Finding the right IT person

By Laura Haight

There is so much going on in technology, it is hard for a small business to keep up. Bad enough there’s a new data breach or hacking story every day, but now employees want to be mobile, millennials resist rules, there’s a new Windows out, and everything needs to be in “the cloud”, right? Maybe it’s time to bring in an IT person?

Just as a great IT person can make a huge difference for your business, a bad one can put your business at risk. Here are some considerations.

Do you want someone to make sure you’re doing the right things with technology or do you want an extra pair of hands to do work you will assign? Even if you consider yourself pretty smart technically - maybe even a bit of a gizmo yourself - the latter can be a risky approach. Most decent IT pros will know more that we do: The better ones will use their knowledge to help guide the right decisions; the lesser ones will do what you tell them (the theory being that no one ever got in trouble doing what they were told).

No matter how good they are, they can’t help you if you don’t understand them. If your new IT staffer is going to help you make the right decisions, you’ll have to have a common language and understanding of each other. You’ll get a feel for that from your first conversation. If a candidate talks over your head, don’t assume that’s just because they are smarter than you.

The better IT professional will not ask “What you want me to do?” but “What are you trying to accomplish?”. There is a vast array of IT tools they should know a lot more about than you do. Let them bring their expertise to the table to serve your business. But at the same time, they should understand that technology is a tool to help your business achieve its goals. And unless they are experienced in your industry, they probably have a lot to learn on the business side.  If a candidate doesn’t seem to have that curiosity about your business, and an interest in learning from you, you should probably keep looking.

A lot of techs spend their time closeted up in backrooms and offices, with doors closed. Whether you hire or contract, you need someone who is part of your team, who spends time walking around, seeing how your staff interacts with the technology you have, asking about problems. Yes, actually looking for things to do. A former staffer once asked if I laid awake nights thinking up “stuff for us to do.” I said, “No, I just walk around and it jumps right out at me.”. Often, employees get used to things not working properly and they quickly abandon systems or software, find workarounds, install something from home, or move back to a more manual process that they were comfortable with. Those are all bad and you might not even notice if you were not watching and asking.

The four words I never want to hear anyone say are: “It works for me.” If an employee has a problem, your IT person needs to be able to troubleshoot it. It may, in fact, be human error. But that doesn’t absolve the IT staffer from the responsibility to help the employee understand why it happened and how to use the system or software effectively. That’s an attitude not all IT people exhibit. Find one with a strong customer service attitude.

The work is done when you say it is done. Testing of updates, new hardware, new software, or services is critical. And not testing by the IT staff, but testing by the employee who is actually going to be using it. That shows respect for the staff and it’s essential to being part of the team. Ask what their procedures are for this. If they don’t include an employee sign off after hands-on testing, keep looking.

Once you bring on an IT staffer, you may breathe that sigh of relief and assume that you can leave the tech issues in their hands. I always say inspect what you expect, but nonetheless you will put a lot of faith and trust in your IT pro. Ask some good questions to make sure that faith won't be misplaced, potentially putting you at even greater risk than you were before.

Photo credit:  rawpixel / 123RF Stock Photo

Laura Haight is the president of Portfolio, a communications company that helps small business make the most of the fusion of emerging technology and communication.