consultancy can help you with. Although a person from Asia, Africa or South America might have the right skills to complete your project, there is no guarantee they will be able to adapt to the European way of life. While this might not be a big issue for smaller contracts, it could be a problem for businesses that are looking to keep temporary worker someone for a longer period of time.
Figures published by European International Contractors - an industry association for temporary employees - in October 2013 showed that European contractors are making a big impact around the world. The report suggested that North America's international turnover generated by European freelancers rose by 27 per cent in 2012, while companies in South America, Asia, Australasia and Africa all reported growth that could be directly attributed to the work done by foreign workers.
This demonstrates the point that foreign contractors can make a big difference and it is important that HR departments do not discount anybody based on geography. Multi-national corporations - for example Ericsson - have operations all over the world and need a team of contractors who are highly skilled, adaptable and experienced. If your company finds a candidate who has worked with an organisation of this stature, there is every chance they will prove to be a valuable asset.
While it can be a challenging task for non-technical HR specialists to find suitable IT/engineering contractors, it is achievable if you do some research and are willing to seek expert advice.
There is only so much information you can take from a CV, so it is important to be thorough and do not be afraid to put your faith in organisations that have far more knowledge of this area than yourself. Mistakes can be costly, so you cannot afford to hire somebody who is not up to standard.
Previous experience is vital, as somebody who has successfully completed projects - particularly on a global scale - should have no trouble slotting straight into your company. Ideally you want to find somebody who can get to work straight away once you have given them a brief to follow. Hiring a contractor who needs extensive training is neither practical or cost-effective.