by John Edwards

7 ways to win the IT talent war

Jun 28, 20217 mins

In the battle for IT talent, victory goes to the bold and ingenious. Here's how to ensure your organization outmaneuvers the competition's hiring efforts.

help wanted data center network room it shortage now hiring by yinyang getty
Credit: YinYang / Getty Images

The IT battlefield is littered with the careers of CIOs who failed to understand that top-tier talent is essential to remain competitive in a world of continual tech disruption. And the stakes may only be getting more intense.

“We don’t expect the labor shortage to end in the short term,” states Marc Tanowitz, managing director for advisory and transformation at business and technology consulting firm West Monroe. “The pandemic has caused many people to reassess their priorities, goals, and lifestyle, resulting in fewer workers available for every open job when compared to the average over the last 20 years.”

Attracting the best IT talent without launching payrolls into orbit requires a combination of guts, imagination, and persistence. Here are seven tactics that IT leaders have found to be highly successful in securing the talent necessary to succeed.

1. Commit to building a top-tier workforce

Highly skilled professionals don’t want to be associated with second-rate employers.

“When developing IT talent acquisition strategies, it’s important for organizations to focus on the idea that top-tier IT talent wants to work and collaborate with other top-tier IT talent,” says Tecla Palli-Sandler, chief human resources officer at business and technology consulting firm Capgemini North America.

Palli-Sandler advises organizations to regularly showcase their leading IT talent in social media channels and to provide platforms that internal experts can use to share their experiences with external colleagues and friends. “This approach is effective because it is personal, agile, and trust-oriented,” she notes. “It showcases your people and where they excel.”

2. Keep an open mind

IT talent comes in many guises and personas. Review all job postings and job descriptions to ensure they don’t contain requirements that have the potential to unintentionally exclude qualified diverse candidates, suggests attorney Lori B. Rassas, former assistant chief human resources officer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the author of several career and employment books.

“You will also want to expand the positive trait list of candidates to include, providing a different or underrepresented perspective in the organization or department,” she adds.

Rassas also recommends expanding recruiting sources to include sites, such as community colleges, that offer diverse candidates.

“To ensure you can retain top talent once you hire them, you will want to make sure your working procedures and workplace [are] more inclusive to individuals and families of all types and structures,” she says.

3. Sell the organization

Highly talented job candidates tend to be very picky about the type of organization they’re willing to join. Therefore, when reaching out to top-tier prospects, be sure to showcase your organization’s purpose and values, advises Loralie Thostenson, senior vice president and technology talent officer at Liberty Mutual Insurance.

“Make it well-rounded to include information about the organization and the tech stack, as well as including the social and cultural aspects of working at your company,” she says. “Share the story not only from the voice of the organization, but also directly from current employees.”

When top-tier candidates feel they share the same values as their potential employer, it increases the likelihood that once hired they will stay longer with the enterprise, become advocates for their organization in their social networks, and may also provide referrals for future job opportunities, Thostenson explains.

“When candidates respond to [job] postings with a clear picture of the culture and skills needed, it makes your hiring funnel more efficient, since individuals looking for a different culture are less likely to apply and then drop out during the selection process,” she notes.

4. Build from within

A highly effective way to acquire top-tier talent is to create it in-house, says Katerina Bannikova, head of recruitment for software engineering firm DataArt.

“Companies should help employees improve their skills and acquire new ones, move them to other jobs within the company, and involve them in new and interesting projects,” she advises.

Bannikova explains that in-house support builds career pathways that are tailor-made for each team member, taking into consideration factors such as the individual’s stage of life, as well as their willingness to travel, teach, or learn a new skill. The drawbacks, she notes, include cost, support, and patience.

5. Offer meaningful, challenging work

Top-tier experts are IT superstars, and they expect to be treated as such. “Talented individuals like meaty work where they have input into how things get done, not just what gets done,” observes Kelby Zorgdrager, CEO and founder of DevelopIntelligence, an engineering-oriented learning solutions provider. “They want to grow in their roles by learning new technologies to keep their skillsets on the leading edge.”

Zorgdrager advises letting both top job candidates and prized employees know that your organization invests in career advancement and fulfillment in the form of ongoing employer-provided education and meaningful work assignments. “For some employees, autonomy, training, and challenge are more important than the compensation, benefits, and perks you offer,” he says.

6. Ensure a top-tier recruiting process

A sloppy, confusing, or slow hiring process places your organization at a disadvantage even before the candidate appears for the first interview. “Quality job descriptions, a clear explanation of your hiring process, prepared interviewers, and communications with the candidate throughout the process are a must to attract and retain the best talent,” says John Riganati, senior executive advisor and due diligence practice lead at business advisory firm Think Systems. It also means being highly responsive. “Quality talent isn’t going to wait for weeks with no communication while you mull over your options, and neither will the competition,” he warns.

Cultivating a logical, responsive recruiting process gives an organization a leg up on less diligent competitors when it comes to snaring prized job candidates. “Get your processes right and you’ll instantly stand out as an organization that has its act together, values a candidate’s time, and treats people like professionals,” Riganati says. “They will absolutely remember these things when deciding who to work with.”

7. Act decisively

There’s always the temptation to get the best possible deal for your organization, a process that typically requires protracted negotiations. In ordinary times this isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but talented specialists are currently in such high demand that it’s easy to risk miss out on snaring a coveted hire, says Rowan O’Grady, president of Americas for Jefferson Frank, an AWS recruitment specialist.

“Almost every candidate you approach will have a counteroffer and dragging your heels for no good reason just increases the chances of them accepting a better offer elsewhere,” he notes. “It’s like playing a game of poker against a rigged deck.”

Ultimately, the salary offered will be the most persuasive factor in convincing a tech professional to switch jobs. “That’s why going in with what you can afford, rather than what you’re willing to pay, has a higher success rate,” O’Grady explains. “It also shows professionals the value you place on their services, which will always leave a favorable impression.”

When there’s no room for further negotiation on salary beyond the initial offer, O’Grady suggests modifying the benefits package to match or beat any counteroffers the candidate presents.