Developing Your Own Technical Talent

I hear from many clients that it is still quite hard to find experienced technical talent for IT or web development and administration work. What to do when you can’t afford to lure away an experienced technical employee? One alternative is to develop your own.

The key to success is to design your positions and professional development program to enable you to develop an entry level person and then promote them in place. This eventually develops the skill set you need while enhancing your chance of retaining the person after they have been trained.

Design an entry level technical position that you will fill. Also design a more senior position, based on the original job description, that includes higher-level responsibilities and the requisite knowledge, skills and abilities. As your entry level new hire is developed, promote them into the higher level position which you have created by design. It’s good to have two to three of these junior to senior path positions in place, if you can afford it, so that you can have new talent in the pipeline before a trained person does eventually leave.

This does a couple of things. It offers the realistic chance of relatively rapid promotion for the entry level person once they have learned how to do the more advanced job. They don’t have to wait for someone more senior to leave, they can simply be promoted in place. This will help to acknowledge the value of their new skills to the company and contribute to keeping them with you longer than they would have stayed for a dead-end entry level job. It also creates a senior position that you can fill directly if you happen to find that perfect candidate (it does happen now and then!).

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What is Web Strategy?

A lot of work I do with clients involves developing a strategy for their web efforts. But what is web strategy?

I picked up one of the better definitions for overall strategy that I have seen from Alan Weiss, who got it from Benjamin Tregoe and John Zimmerman in Top Management Strategy:

“We define strategy as the framework which guides those choices that determine the nature and direction of an organization.” (Page 17.)

The rest of the book discusses the framework they recommend for guiding strategic decisions. They identify 9 strategic areas and suggest that a company has to identify one of them as their driving force, which then determines their markets and products more than any other factor. It is a refreshingly concise yet powerful framework.
So what does this imply for your web strategy?

Tweaking their definition a bit, your web strategy should be a framework for guiding the choices that determine the nature and direction of your web site. It should determine which audiences you are going to address. It should determine which content and service you chose to offer online. And as a framework, it should help you to rationally assess and deal with both opportunities and challenges as they arise.

Ultimately, your web strategy should driven by your overall strategy. If your overall strategy indicates that you will serve certain markets with specific products, your task as a web strategist is to develop supporting strategies to execute that vision online.

Cover Letters Matter

Guy Kawasaki shares his experience posting an announcement on craigslist. He point out how important a good cover letter is:

Write a cover email that addresses the position. Two people simply attached their resume to their response. I pushed back on one and suggested that he write a cover email. He copied and pasted my job description to, I guess, let me know which job he was applying for. Needless to say, both candidates didn’t get serious consideration. I don’t know about other employers, but the thing I can’t stand the most is laziness. Although, to be fair, the ad was for a position at the worst website in the world.

I hired a lot of people when I used to lead web teams at ASHA and I reviewed more resumes than I care to remember. A good cover letter that showed the applicant actually read the position description and thought about how they could contribute stood out like a shining beacon of hope. My usual vetting process on applications was something like this:

  • Rapid sort of those who obviously didn’t fit the job. Anyone who included a tailored cover letter would make this cut. I could usually cut out a third to a half of applicants at this stage. Each one got about 5 seconds of my attention.
  • More careful review of cover letters and resumes to cull more applicants who clearly did not meet what we were looking for.
  • Send what was left to the team for review and comment and then pick four or five to come in for interviews.

As you can see, a good cover letter got you past summary review and into a more in depth look at your merits. A cover letter is well worth your investment of time and effort.

A final note on the hiring process for applicants:

  • The purpose of a cover letter is to get the employer to look at your resume.
  • The purpose of a resume is to convince the employer that they should interview you (the cover can help with this as well).
  • The purpose of the interview is to convince the employer that you are the best person for the job.

If you design each stage with those goals in mind you’ll do better than 99% of the job seekers out there.

Areas of Responsibility for Web Positions

One of the most popular pages on my site, getting hundreds of views a week, is my article on crafting web job descriptions. There are surprisingly few resources for this online. Given the demand, I’m working on expanding the article into an ebook on the topic: The Web Job Description Toolkit. I’ll cover more areas of responsibility in more detail, offer sample interview questions, job titles, discuss advertising positions, etc.

