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If attempts to hire IT talent in today's job market seem futile, a word to the wise: Industry hiring best practices just might be your best weapon to gain ground in this battle.
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The truth is that confidence is high among IT job candidates. The unemployment rate for IT professionals hovered around 2.6% in the third quarter of 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and doesn't look like it's easing up anytime soon. So, it's no surprise that a majority, or 68%, of IT firms reported a challenging hiring environment for tech positions, according to CompTIA's 2015 IT Industry Outlook.
Thanks to some sage advice from technology recruiters, partners may want to rethink their current hiring strategies and/or augment them with those from the pros to improve their odds of success in today's war for talent.
It's important that partner firms understand that the IT hiring process is exactly that, a process. There are several phases to it, including setting qualifications, recruiting, interviewing, making an offer and onboarding, and each deserves a partner’s full attention.
The process starts with the job description. It should include a clear description of what the new hire will be doing on a daily basis.
Think beyond technical skills and elaborate. For example: What specific skills sets are you looking for? What experiences are you looking for? What are the expectations, day in and day out? Are you looking for someone to work remotely or do you want someone who's going to spend 80% of their time in the field? Are you looking for someone to do presale architectural work primarily or delivery/ongoing support work, and so on?
"You have to have a solid understanding of the job requirements that you're looking to fill so that you find the right candidate to fill that position," said Todd Billiar, director of channel sales with VAR Staffing, a division of Apollo Staffing located in Richardson, Texas.
Todd Billardirector of channel sales, VAR Staffing
A big mistake hiring companies often make is not distinguishing between skills and talent, or they seek the "perfect fit." Advice from the pros: Expand your thinking.
"Part of what draws technical individuals is the ability to learn new things and to learn about new technology. And that doesn't mean they'll have all the skills," said Wayne Rampey, CEO of Apollo Staffing, which is also based in Richardson.
Many hiring companies lack the ability to assess talent and critical-thinking skills. "A candidate may have 80% of the experience a company is looking for and they may lack the other 20%, but that 20% is likely to be the most interesting thing about the job candidate," he added.
In other words, most job candidates aren't looking for a lateral move; they're looking for growth and that growth lies in the 20%.
Shravan Goli, president of New York-based IT job website Dice, agrees. "Tech pros want to work on the latest and greatest: the cool stuff. They want to solve problems, architect next-generation solutions, for example."
Michael Drake, founder and CEO of 10-year-old MasterIT, a Memphis, Tenn.-based managed services provider (MSP) with a project-based consulting arm, is all too familiar with how difficult it is to find good talent. "It's one of the biggest challenges in our business," he said. Engineers, in particular, are very transient people, he noted.
MasterIT, he said, improves upon average industry retention rates by offering engineers a career path, but that doesn't stop superstars from leaving for greener pastures or IT recruiters from plucking them away.
So, MasterIT is relentlessly in pursuit of engineers. "We interview people every week whether we have a job opening or not," said Drake, who added that the company keeps a virtual bench of people to hire from at any time, a discipline the company has to maintain. MasterIT has 30 employees. The company works with Robert Half Technology to find engineers.
Recruiting pros agree that, today, IT hiring companies have to sell themselves to the job candidate. Ultimately, companies looking to attract the best in talent must be able to articulate the vision and culture of the company, and the opportunity.
Billiar gave some dialogue for value-added resellers (VARs) to try on to sell the opportunity: "Hey, you're going to be doing everything you're doing today, but we own our own data center, we have a 24/7 NOC, we have a configuration facility where we can do customized deployments, we're a Cisco and Juniper shop and we can get you cross-trained in those as well."
Today, many partner companies are transitioning the business beyond on-premises work to cloud and cloud services. IT hiring companies can use this to their advantage. Be sure to elaborate on how the company is expanding its horizon. For example, tell the job candidate if you will be more open source or more agile, or if you will create an environment that fosters collaboration and innovation among employees.
Goli suggested that companies organize events, such as coding challenges, hackathons and meet-ups with peers, or bring in a trusted authority to speak to the team. "Help project your company in a different light for current employees as well as for those you want to attract," he said.
Today, a company's social media presence and website play big roles in the hiring process and getting candidates in the door. Savvy job candidates check out a prospective employer's social media accounts and website when they're evaluating potential jobs.
"[The company website is] a place where the hiring company can sell the environment, the opportunity and the culture," Billiar said.
He suggested posting interviews with current employees who can shed light on their jobs and why they stay with the company, information about contract wins, etc.
At the same time, IT hiring firms may try aggregating data from sites where technical professionals hang out, such as Twitter, Reddit, Dribbble or Xing, for example. "It's not just about understanding a candidate's experience and skills; it's also about their passion, interests, viewpoints and hobbies," said Goli, who added that armed with this kind of information, companies can engage with job candidates at a different level.
MasterIT considers it vital that a job candidate be a good match for the company's culture, according to Drake. "We learned that if people don't fit into the culture, one of two things will happen: The team will run them off or they will self-eject," he said.
Industry experts agree the interview process is often bogged down by too many rounds of interviews. And, they say, there's too much lag time in providing the candidate with feedback. First impressions are everything so it’s important to keep the process on time and on track. Also, keep the interview process consistent for an apples-to-apples comparison of candidates. Make sure to assess critical-thinking skills and not only a job candidate's "technical testosterone," as Rampey called it. "See how a job candidate responds to problem solving," he suggested.
And don't make the mistake of comparing job candidates to one another. Instead, assess the candidate based on the job requirements.
For example, MasterIT's business is very customer service-oriented whether the employee works on the help desk or acts as a fractional CIO. No litany of technical certifications can make someone succeed in that kind of role. "Either a person is wired to be good at customer service or not," Drake said.
Making the offer
When it comes to extending an offer to a candidate, experts say you should go with your highest and best offer the first time. Remember, it is a candidate's market, which means prospects almost always have multiple offers. The job offer isn't just about the money. "It's about the money but also things like work-life balance, professional advancement, acquiring additional skillsets, etc.," Billiar said.
An offer based solely on money can be easily overcome with a counteroffer from a competing firm. Hiring companies have to sell the whole breadth of the opportunity and sell it the first time. "It's difficult for companies to go back to the well a second time," Rampey said. If the word "selling" is off-putting, think of the process as getting real. In fact, hiring firms need to take a step back and look within. For example, the vice president of the company needs to recall how she started out as an engineer and share with the job candidate why she’s worked for the company for 12 years.
"What better way to illustrate a reason why a job candidate should work for your company?" said Rampey, who added that people stay with companies because of the people they work with with as much as for the technical challenge.
Onboarding is a critical part of bringing a new employee into the fold. Don't make it an afterthought. Even if the employee doesn't start working for several weeks, don't let the communication go dark.
"Send them an email and tell them that you're excited about them joining the team and that you're looking forward to seeing them soon and will have everything in order for their arrival," Billiar said. Set up their cubicle, order and set up their laptop, and order their business cards so they're ready to go on Day 1. Also, line up a mentor ahead of time.
After 30 days, find out what's gone well or not so well, including the onboarding process itself.
The best retention policy is a strong recruiting policy, Rampey said. And if, years later, your hire is still a valued employee, you'll know your hard work during the hiring process has paid off.
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