Onerous Hiring Processes Prevent Companies from Competing in White-Hot Labor Market

By Meridith Levinson

Fierce competition for information technology workers is forcing some employers to reassess their hiring processes, according to executives with IT staffing firm Spherion.

“Organizations are evaluating how they’re acquiring talent to ensure they’re in a position to claim the best and brightest,” says Sean Ebner, a regional vice president for Spherion who’s based in Scottsdale, Ariz. “Many entities had adapted very stringent hiring processes [during the economic downturn] which are starting to get in the way of their ability to attract and retain the best talent.”  

Ebner points to a client whose strict criteria for selecting candidates weeded out perfectly good ones. The client, a bank (Ebner declined to offer the name), wouldn’t hire anyone who held more than four jobs in seven years, regardless of their skills and experience.  

Another financial services firm with which Spherion works makes all prospective employees, regardless of the position for which they’re applying, take a battery of tests to assess their personalities as well as their English language, writing and cognitive reasoning skills. Ebner says the financial services company is realizing that it needs to figure out the kinds of jobs for which certain tests would be necessary instead of making every candidate take every test, which slows down its hiring process.  

Executive Response

Not all IT leaders are sold on the idea of streamlining their hiring processes, however.  

“I have no interest in hiring someone if they’re not what I want, regardless of how many [job] offers they have,” says Tom Gosnell, CIO of Cuna Mutual in Madison, Wis

Because recruiting is one of his most important activities as CIO, Gosnell says he can’t let the challenges associated with a tight labor market force him into knee-jerk hiring decisions. He says he’s gone so far as to tell his managers that even though the 550-person IT department needs Microsoft .net skills, he doesn’t want to hire someone who has .net expertise but who lacks other skills, because such an individual won’t have opportunities for career growth. “I want people who understand the business and have an interest in growing the business and have a deep technology competency,” he says. 

Although Gosnell is not inclined to forgo parts of his hiring process for the sake of beating a competitor to the punch on a job offer, he admits that his company does need to continue to improve its overall processes for recruiting. Specifically, he’d like to see his company strengthen its relationships with recruiting firms and enhance the online recruiting capabilities on its website.  

Even with the difficulty he’s had filling certain technical lead, change management, project management and customer liaison positions, Gosnell retains an advantage in the labor market, at least in the eyes of IT leaders at small and midsize firms: He works for a $2.6 billion company. In other words, he can afford to be a little choosey. 

Bigger Challenges for Smaller Firms

Richard Yanke, EVP and CIO of Seacoast National Bank in Stuart, Fla., says he’s having a hard time competing against larger banks for IT workers because big companies can afford to pay the wages qualified candidates are demanding. “There are more jobs than there are qualified people, and the qualified people you’re able to make contact with or interview want tremendous salaries,” says Yanke.  

Yanke, whose IT staff currently numbers 10, has been trying to fill two positions for eight months. He says filling those jobs is taking a long time because of the “white-hot labor market” in sunny Florida and because completing four major systems conversions took precedence over hiring in 2006. “In an ideal world it would take less than a month to fill [each job], and that would include interviews, background checks, and negotiating of salaries and benefits.”     

In spite of the tough competition for skilled IT workers in Florida, Yanke is not inclined to streamline his hiring process. “I will not sacrifice the reputation of this organization to make a quick hire just for the sake of filling a slot,” he says. 

What he will change are the perks and benefits he offers to prospective employees. Enticing candidates with an extra week of vacation or the opportunity for them to work from home has helped him recruit IT staff. He also occasionally makes changes to job specs. For example, if a candidate wants more or fewer direct reports, he’ll accommodate that request to bring someone on board. He’s also promised six-month reviews to candidates for whom a mid-year evaluation was important. Says Yanke, “You don’t have to offer [a major league baseball] salary to get a person; you just need to be creative.”   

In getting creative, it turns out, Yanke is more in touch with the demands of the labor market today than are many other employers. According to Spherion’s research, most employers don’t understand what the labor force really wants out of a job. “Employees want flexible work schedules,” says Spherion VP Brendan Courtney. “They’re willing to trade compensation for flexible work time, for working from home, for casual work environments and career development opportunities.”  

So if you’re not ready to renounce the personality tests, you will have to negotiate with prospective employees on other fronts if you want to keep them interested. After all, it’s an employee’s market again, in case you hadn’t noticed.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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