IT Recruiting Definition and Solutions

IT Recruiting topics covering definition, objectives, systems and solutions.

What are the most sought-after skills in IT today?

In order to respond to the increasingly complex demands of today's businesses, the information technology department, once almost entirely populated by skilled technologists, has morphed into a more flexible corps of business-savvy IT professionals. In filling more customer-facing roles, technical prowess (while far from obsolete) takes a back seat in many cases to skills like project management, business-process change or vendor management expertise. (For more on this trend and three roles that have emerged as critical—the project manager, the relationship manager and the business analyst—see "The New IT Department: The Top Three Positions You Need.")

According to Gartner, six out of 10 IT employees will assume business-facing roles by 2010. The shift in IT needs has meant increased demand for certain IT hires and a decrease for others. (For information on more hot jobs like IT finance and internal consultant, see "More Hot Hires.") Then there are positions that require both technological sophistication and business savvy, like the increasingly popular enterprise architect. (Check out "Wanted: Enterprise Architects.")

The shift is represented in recent research from Foote Partners, which has been tracking a decline in pay for IT certifications along with a steady rise in pay for non-certified IT skills. According to CEO David Foote, that's because employers are desperate for workers who can get things done. "Technical skills are certainly part of the mix," says Foote, but "being a desirable 'impact' worker means getting along with people, keeping an eye on IT's role in business execution and quickly delivering what customers want, which is a moving target."

If this all sounds a bit fuzzy to you, you're not crazy. During a time of shifting roles and responsibilities (like now), everything is in flux—from titles to skill sets to pay. As a result, successful IT recruiting has become as much art as science.

Unfortunately, there's still a discrepancy between what CIOs say they want in their candidates and the skill sets of those they actually hire. Business capabilities and project management expertise represented eight of the top 10 skills identified as critical to keep in-house, according to a 2006 survey by the Society for Information Management (SIM). However, the majority of respondents primarily sought technical skills in entry-level recruits. IT leaders who have spent years looking for technical proficiency may have trouble adjusting their hiring practices to net candidates with business and the so-called "soft" skills.

If your hiring managers are still looking solely at IT certifications or programming language capabilities, it may be time to rethink those practices. (For some new hiring tricks from veteran CIOs, scroll down to the "Rethink Hiring Practices" section of "How to Hook the Talent You Need.")

If business skills are so important, can I poach job candidates from the business?

More and more, new IT hires are as likely to be brought over from the business side as they are to have been groomed in IT. Some CIOs and IT managers do find it easier to teach technology skills to business professionals than vice versa.

One potential problem is that, depending upon the reputation of IT in a given organization, business people may not be all that interested in jumping to the IT side. Diane Wallace, CIO of the state of Connecticut, pitches the perks of IT to the larger business community. "I know IT can be a very attractive place for them if I market it correctly," says Wallace. "I tell them that the great thing about IT is that it's one of the few places in any organization—from state government to the private sector—that touches every important project going on in the business." Wallace pitches business recruits on the chance to get involved with large, strategic projects across all the state's divisions instead of working on one initiative in a non-IT department. Her marketing mantra? "You don’t need to know how to code."

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Outsourcing & Staffing

While the business may have poached employees from IT for years, they may not be so eager to be on the giving end of that relationship. So it's important for CIOs to make it clear this is a give-and-take that benefits IT and the business equally. In an ideal situation, employees would rotate back and forth, giving them broad exposure to both the business and IT.

CIO's recent staffing survey found only 11 percent of respondents offer job rotation programs. That's a missed opportunity. (See "Launch Business-IT Rotation Programs.")

How can I figure out what compensation is fair?

With all the ambiguity around job titles and responsibilities, figuring out attractive—or just plain fair—compensation can be tough. But if you can't pull it off, you'll be in a world of trouble. Recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that tech employment has already risen above the 2001 hiring peak. If you're not paying valuable IT workers a competitive wage, they can (and will) find it elsewhere.

