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Why recruiters are looking beyond IT's traditional talent pool

Brain surgeon? Anthropologist? Ex-NASA? You're just what we're looking for

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LinkedIn reckons the technology skills people like Zhang have brought are less important than that ability to tell a story by sifting the data. Know Hadoop? Nice, but that’s just a tool.

“People confuse Hadoop with data science," says Sherry Shah, head of recruiting for data at LinkedIn and engineering at the company’s SlideShare operation. "But having Hadoop on the resume doesn’t mean you can be a good data scientist. Storytelling can be a good thing – how do you mumble and jumble the data and come up with a product that makes sense?"

So what disciplines are being targeted? It will obviously depend on the roles recruiters are looking to fill. Science, maths and engineering are obvious choices as they’re perceived to be skill sets that can be easily transferred to an IT environment.

“Most good business degrees also provide graduates with sound business and analytical skills,” says Geoff Smith, managing director of specialist IT recruiter Experis. “The less obvious choices are some of the arts courses, such as English language. Yet these graduates can be just as beneficial to an organisation as an IT grad; they can communicate confidently and articulate themselves very well and have the acumen and passion to learn the technology elements on the job.”

But for others it’s less about degree subject matter and much more about an aptitude to pick things up and a willingness to learn.

“Do they have a commercial outlook? Cultural adaptability is also really important and a genuine passion for technology,” Sherick warns. “When I’m interviewing, I ask about IT projects they’ve got involved in outside of work, what technology forums do they contribute to, which websites and books they read and who they follow on Twitter. It can demonstrate that they have a genuine passion.”

If the skills aren’t out there, another option is to grow your own. Skills shortages have forced three-year-old Bright Future Software to begin an apprentice programme – around 250 of 400 staff. “We do take graduates and many of them are computer sciences grads, but we have difficulty finding them,” chief executive Eudie Thompson said.

Thompson reckons the approach makes very good commercial sense. “It’s a huge investment we’ve decided to make in our future, but after one year our apprentices are more commercially ready than graduates are after three years of university.”

Apprenticeships are a feature of the big boys, too. Cisco is training people up to work on roles involved in managing and optimising its networks. “Increasingly we are seeing that the key to finding good people is discovering what makes them tick,” Cisco UK and Ireland chief technology officer Ian Foddering said.

“Looking across the organisation, we have a number of people that come from ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds, yet add a huge amount to the business. On paper you could potentially dismiss these people, however the one thing everyone has in common is a passion to work together as a team and drive success.”

With IT supporting learning and development across a whole range of academic subjects, Foddering believes many graduates are likely to have developed at least basic skills and an understanding of technology. “These can then be developed further within the role they enter at the company. What’s key is an interest and passion for technology and the benefits it brings society,” he says.

Next page: Keeping track

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