Questions to Answer Before Recruiting IT Staff

CIOs need to take an active role in recruiting IT talent. But before you set out to solve the staffing puzzle, know the answers to these seven critical questions.

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“A lot of the roles I want to fill are evolutionary—and increasingly, revolutionary,” says Behenna, who estimates his IT hiring will increase by 30 percent from last year. “So there is no absolute reference point.” In a worst case, workers may find themselves seriously undercompensated for the work they’re doing, even though their salary is in line with their title. That leads to tension, resentment and, ultimately, to valuable employees being “ripe for the picking by executive recruiters,” says Foote.

Foote Partners has found that 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 setting pay, Behenna browses job boards for job descriptions and pay rates, discusses salaries with peers and invites his direct reports to research compensation. “I have to be a little creative,” he says. “It’s a manual process, but it works.”

Just as important as doing the compensation research is making sure employees know you’re doing it. “It’s PR for the IT organization that the company is keeping abreast of what the market is paying,” says Gartner’s Berry.

6: Wouldn’t it be a better investment to focus on retention rather than recruiting?

It certainly costs plenty to recruit and train a new employee. You may ultimately end up paying as much as 100 percent of a departing employee’s salary or more, just to get a replacement up and running, according to Berry. Then again, 100 percent retention is a bad idea too. Too little turnover “will limit the amount you can learn from the outside,” says Tim Bosse, executive vice president for professional staffing company Hudson IT & Telecommunications. It can also lead to a clogging at the top and a lack of entry-level positions at the bottom.

IT leaders should instead strike a balance between recruiting and retention efforts. Add “roles” and “rotation” to the list and you have the four R’s of staffing, says Forrester’s Bright. And they’re all interrelated. Yet Bright says he can count on one hand the number of IT leaders who keep continuous focus on all of them. “It’s amazing the lengths people will go to avoid having to create a fully fleshed-out talent management strategy,” says Bright. “They focus on one area only after it’s starting to cause problems.”

There will be seasonal or cyclical reasons to focus on one piece of the staffing puzzle more than another. But generally speaking, the key to success is to be proactive about managing the entire staffing spectrum. “You can’t tackle any of these issues in a vacuum,” says Bright.

7: Can I skip these recruiting headaches by outsourcing more of my shop’s work?

Nice try. But if you think you can insulate yourself from personnel problems, decisions and strategy by outsourcing, you’re sadly mistaken. You still have to roll up your sleeves and get involved. Otherwise, such arrangements are doomed to failure.

Mary Lacity, professor of information systems at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, has studied outsourcing best practices. She notes that with successful domestic outsourcing relationships, clients review the résumés of their supplier’s employees before they are assigned to their delivery team. And when it comes to a successful offshore outsourcing arrangement, clients often personally interview each potential offshore-supplier team member.

If you move to a more outsourced model, you’ll also inherit another set of recruiting headaches: hiring someone to manage it. “You’ll have to find the rare, but valuable candidates who have experience managing vendors and outsourcers, negotiation skills, contract and SLA management experience—skills a lot of people in IT may not have. Or want,” says Laurie Orlov, vice president and principal analyst for Forrester Research. And, as anyone who’s done significant outsourcing knows, it’s never long before any HR problems your supplier has trickle down to you. “A lot of the complaints you hear from people who have outsourced is actually disappointment in the level of quality of the outsourcers’ staff,” says Orlov.

An outsourcing decision might be made in part due to staffing concerns. “Some companies may outsource their legacy systems because they want to reduce the risk of being exposed should their baby boomers leave,” says Gartner’s Berry . But an outsourcing decision should never be made with the idea of removing all risk or responsibility for something—recruiting or otherwise. The work may move; responsibility stays.

Senior Editor Stephanie Overby can be reached at soverby@cio.com.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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