Are Employers Searching for IT Unicorns?

Community Manager

Many technical job postings are accompanied by extensive lists of technical expertise. It’s also common to find roles requiring ten plus years of experience. However, with Office 365 just nine years old, the skills and experience required for many new technical roles in the cloud are unclear and often overstated.


Check out the differences in experience and technical proficiencies between these two job descriptions—both for the role of Sr Systems Engineer:



  • B.S. in Computer Science, IS/IT or equivalent education and experience.
  • 10+ years of IT systems engineering and administration.
  • 8+ years of experience in infrastructure virtualization, Windows infrastructure design and implementation, data storage design and networking.
  • 5+ years of IT Systems infrastructure architecture experience. Knowledge of architectural physical and logical design tools such as Visio.
  • 5+ years of experience managing enterprise storage (NAS and SAN) and archive systems.
  • 3+ years of experience designing and implementing cloud based solutions in AWS / MS Azure.

Technical Expertise

  • Current knowledge and proficiency in the following areas: Windows 2012 server OS or later, Microsoft System Center and VMM; Hyper-V; Active Directory, GPO, DNS, DHCP; SAN and NAS storage systems (Compellent, NexSAN); Hardware and Applications High Availability, Disaster Recovery and multi-site failover technologies; Cloud IaaS, PaaS and SaaS; Ethernet
  • System configuration and automation using some tool i.e. Puppet, Powershell, Ansible, Chef
  • Working knowledge of industry standards and best practices for enterprise architecture and infrastructure.
  • Experience with HLL programing languages such as C, C#, Java, Perl, Python.
  • Excellent knowledge and experience with network protocols and services (TCP/IP, LACP, SMTP, SNMP, DNS, DHCP).
  • Experience with server hardware and software technologies – file, storage/RAID systems, backup and archiving, etc. Deep knowledge and understanding of server and storage hardware specifications.
  • Ability to learn new technologies quickly. Excellent technical research, troubleshooting, and analytical skills (finding and implementing non-trivial solutions plays a big role in this position). Excellent verbal communications and interpersonal skills. Excellent writing skills for engineering documentation and support procedures.
  • Excellent technical leadership and communications skills. Ability to present new ideas and solutions clearly and prove viability. Ability to communicate difficult IT concepts effectively to less IT savvy users.
  • Able to analyze issues and quickly come up with solutions in area of expertise; work proactively, suggest process changes as needed, provide estimates, execute upon plans.
  • Ability to work with little supervision. Willing to acquire new skills, multitask and work on projects outside of immediate area of expertise. Possess strong desire and ability to work as a team player.
  • Some experience in supporting and administrating Linux OS (RedHat / Centos) is highly desirable.



  • Bachelor’s Degree preferred
    • High School Degree required
  • 6 years of relevant experience
  • MCP or MCSE/MCTS certifications required

Technical Expertise

  • Experience in systems operation and maintenance
  • Exceptional written and oral communication skills
  • Must possess a continuous/process improvement focus
  • Excellent customer service skills
  • Ability to operate independently or within a team environment
  • Demonstrated ability to mentor less experienced team members
  • Experience required with the following:
    • System Patching and Firmware upgrades
    • O365 - Exchange in the Cloud
    • Exchange 2007/2013 On-Premise with Hybrid
    • Microsoft Active Directory Schema
    • DNS/DHCP
    • Microsoft Group Policy
    • VMWare ESX
    • Microsoft Hyper-V
    • Virtual DR Strategy
  • Experience in the following is highly preferred:
    • Microsoft Lync/Skype for Business
    • Microsoft SQL Administration
    • Microsoft SharePoint 2013
    • Dell Server and Storage Hardware
    • Citrix XenApp/XenDesktop
    • Citrix Netscaler
    • Microsoft SCCM
    • Microsoft O365 Spam Filter
    • Microsoft Powershell
    • Juniper SSL VPN
    • Microsoft Forefront and Identity Manager
    • F5 Load Balancers
    • EMC Avamar
    • Web Content Filters and Reporting Services


Are employers demanding too much? What does the ideal candidate skill set look like? How do years of experience translate to years in the cloud?


Share what you think employers should be looking for. Write a job description for your own job or comment about the job descriptions above.


Credit goes to @Simon Denton for suggesting the topic!

5 Replies
A big challenge with looking for candidates is that recruiters and hiring managers are still using old paradigms where experience is king.
In this cloud world experience is fleeting, so expecting someone to have 5 years of knowledge of Office 365 for example is pointless as that would take you back to the Wave 14 version when things were *a lot* simpler.
By no means am I saying experience isn't valuable - it absolutely is. What is more important is adaptability and agility, especially around desire and ability to learn.
It's also unreasonable to expect people to be a "jack of all trades". There are generalists and specialists - you can't be both.
I think what's more important these days is to hire the right type of person - not necessarily what they know currently or can do currently.
Personality profile assessments are often undervalued as part of the recruitment process. Many employers thing they are flawed or too expensive, but I believe that they add significant value.
If employers could test someone's holistic level of technologies as well as their personality - it would give them a good view of what the person knows, how they think, how they work, and what they are capable of.

I do think that experience is incredibly important, but not necessarily with the technologies that you are looking for the person to work with.
Make sure you find the right person, then build the specifics of the job around them.

Big yes here!


"By no means am I saying experience isn't valuable - it absolutely is. What is more important is adaptability and agility, especially around desire and ability to learn."


When I hire for the positions I have, I'm looking for that adaptability and agility, eagerness to learn, and even just plain aptitude. With perhaps an occasional "this is just not a good fit," I can train on a missing skillset. I don't even know how I'd train on aptitude or flexibility.


By contrast, tons of experience but no flexibility is going to bite in the long (or short) run. 


Personality and culture fit are big pieces of a good hire, and go into successful networking. There are a lot of "I've never worked with this person but they're a good fit for this company" hires thanks to the power of networking.


One thing I'm not sure of are personality profile assessments--but I haven't really investigated them either. I have been the recipient of them in various companies, usually paired with leadership trying to fix a dysfunctional environment. (As may be guessed, these assessments were given at great cost and then soon after filed away.) 

Just finished up an interview with @Jaap Brasser who showcases the balance of technical and soft skills required in IT today (check out the interview here).  It seems that technical experience and skills are in the category of 'mandatory requirements' and soft skills are still in the 'nice to haves' bucket.  If we were to build the ideal job description for a modern IT professional (pick your discipline) what would it look like?

Couldn't agree more. I have a blog post in my head re Tech is no respecter of age anymore. 


Check out @Robert Crane's blog post on 'The traits of a modern IT Professional' on his blog here: http://blog.ciaops.com/2017/03/the-traits-of-modern-it-professional.html


My favourite quotes:

  • ‘Services like Delve and Yammer have underlying intelligence to surface what a user needs to see based on their activity. There is nothing to configure with these underlying services, software just makes it so. Understanding this process and being comfortable with it is a must as there is now far too much information, from too many sources, for a single individual to be able to process it all.
  • ‘Many IT Pros have failed to keep their IT knowledge current, to the point where most users know far more about the systems they use than resellers. This is because that IT Pros have not carved themselves out regular time to study, learn, update  and use the latest in technology. It isn't hard to do, but the secret is to make it a deliberate practice, not something that you say you'll get around to and never actually do!’

Do you agree?