by John Edwards

7 innovative ways to find scarce IT talent

Jun 02, 20209 mins
IT LeadershipStaff Management

Few are available, yet many are needed. A shortage of qualified specialists is forcing IT leaders to try alternative ways of finding skilled experts in a variety of fields.

man looking under bed hiding looking for something uncovered by artem peretiatko getty
Credit: Artem Peretiatko / Getty Images

Analytics, artificial intelligence, the internet of things and numerous other forms of technology disruption are leading to a shortage of qualified experts in fields ranging from software development to networking to security to data analysis and beyond.

As such, acquiring qualified IT talent has become like searching for gold on a mountain overloaded with prospectors. To succeed, IT leaders need sharp vision, perseverance and a fair share of luck.

“We can no longer rely on just posting a job ad or searching for talent on LinkedIn,” says Andrew Hunter, co-founder of job search engine developer Adzuna. “We need to take a proactive approach to make sure we stay competitive and find the right talent at the right time.”

Here are seven innovative techniques for finding skilled talent in a historically challenging IT hiring market.

1. Leverage internal sources

Find a way to motivate your entire IT staff to suggest qualified job candidates. “It’s likely that your team will be connected to a pool of talent, so it’s important to leverage their network and increase the number of people you are reaching,” Hunter says. He suggests incentivizing employees with a paid referral scheme, “which can be a good way of acquiring candidates that are likely to listen to first-hand recommendations.” 

Kateryna Suchova, head of people partners at Ciklum, a custom software development and IT outsourcing company, agrees that staff referrals can be a powerful recruitment tool. “If your employees have a great work environment where they feel adequately and fairly compensated, appreciated and valued, and believe there is growth potential, they’re sure to know someone who would love to have the same experience,” she notes.

Emily O’Connell, talent acquisition partner at SaaS management platform provider Zylo, says she encourages recommendations from just about anyone, including employees, colleagues, business partners, friends and family members. “If someone goes out of their way to recommend talent, we encourage that behavior,” she says. “We motivate referrals by offering a $250 donation to a non-profit of the referrer’s choice.”

2. Go virtual

While traditional job fairs, networking events and on-campus recruiting activities are on hold for the time-being, the virtual world is ready to provide an easy way of connecting with qualified job seekers. Many of these popular recruitment settings are now heading online. As the current COVID-19 crisis has shown, conferencing technologies, such as Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and Zoom, can provide a convenient and risk-free way of engaging people.

Hackathons, case challenges and other events that allow software developers, interface designers, project managers and other participants to showcase their skills, are also going virtual. “These activities seem to attract students to at least consider an organization as a career option that they may otherwise overlook,” says Ron Delfine, director of career services at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College.

Delfine suggests giving promising candidates access to top leaders and decision makers. “Participating candidates can present solutions to organizational leadership who might be part of the winning team selection process,” he explains. “If organization leaders are taking time out to participate in recruiting activities, this could translate into potential hires being valued within the organization and their work being valued as a new employee from day one.”

3. Promote from within

Internal training programs, an approach that tends to work best for larger organizations, can create a consistent hiring funnel that managers can tap into whenever a particular need arises. The downside to employee retraining is that it can be a time-consuming and expensive process. “To compensate, hiring managers can arrange for talent to be trained on the job by having them work closely with more experienced workers who can teach them new skills in real time,” advises Robin Monical, vice president of talent acquisition at Ensono, a hybrid IT services provider.

Monical suggests creating in-house training programs focused on specific internal needs. Ensono, for instance, created its own “mainframe academy,” a 12-month program designed to create an in-house pipeline of talented experts. “The program allowed us to hire professionals skilled in a legacy technology, which is rare expertise in today’s tech workforce,” she notes.

4. Tap into data analytics

Analytics is widely used to reveal insights into sales trends, customer sentiment, network performance and an endless number of other business and IT operations. Unfortunately, relatively few IT organizations have recognized that analytics can also be used to identify recruitment trends and patterns.

It’s important to understand different behaviors and trends because these factors should shape your recruitment strategy, Hunter says. “Look at how you’ve sourced IT talent in the past,” he advises. Do job candidates and new hires come from a certain college or network? If so, it could be worth focusing recruiting efforts on these locations and getting the word out.

5. Tie into your local community

Don’t wait for qualified job applicants to come knocking on the employment office door. Proactive IT organizations understand that it’s essential to reach out to nearby colleges, universities, business associations, research hubs and similar organizations to let them know that they’re looking for promising talent in specific areas.

By building strong community ties, an IT department’s recruiting strategy is no longer limited to job postings and cold outreach efforts. “As an organization, you’ll have a captive audience within your market’s talent base, a group that’s now more receptive to listening and perhaps sharing their respective networks as well,” explains Jamie Chafel, senior director of recruitment firm WinterWyman’s software technology group.

While building strong community ties can be a highly effective recruiting technique, with significant potential for long-term ROI, it’s also very much a “get-out-what-you-put into-it” proposition, Chafel warns. “This type of talent following takes a lot of time and effort to assemble and, typically, the rewards don’t come right away,” he says. “For those willing to invest and be patient, however, such networks are worth their weight in gold.”

6. Promote job perks

Promoting enterprise culture, values and vision is a powerful way of attracting talented individuals with interests beyond annual income. “Our data shows that 60 percent of employees would take a lower salary for better benefits,” Hunter says. “Think about additional benefits that would attract IT talent, such as training, opportunities for promotion, private health care, maternity/paternity pay and flexible working.”

Lyndsey Hannigan, vice president of people for Clio, a legal practice management and client intake software provider, says her firm is focused on helping team members achieve their personal goals. “We support our staff through in-house coaching, leadership development workshops, personal development planning and generous support for learning and education,” she explains.

Many qualified IT experts also want to know that their efforts will help lead to a better and more socially conscious world. Hannigan says that Clio is dedicated to helping transform the practice of law into a force for positive change. “We’re working to actively remove the types of barriers that may hinder underrepresented groups by cultivating diverse and inclusive teams, creating space for difficult conversations and ensuring opportunities for development,” she observes. “We’ve built a reputation as a top company to consider when it comes to building a successful career.”

7. Be persistent

Always be recruiting. The most successful IT leaders never stop searching for great talent, O’Connell says. “Be open to grabbing coffee with a likely candidate or calling them to stay in touch, even if it’s months before the role opens,” she notes. “The right person might be willing to wait.”

Some organizations go to extreme lengths to find qualified experts. Alex Kovalenko, an account manager and senior recruiter at IT technology recruiting agency Kovasys, recalls a time when his organization took a mobile approach to attracting top IT experts. The recruiters parked a car next to a coffee shop that was known to attract a large number of developers working at nearby organizations. The brightly colored vehicle was painted with a direct and eye-catching message: “Looking for a new IT challenge? Email us with your CV!”

Kovalenko notes that all is fair in love and IT recruitment. “We had companies send us cease and desist letters stating that we are not allowed to poach their employees,” he remembers. “We just politely replied that poaching is legal, and if they want to keep their employees they just need to make sure their employees are happy.”