by Martha Heller

The Seven Deadly Sins of IT Recruiting

Mar 12, 20086 mins
IT Leadership

Creating a first-class information technology team means knowing how to avoid the top seven recruiting mistakes

As a CIO, you need a solid IT team to help you realize your strategic goals, make you look good in front of your peers, and allow you to focus on the most strategic elements of your job. Without a good team in place, especially at the leadership level, you will have a tough time moving up in the organization.

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From my vantage point as a recruiter who works with CIOs to build their bench, many of you are on top of your game. Your hiring practices are sound and your searches are fast, efficient and successful. Yet some of you get in your own way despite a strong desire to hire the best.

In your honor, I have compiled a list of the seven biggest sins you can make when recruiting senior-level IT talent. Follow these, and stagnate in your current role. Turn them on their head, and enjoy the fruits of a first-class team.

Recruiting sin #1: Assume your hiring committee will conduct a great interview.

Candidate interviews are tricky. They are part skills evaluation, part relationship building, and part selling the company and the role. I have had candidates tell me, “Each person I met with had a different perception of this position. I don’t think they really know what they want.” Or, “The interview was fine, but there is nothing really compelling about the company or the role.”

Recruiting fix: Sit down with your interview team prior to interviews to make sure you are all on the same page about the role. Remind them that their job is to sell the company and the position as well as to evaluate candidates. “A big part of my interview is convincing the candidate that this a good place to work with the right mix of challenge and stability and career growth potential,” says John Ulen, CIO of K. Hovnian Homes. “I coach my team to do the same.”

Recruiting sin #2: Take too long to make a decision.

Joe and Larry and Sue and Kate still have to give you feedback on your two finalists, but they’re involved in this major project and then Larry goes on vacation. And you expect your candidates to wait a few more weeks. Can your recruiter keep them warm? I have seen companies engage in a protracted decision-making process and lose their best candidate to a competing offer.

Recruiting fix: Give your interview team deadlines for delivering feedback, and stay on top of HR during the offer process. Even better, automate an interview feedback process so that your hiring committee can submit feedback wherever they are. The faster you can deliver an offer, the sooner you can hire a stellar candidate.

Recruiting sin #3: Hire by consensus.

Your new head of delivery services will have to work well with the infrastructure team. Ditto for the development leaders, the finance exes and the sales organization. It makes sense that these teams meet your finalists. But many CIOs go too far and look for total consensus on a hiring decision.

Recruiting fix: “While it is smart to ask a number of different people to interview your applicants, you should do that as a final step, once you’ve decided on your finalists,” says Jeff Chasney, CIO of CKE Restaurants. “Don’t give decision-making authority to a committee,” he says. “Democracy doesn’t work in hiring.”

Recruiting sin #4: Keep spec changes from your recruiters.

When you make progress on finding a candidate or your needs change, your search partners need to know. Put yourself in their shoes: Imagine you came up with a technology-based solution for a line of business leader based on agreements you’d made. But when you present the application your team has built, the line of business leader says: “Oh, we actually solved the problem ourselves. Can you help us with something else?” When you fail to communicate spec changes to your search partner, you are engaging in the same bad behavior.

Recruiting fix: When you send your recruiter out to find a PMO leader and you discover an internal candidate for the role, for example, communicate the development with your recruiter as early as possible so that she can change course and stay on your original time line.

Recruiting sin #5: Set a strict compensation limit.

As with gold and gasoline, the market sets the price when it comes to talent. If you want to hire a VP of Global Applications who has managed 172 people across 23 countries supporting 15,000 users, the market may well set the base compensation at $200K. If you have only $150K to spend, you will have to either change your budget or change your expectations.

Recruiting fix: If you cannot afford the candidate you want, see how creative you can get with sign-on bonuses, options, or benefits. Or consider a high-potential “step up” candidate.

Recruiting sin #6: Rely on HR generalists.

Your HR organization is responsible for payroll, benefits, training and employee relations. In all fairness, how can you expect them to prioritize your chief architect search? What kind of training have they had to recognize technical talent? What kind of resources do they have to conduct the kind of strategic, proactive, targeted networking that your IT organization deserves?

Recruiting fix: Hire an experienced recruiter who reports directly into IT. Alternatively, appoint someone on your staff to partner with HR in recruiting and résumé review. Or consider joining forces with an external recruiter whom you treat as a long-term strategic partner.

Recruiting sin #7: Ignore the candidate once she’s signed her letter.

There is a dark scary period that occurs between the candidate’s acceptance of your offer and her start date when any number of things can go awry. Her current employer seduces her with a juicy counter offer. She grows frustrated when her outreach to your HR department goes unanswered. Her family has cold feet about relocating. She cannot sell her home.

Recruiting fix: A good recruiter will hold a candidate’s hand through resignation and counter offer. He will also encourage you to reach out to your candidate during the dark period as well. And if you’re going it alone, be sure to check in with your new hire and remind her what a good move she is making.

Martha Heller is managing director of the IT Leadership Practice at ZRG, an executive recruiting firm in Boston. Reach her at