Linux system administrators are in high demand these days and many hiring managers say they're having a hard time finding talent to fill their open positions. It's critical, then, for companies seeking skilled admins to hone their recruiting process in order to stay competitive – and this starts with writing an effective job posting.
Unfortunately, many companies aren't hitting the mark. Job postings for sysadmin positions are largely similar; they’re boring and generic, according to New York City-based recruiter Steve Levy.
“Too many companies just cut and paste their ads,” he says. “They don’t care if the requirements have changed, the environment has changed. They think all sysadmins are created equally.”
Levy is one of three IT job market experts we asked to share their tips on how to write a better SysAdmin job posting. In short, it's best to be honest about the job requirements and level of skill required, be specific about the technologies involved, and to emphasize the creative or challenging aspects of the work. Below, we've expanded their advice into eight specific ways to improve your chances of attracting the right candidates with more targeted, meaningful ads.
8 ways to improve a SysAdmin job posting
1. Accurately map technical requirements to skill.
“Understand exactly what you're looking for, and be certain on the needs of your position. If it's more entry-level and you are able to support a junior admin who can learn and grow on the job, then be upfront about that,” says Jay Madison, senior director of IT Enablement at Red Hat.
Understand the technologies that are in demand for the role, and be sure to reflect them accurately. Then accurately map them to expected levels of proficiency. Make sure your requirements reasonably map to both the maturity of technology in your space, and also the job level, such as senior sysadmin, etc. Don't expect 10 years of experience for a junior or journeyman-level position.
“No systems administrator worth their salt will look at a position that requires 15 years of experience with a technology that's only five years old,” Madison says.
2. Be clear about job requirements.
Be honest with expectations on travel, shift, maintenance, and pager duties. Most sysadmins are comfortable with on-call, or off-hours maintenance work if they know in advance that it's expected. At the same time, pay attention to work-life balance or you risk losing them.
3. Emphasize creativity and challenges
“Stress the ability to be creative and take on new ways of solving problems if your corporate culture allows that. If your corporate culture does not readily support that now, work to be supportive of this approach as best you can,” Madison says. “Automation, scaling, resilient systems, and continuous improvement and continuous delivery (CI/CD) are all valuable commodities that can be implemented by creative and empowered systems administrators, which will help your business succeed and be far more efficient than traditional methods.”
Highlight opportunities to work on recent, or cutting-edge technologies. Routine, operator-style work will not appeal to driven and hungry admins, he says.
“Everyone wants to be working on innovative things that matter, and have an opportunity to feel like they've contributed and added value as well as challenged themselves,” Madison says.
4. Make the job title more specific.
Levy can go on full rant about the job ads he sees.
“If you go to LinkedIn on a Sunday afternoon, you see all these ads, and they all say the same things. Imagine you’re a job seeker and you see one Linux system administrator title after another. How do you get somebody to click on your ad if you have the same title as everybody else?” he asks.
The title should be functional, with whatever specific flavor of Linux they’re using, he says.
“Talk about number of employees. CentOS sysadmin, 21,000 employees, global location. Use the language that practitioners use,” he says.
“You know the phrase, ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’? When it comes to job ads, you don’t have to make [job candidates] drink. You just want to make them thirsty, just enough to click [on your ad].”
5. Describe the system architecture.
He says companies waste too much time at the beginning talking about how great the company is.
“How can they all be leading companies? Stop using jargon,” he says. He urges companies to make that two sentences, max. If a candidate wants to know more about a company, that’s what company career pages are for.
“I don’t think people spend enough time describing the actual system architecture.,” he says.
“We hire people to solve problems. The first thing is what does the systems environment look like? Specifically, what are you using? I want to know the major components of the technical infrastructure. Hardware and software. I want to know version numbers on software. How large is your user population? You could say, ‘We have X number of users, and we hope to have Y by the end of the year and the system will have to expand accordingly.’
Job candidates also need to know location. Are there any elements that are outsourced?
“The IT execs have an idea where the environment needs to progress over the next 18 months. Give people an idea how the environment might be expanding or changing. There are major and minor long-term and short-term projects. Specifically identify the most critical, we’ve-go-to-get-this-done projects,” he says.
“With Linux, it’s not that you’re going to be giving away trade secrets. But people will read that and say, ‘That’s cool’ or ‘I’ve done that’ or ‘I want to do that.’
6. Write performance-based descriptions.
Companies list too many arbitrary requirements, he says.
“They say, ‘Must have 7 to 10 years of experience.’ So I come back and say, ‘If I find someone who has solved all those specific problems, but only has four years’ experience, you don’t want to talk to them?’ Of course they do. They put these unfortunately dumb boundaries on things.”
He would like to see performance-based job descriptions rather than ones based on skills. In talking about how a candidate solved a particular problem, the skills will come out, he says.
“When you post a job, you have no guarantee that the really great performers will apply. You don’t know. Traditional ads do not differentiate based on aptitude.”
7. Put the job in context.
Each job description needs to start with an understanding of the type of team in which the person will be a member and the team’s overall responsibility, says Jennifer Hay, an IT resume specialist in Seattle.
It might be a team that supports critical business systems or one managing on-premise servers and provisioning cloud services.
In other cases, the new hire might work with network administrators on connectivity issues or with security administrators to protect data—positions that might require other skills that need to be spelled out. How much regulatory compliance will there be?
8. Include only the necessary skills.
She says some clients are very shy and will not apply for positions with a long list of requirements.
“When job descriptions are long, they can exclude those that they are trying to attract,” she says. “Some of my clients won't apply for jobs when some of the requirements aren't a good fit. When writing the job description, the company should consider what skills are truly necessary. Also, be honest about the environment. For example, is it fun and fast paced without heavy processing or is the environment a lot more structured?”
She offered a list of job duties that might be required for three categories of positions in systems administration: systems administrator, database administrator, and security administrator (see the graphic, at left). The actual role might involve a combination of these duties, she says. The trick is to include only the most important skills needed for any specific position.
With just a few specific changes to SysAdmin job postings, hiring managers can dramatically improve their chances of finding the right candidate for the job. What techniques have you found most effective in job postings? Please tell us in the comments, below.
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