by Martha Heller

4 criteria to attract top IT talent

Nov 14, 2018

As the battle to hire top IT talent heats up, these criteria u2013 location, compensation, role, and recruiting process u2013 will help you assess your ability to attract technology leaders.

Talent compass pointing to the most highly skilled jobs hiring
Credit: Thinkstock

The talent market for IT professionals is getting really tight. Here’s why:

CEOs have come to understand that technology innovation is critical to every facet of their business. On the front end, their company’s growth now depends on digital technologies that improve the customer experience. On the back end, infrastructure costs from legacy systems have become too high, so infrastructure is also a locus for technology innovation and change. And let’s not forget the employee: The digital workplace is now a must-have. Our younger employees expect a “consumer” experience at work; their retention and productivity depend on it.

Every CEO wants a CIO who can innovate in all of these areas, and every CIO wants a senior leadership team that is technical, is knowledgeable about the business, has great interpersonal skills, and can lead change. And while many HR leaders are rising to the IT leadership challenge with training and rotational programs to mint these multi-faceted leaders, that minting takes time, which is something most companies do not have.

If you are a leader in need of the best and brightest from this limited talented pool, what do you do?

How to win the IT talent war: 4 criteria

First, make sure you are working with your HR leaders — in a strategic and methodical way — to develop and retain the human talent you already have. Second, position your company to attract the talent you need. 

To that end, at Heller Search, we use a set of criteria to determine whether an IT executive search is viable. If all of the criteria are met, we know the search will be fast and straight forward, and we will pitch hard to win the engagement. If one or two of the boxes are not checked, we will take on the search with the knowledge that while we will fill the role, the engagement will be challenging, with a whole lot of outreach for a limited number of viable candidates. If the search fails to meet most of the criteria, we will not take it on. We do not want to engage in a search that we cannot fill.

Perhaps your understanding of our criteria will help you assess your ability to attract the IT leadership talent you need.

1. Location: Does the talent live near the job location or will it move there? If your company is the only large enterprise within a 100-mile radius, candidates will be cautious about relocating their young families. What happens if the company is sold or the role does not work out? The knowledge that another relocation is a real possibility is a major deterrent a candidate’s accepting a job.

2. Compensation: Will your company pay market rates for IT leadership talent? Are your bonuses below 30 percent? Do you not offer a long-term incentive plan “at this level” when most of your competitors do? Good talent does not come at a discount.

3. The role: Are you inventing a role that you really need but that does not exist in most companies? Are you creating a reporting structure that solves some internal political challenges but that is not attractive to the market? Are your titling conventions unique where your directors would be vice presidents in any other company? Do you need someone who can influence the senior leadership team, but you are not putting them on that team? Many IT executives have been burned by the “accountability with no empowerment” paradox and will be cautious about aberrations in titles, levels, and reporting structure.

4. The recruiting process: Your board must approve every offer, but they only meet quarterly. Your CEO needs to interview all finalists, but it is very hard to get on her calendar. Your employee agreements have been more than 15 pages for as long as you can remember; it will be very hard to get legal to edit them down. You had planned to attend every search update call with your recruiting partner, but you have a go-live coming up and you just can’t make those meetings. It has always been true that time kills deals, but in a market where candidates have competing offers, your slow process can cost you a hire.

If your location and compensation are great, the role (title, function, and level) are attractive to the market, and you’ve re-engineered your recruiting process for the times, you are in great shape and will win the IT talent war. If not, you have some work to do. Here are some suggestions:

If your location is lousy, change your “no-commuting” policy. If you can’t change your sub-par compensation, consider a strong step-up candidate and mentor them into their role. If your titling and reporting conventions are unattractive to the market, change them. And by all means, take the legacy drag out of your recruiting process.

As an executive, you spend so much time improving areas such as customer service, time to market, and employee productivity. How much time are you spending on improving your ability to attract top talent? Improving your ability to win the IT talent war may be the most strategic move you make for your company.