IT salaries are expected to rise across the board in 2007, between 2.8 percent and 4 percent (depending upon which report you believe). The starting salary of a project manager is expected to rise 4.1 percent in 2007 to a range of $72,750 to $106,250, according to the Robert Half Technology 2007 Salary Guide. Application architects will see starting salaries rise 4 percent ($80,000 to $112,750) while IT auditors will earn 3.1 percent more in 2007 ($69,250 to $97,000), according to Robert Half's survey. Salary increases can vary even more wildly from job to job. Workers in roles vulnerable to automation or outsourcing, such as call center, applications maintenance and technical support, may see their pay decline, according to the Forrester report, "Drivers of Salary Strategies for Today's IT Job Market." Those with skills in service-oriented architecture (SOA), business process re-engineering and project management, where demand for workers outstrips supply, may see double-digit salary growth.

The standard method for figuring out how to compensate someone for a particular role is to begin by looking at salary surveys. However, those once tried-and-true surveys are tied to job titles. And titles may not reflect an IT hire's full responsibilities anymore. In addition, in today's IT department, those responsibilities can change quickly and often. As a result, workers may find themselves seriously under-compensated for the work they're doing, even though their salary is in line with their title. That leads to tension, resentment and, ultimately, valuable employees "ripe for the picking by executive recruiters," says Foote Partners CEO David Foote.

Rather than update those titles and job descriptions, Foote Partners has found, most employers address this conundrum by tying base pay to the dominant skills or role and incorporating additional compensation for the ancillary work and skills that are also part of the job. In Forrester's "Salary Strategies" report, analysts also warn against adopting a one-size-fits-all approach to human capital management, particularly in the area of compensation.

Bottom line: The key to figuring out fair compensation is flexibility.

Besides money, what will attract the best and brightest?

Not surprisingly, money is what workers most want from their employers. But not every IT department can compete on cash. And when it comes down to two similar jobs similarly compensated, it's the non-cash benefits that may woo the talented IT employee.

Accommodation is the operative word. Given their druthers, most employees would choose a more flexible work schedule (33 percent) and additional family benefits such as parental leaves and personal days (22 percent), according to Hudson Highland Group's "Transforming Pay Plans: 2006 Compensation and Benefits Report." Those benefits trumped job training (13 percent) and supplemental insurance (16 percent). "Employees are more willing to forgo additional cash in order to have a more improved work-life balance," says Peg Buchenroth, Hudson Highland Group's managing director of compensation and benefits.

Flex time is also the most common benefit used to motivate or retain IT workers, according to CIO's mid-year staffing report, with 61 percent of organizations employing it.

Should I enlist the help of a third-party recruiter?

CIOs tend to be do-it-yourselfers, and that can be a problem when it comes to recruiting. They don't take advantage of all the resources at their disposal, says Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director of Robert Half Technology. But human resources professionals and recruiters can be a CIO's best friend.

Granted, Lee may be a little biased; she's a professional recruiter. But generally speaking, you and your hiring managers should enlist all the help you can. However, in order for any relationships you create with either internal or external HR resources to work, you must work closely with the experts.

Internal HR resources can be a great help, particularly when you're up against a wall trying to find talented employees to fill sudden vacancies. But an HR generalist often may not be enough. Their knowledge of IT-specific needs may be limited. Many CIOs have seen value in hiring an HR resource specifically for the IT department or at least a corporate HR resource that is dedicated—at least part time—to technology recruiting, hiring and retention issues. In smaller companies where that may not be feasible, extra communication and due diligence when working with HR is key.

Making the best use of third-party recruiters takes some extra effort as well. GM CIO Ralph Szygenda, lamenting the fact that recruiters seemed to bring him the same candidates over and over for his hardest-to-fill roles, has had more success now that his hiring managers meet with the recruiters more regularly. "[Recruiters] go to whoever screams loudest," he says. "We set aside time to meet with them every week and put pressure on them to come back with someone outside their database." (For more tricks on finding employees in the evolving IT talent market, see "How to Hook the Talent You Need.")

Chris Stockley, CIO and VP of $4.2 billion building contractor Skanska, invites recruiters to his annual vendor event, where he unveils his three-year plan for IT. As a result, recruiters started sending him viable candidates before he even needed them.

That's the Holy Grail, whether you're working with your own HR people or a resource outside the company: “just in time” hiring. Working more closely with HR experts (not just when you need them, but long before you do) should help you develop and maintain a solid network of potential hires you can go to when you have an opening instead of scrambling just to find someone to fill a spot.

What about college recruiting?

You can't throw a rock at an IT conference without hitting a CIO standing around the buffet table bemoaning the lack of real-world business skills in the "kids" he hires out of college. But there's a relatively easy fix for that problem: Quit whining and get involved.

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