This book is targeted squarely at organizations that are not primarily web companies. For many of these companies, creating web positions can be a challenging task since they usually don’t have a lot of experience with the Web at the executive level, let alone in human resources. The purpose of this book is to help them understand the potential roles for web staff and how to design positions that will contribute the most value to their overall goals.

I’m working on the areas of responsibility that I’ll cover in the book. Below is my working list, with short descriptions. I recognize that many of these overlap or could have different labels. I appreciate any comments you may have on the list. Am I missing anything? Suggest another label for a section? Looks great? Let me know.

Anyone who comments and includes their full, real, name with the comment will get a thank you in the book! Include your e-mail and I’ll give you a free copy when it is published. (I reserve the right not to include spammers or abusive posts in this offer at my sole discretion.)

An important note about the list: the section labels are not job titles. They are areas of responsibility that can be mixed and matched to create position descriptions.

Here is the list, which is somewhat different from the original article:

Strategy
These deal with setting overall direction for your organization’s Web efforts. What are your goals? How do they support the overall goals of the organization? How do you intend to go about achieving them?

Management
This covers the day-to-day management responsibilities for running a Web team and the site. It also includes hiring, coaching and developing staff.

Content
Content is King, but someone has to be behind the curtain. This includes content authoring, editing and management duties. I’ll define this to include video, images and audio as well as text.

Marketing
This section will focus on marketing your web site. It will include search engine optimization, e-commerce, keyword advertising, etc.

Design
This covers the basics of web design, including developing overall look and feel, templates, user interfaces and supporting assets. It can also include interactive media such as Flash if your site requires it.

Findability
This is all about helping people to find your content once they are on your site. It covers information architecture, search engine tuning, navigation, etc. This could fit under content management as well but I think it’s important enough to break out.

Usability
Usability is important for any site but especially so for those that include a lot of data-driven applications or e-commerce. This section will identify responsibilities related to increasing the usability of your site. I will also cover accessibility here. This overlaps significantly with other sections but it is another one that deserves special attention, in my opinion.

User Support/Online Community
This section will cover the basics of user support tasks as well as more advanced Web 2.0-style community liaison roles.

Technical Administration
Keep the servers up and running. I’ll cover the basics here but it won’t go into the depth that this one topic deserves. That’ll have to wait for another book.

Programming
Same as above, I will cover the basic responsibilities for developing web applications here but won’t go into great detail.

Thanks for your comments!

And finally, if you would like to receive periodic e-mail updates about the book, sign up using the form on this page. I will not use your e-mail for any purpose other than Toolkit announcements unless you sign up for other e-mail newsletters on my site.

New Article: The Association Web Job Description

I have just posted an article I wrote that went out in ASAE’s Technoscope newsletter a while ago: The Association Web Job Description. The article identifies the major areas that should be considered when designing positions to support an association web site, including sample language.

You may also want to see the sample interview questions for content management positions that I posted a while ago.

Content Management Interview Questions

Below are a set of interview questions that we used when filling the Director of Content Management position in our office. I posted these to an ASAE list today in response to a question and thought I might as well throw them up here.

These are tailored for the mission and organizational culture at our office but might be useful for those of you who interview people for content management jobs, especially those positions that manage other staff and teams.

OPENING QUESTION

1. Why are you interested in applying for this position?

QUESTIONS

2. Please describe your view of the relationships between information architecture, graphic/html design, and content development. What challenges do you see in managing the roles and responsibilities within a team responsible for these areas?

3. What are some unique qualities about publishing health care information on the web as opposed to other types of content?

4. Please describe your style of leadership in the work you have done as a staff supervisor or team leader. How has your style of leadership contributed to the success of your projects?

5. Describe a situation where you facilitated a project that spanned across several departments or functions. What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

6. What are the unique qualities of publishing to the web compared to traditional print or broadcast media? How does the management of web activities compare to the others?

7. How have you positively impacted the careers of staff you have mentored or supervised? Please cite a specific example.

8. Describe the process of redesigning a website. Please give an example from your past work if you can.

9. How do you explain what works online and what doesn’t when you are working with someone who is not as experienced as you are with html and the Web?

10. Give us an example of an occasion when you found yourself with competing priorities – more to do than you could possibly get done. What did you do to resolve the situation? Would you do anything different now?