Recruiting, Hiring and Retaining Good IT Talent

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Despite the downturn in IT spending, the IT field is still one of the most competitive areas in today’s job market. No other career path has seen the same explosive growth that IT has experienced over the past 10 years. During this time, the IT manager’s top challenges were finding enough qualified individuals to fill all the open IT jobs, training them and keeping them from going someplace else. Though the times have changed, IT managers’ challenges haven’t. Instead of a lack of resumes, there’s an overabundance, with some employers reporting that they receive more than 1,000 resumes a day for each new job posting. The challenge exacerbates quickly in having to sift through all these resumes to find the qualified candidates. (Another challenge reported by managers is receiving resumes from completely unqualified candidates who disregard the job requirements, resulting in an inflated number of resumes received each day.) In these times of wage freezes, reduced head count and evaporated training budgets, retaining good employees remains the most important part of an IT manager’s job. In this month’s column, we’ll take a look at some strategies that might ease the burden in this labor market. If you’re not an IT manager yet, don’t worry. This article is worth your time. When it’s time for your next review (regardless of frozen wages), you may be able to negotiate some of these perks until wage increases are re-enabled. Recruiting Turnover is a fact of life for any IT manager, which means you should always be in recruiting mode, especially for high-turnover positions like help-desk technicians. We’ve found that the most effective way to recruit for these positions is to recruit from within the IT department, other areas within the company or by asking current employees for referrals. There’s a lot to be said for hiring from within and hiring based on recommendations. The first benefit is that you may already be familiar with the performance level of existing employees, whether in your department or outside. Though current managers may not like that they will have to recruit for replacements, your manager peers will usually be upfront and honest in their assessment of their employees for other areas. Besides knowing how great a worker the candidate is, you get the added benefit of hiring someone who has adjusted to the corporate culture and will ultimately be more productive faster. There’s an added bonus associated with internal hires—increased morale and commitment not only from the employee who’s been hired, but also from his peers as they see your decision as a demonstration of providing career pathing and rewarding employee loyalty. There are times, though, when recruiting from within may not be the appropriate route to take. For instance, when your department is migrating to a new technology platform, you may not have the luxury of training the entire existing staff to meet your deadlines. In this situation, you may have no alternative but to seek out candidates from outside the company. What should you do then? Employee referrals should again top your list. Recommendations are very powerful. Recommendations offer insight into a candidate’s ability, what other’s think of the candidate and their assessment of whether this person would fit in with the company culture. It will also shorten the time it takes to sift through resumes. You also might want to consider your own peers within other organizations. They may have had a similar recent recruiting need and have a list of top-notch candidates. According to industry research firm Gartner, by using these methods you’ll be tapping into the most successful recruiting methods around. This list includes employee referral programs, contractors-to-hire, internal promotions and internal lateral moves. With all this being said, don’t forget to reward successful employee referrals. That’s a sure-fire way to keep them coming. Hiring Now that you’ve lined them up at the door, the tough job comes in: the time-consuming practice of interviewing candidates. Here’s a word of advice to managers, particularly young managers: If you’re going to invest the time to meet with each of these candidates, you should also invest the time to prepare for the interview, creating a quality experience for both you and the job candidate. This includes the following:

  • Read the candidate’s resume before the candidate arrives.
  • Jot down notes and questions to bring up based on the candidate’s resume.
  • Line up additional interviewers prior to the candidate arriving at your office and ensure that they have copies of the candidate’s resume so that they too can prepare.
  • Have the candidate arrive a little early so that she can fill out any employment applications prior to meeting with you. Better yet, for maximum time efficiency, send out the application before the interview and ask the candidate to have it completed before arriving.
  • Schedule enough time to meet with the candidate so that another meeting will not interrupt you.

There are additional strategies that will increase your effectiveness at interviewing, while reducing the amount of time it takes to select a quality candidate:

  • Use screening tools like assessment exams to help identify quality candidates. Brainbench.com offers job-based exams that can help you narrow down your selection. (A word of caution: Don’t just go for the top 10 candidates. You don’t want to miss out on a terrific programmer who may be a not-so-good test-taker.)
  • Use a skills checklist to quantify a candidate’s knowledge based on your interview questions. A sample checklist is included in Table 1.
  • Compile a list of standard questions you use when interviewing candidates for specific positions. This makes a dramatic difference in your preparedness if your day is meeting-meeting-interview-meeting.
  • Coach your subordinates in how to interview and have them participate in the hiring process.
  • Have your paperwork in order. That includes official job description, offer letter and orientation package. Why waste time once you’ve identified the right candidate? Get them started fast!

Retaining In my opinion, the biggest challenge for any IT manager lies in the retention of their best IT staff. No IT department can function optimally if it is turning over staff. The knowledge lost as a result of losing the top performers will cripple uptime, customer service and the ability to get anything new implemented. Though it’s human nature to feel betrayed whenever a key employee tells you that he has found another job, it’s important that your first reaction be one of empathy instead of harshness. Take the time to find out what issues the employee may have with you, your department or the company that would have caused him to feel disgruntled, disillusioned or dissatisfied enough to seek out new employment. IT workers are interesting employees. In general, they are not motivated by financial gain, though being paid a fair salary is important to them. Several surveys by leading publications have shown that what truly motivates IT employees is:

  • A challenging technical environment where they have the opportunity to work with leading technology and learn new skills.
  • Career development through career pathing, mentoring and opportunities to grow within the organization.
  • Learning and training to ensure that their skills remain top-notch.
  • People-oriented managers who remember that life is not just 1s and 0s and that all these other things really do matter.

An IT manager’s job is a stressful one. The best way to address retention is to ensure that you have the measures in place to help you keep an eye on employee satisfaction so that you can prevent your top workers from walking out your door. Try thes

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