GIS Managers - what do you look for when hiring?

12-18-2015 06:07 PM
MVP Frequent Contributor

Given the interest and controversy in the recent topic Does GISP make a difference for GIS analysts? , it may be beneficial to hear specifically from the folks who are involved in the hiring of GIS professionals as to what they and their organizations value when choosing to hire.

Hiring is not a cut and dried science. Pragmatically, as a hiring manager, you have a limited amount of time to evaluate potential candidates.  You are tasked to fill a need and there are usually many candidates to choose from for each position.

So how do you test/vet GIS candidates?  Specifically, how do you figure out the best candidate for your organizations needs? 

  • Is a degree important?  If so, what level, and does it have to be in GIS?
  • Experience?
  • Certification(s)?
  • Candidates portfolio?
  • How the candidate interviews?
  • How the candidate performs on a test you give them?
  • Their recommendations from other professionals/professors?
  • None of the above?
  • All of the above?

What factors into your organizations decision? And overall, does the process yield good results, or are there other methods you think might be better?

Obviously this will vary by organization and position requirements, but it will educational for all if we get a cross-section of replies so folks can get a better understanding of the ways it is done.  So if you are a manager hiring for a GIS position, how do you do it?

Chris Donohue, GISP

16 Replies
MVP Frequent Contributor

Some more questions to add on the above - if your organization does testing of candidates, can you also elaborate on:

  • Does your organization do written tests?  Are these tests emailed to the candidate or taken at the workplace?
  • Do you have your candidates do a practical test - i.e. the candidate gets on a computer and works on a task in GIS? 

I thinks folks will be interested to hear the management side of GIS hiring, which offers a whole set of challenges people may not realize.

Chris Donohue, GISP

MVP Frequent Contributor

OK, time to resurrect this thread, as I think my poor choice in timing (Friday night just before the Holidays) led to a lack of response.  Hopefully it is not because there are few GIS Managers on GeoNet (thought that is possible).

GIS Hiring Managers - how do you go about deciding on a candidate to fill a position you have open?

Chris Donohue, GISP

Regular Contributor

Thank you for the question, I know when I have been on a hire committee, the steps that we follow are first the position is opened, then a list of job requirements and knowledge and skill questions are added to the job listing.  It is important for the candidate to answer those questions as thoroughly as possible from their education, and experience, because the application is graded electronically before a person even looks at the application.  The department will tell the state HR, to give all of the qualified applicants, to select ~5 for interviews.  So, including knowledge of not just GIS, but knowledge of the specific department and program that they are applying for will qualify the person.  During the interview the candidate may be asked scenario type questions about how they would apply GIS to the specific needs of the program.  Planning for these types of questions would help the candidate gain more points on the interview.  So, after this explanation, all of the above is looked at and can help the candidate when we are hiring someone.  Thank you once again.

MVP Frequent Contributor

Thanks for your input Chad.  The part you mentioned about knowing the specific department and program besides knowing GIS reminds me of one of your poll categories "Know the Business".  In other words, one has a better shot at a job if one can find out the role and purpose of the department and program (besides just showing one is competent in GIS).

Chris Donohue, GISP

Regular Contributor

That is correct and then be able to demonstrate how they would integrate or better implement GIS to meet the needs of the department or program.

Esri Contributor

Great conversation Chad and Chris. The art of demonstrating GIS skill is also tested in the Esri Technical Certification exams.  The exams are written to different levels of cognitive complexity, see our blog Esri ArcGIS Desktop Entry Certification Now Available | Esri Training Matters, which are demonstrated with scenario questions and answers demonstrating knowledge of ArcGIS best practices.   EducationNew to GIS

Occasional Contributor


great thread! As a soon to be graduate with a Master's degree in Geotechnical Engineering (NOT GIS!), these answers are PROFOUND importance for me and in preparation for my first job after graduation. I will keep an eye on this thread and look forward to more answers!


0 Kudos
New Contributor III

I have been shocked at how poorly people have interviewed for positions I've hired.  The first thing is go to your career center at your college and get tips.  Rarely do people write cover letters (and a form cover letter is no different than a resume in my opinion), so those who have one specific to how they would address the posted job description is important for an initial review by a hiring manger.

So to some of your specific questions:

  • Is a degree important?  If so, what level, and does it have to be in GIS? - For me, having a degree in a related field and at least some classes in GIS is important, but not necessarily a degree in GIS.  When I was in college, GIS as a major was not offered, so took all of the GIS classes they had and found a GIS internship to supplement it.
  • Experience? Really depends on the position level.  If it is entry level (btw, saying 3-5 year of experience can still be entry level), I have a heavy emphasis on courses/projects completed and actual experience is a bonus.
  • Certification(s)? I personally don't take this into account in private sector, others may.
  • Candidates portfolio? Yes - If you have a portfolio, it is a bonus.  Have your professor or employer review it though because a bad portfolio is an immediate no for me.
  • How the candidate interviews? Of course this is very important.  DO YOUR HOMEWORK! If you mentioned it in your resume or cover letter, you better be prepared to answer questions about it and have questions for the interviewer to see if it is where you would want to work.
  • How the candidate performs on a test you give them? It's very important. If you can't complete it, make sure you can explain how you would have with more time.  We do this to make sure what you say you can do you actually can do.  I'm normally hiring for a Developer/Analyst, so we do a map request and programming test.
  • Their recommendations from other professionals/professors? - Somewhat.  It's validation for the above

Good luck

MVP Esteemed Contributor

Carmen Bremmer​, very thoughtful response, and I second most or all of your points.

One comment or point I would add is demonstrated ability to play well with others, i.e., be a team player.  The less bench depth an organization has in given roles, the more important it is for a person to be socially and organizationally aware.  The best technical and business skills aren't worth anything if they can't be applied to produce actual benefit within an organization.