The job market — always competitive — now is bordering on cutthroat, as novice and experienced IT professionals alike vie for coveted spots on corporate tech teams.
But thankfully, there’s a silver lining. The growing need for companies to streamline processes and leverage their existing inventories could spell an influx in consulting work, which is good news for Vieo Consulting Group, a small start-up consultancy that caters to businesses in the health care and manufacturing industries.
For example, the company, which is focused on the Midwest region, is working on projects involving business continuity within an IT environment, as well as disaster-recovery planning, said Norman Alesi, president of Vieo. For this reason, Vieo looks to hire seasoned IT professionals with a solid business background.
“We need people with a full breadth of experience with data-center infrastructure: the network infrastructure, the server infrastructure, the databases, security, software practices, etc.,” Alesi said. “As a small community here at Vieo, we’re hiring mostly people who have many of these qualifications coming in. [But] I anticipate as we’re growing, we will definitely have a need to bring in people that we’ll have to train more so than we do today.”
The company’s organizational hierarchy consists of consultants, senior consultants, project managers and practice managers who “have actually a business focus with an IT background,” Alesi said.
What constitutes a good IT background? A degree is a must, and a smattering of both vendor-neutral and vendor-specific certifications is desirable.
“The foundation is the business background, and then [based on] certifications, we have people being plugged and played into various roles,” Alesi said. “A senior consultant would typically have a variety of certifications, and then a more junior consultant would have some and perhaps not even any — and those we would be developing with them.
“Being a strategy consultant, we try to maintain a vendor-neutral position,” he continued. “[But] once [a client] has an affinity for a certain vendor platform, somebody having a specific vendor certification can be helpful, as well.”
Certain industry-specific certifications also come in handy, he said.
“As an example, in health care, we have consultants that are Certified HIPAA Security Professionals (CHSP), so our clients are aware then that our people understand all the complexities of HIPAA [the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] and the requirements within health care,” he said.
However, honed technical capabilities aren’t the only skills necessary to be a successful IT consultant. A candidate also must exhibit strong nontechnical skills. Alesi said there are three main kinds of nontechnical skills Vieo looks for in a potential hire: soft skills, project management skills and industry knowledge.
On the most basic level, soft skills refer to the ability to work well with others.
“As a consultant, everyone needs to have the ability to communicate and listen well, first and foremost,” Alesi said. “So you have to have the interactive capabilities to be able to both learn from the situations that exist and to ask the pertinent questions that allow you to make recommendations.”
Project management skills refer to the ability to oversee both simple and complex projects and allocate work while adhering to relevant deadlines such as time, budget and technical objectives.
The third element of the nontechnical skills package is industry knowledge, Alesi said.
“As consultants, our clients love to know that we’re familiar with their industry and with their processes so that they don’t feel as though they have to train us on those processes when we’re coming in to an engagement,” he said.
Speaking of training, once employees have been hired on at Vieo, the company is more focused on providing them with opportunities for continuing education than on sending them to complete degrees.
“The training that we’re doing typically is enhancement of their certification capabilities,” Alesi said.
The hiring process at Vieo is undeniably rigorous. It’s a two-step procedure, the first involving a strict interview screening process with a third party.
“I put a high value on hiring right the first time,” Alesi said. “We’re very focused on maintaining a very tight-knit culture here. We partner with a recruiting firm, and they actually do a personality screening [and] all the soft skills questioning and interviewing.”
The company worked with the recruiting firm to develop a personality profile for each available position, and candidates are given the resulting 40-question test to determine whether they’d be a good fit for both the culture and the position.
If a candidate is deemed to be a good personality fit, he or she is brought in to meet with Alesi and his team. They conduct a standard face-to-face interview to determine whether the candidate has the appropriate business background and technical skills to perform the job.
“We typically have two different people interviewing,” Alesi said. “One is asking about backgrounds, situations and experience, really to validate that business background and to make sure that they understand the processes involved in that industry setting. And then the other person is validating much of the technical requirements of the job.”
Once an individual is hired on at Vieo, Alesi said the career path is pretty straightforward — not necessarily rife with advancement opportunities but providing a lot of diverse and interesting work.
“Many of the people that we’re engaged with here, our associates, are really looking for a place that they can get a lot of variety in their job,” he said. “These are people who enjoy different atmospheres and getting into different client environments. Not many of them in our small community here are looking for a lot of career-path escalation.
“We really only have a thin structure here, [with] consultants, senior consultants and practice managers. And the practice managers are running really a practice within an industry vertical. So in comparison to a Big 5 firm, where there’s a lot of structure and a lot of bureaucracy, we’re a more open environment, a more team environment. We work together without a lot of bureaucracy and layers.”
This kind of environment also is conducive to working with subcontractors, Alesi said. Since many of the professionals he’s seeking are at a point in their careers where they’d prefer to work independently on a contract basis, he always is looking for opportunities to partner with them.
“What I’ve been finding is a lot of those people are happy to be independent, and given today’s business environment, there’s no reason to mandate that [businesses] use their own people,” he said. “The new economy is one where people just want to make sure that your organization is going to back the work that they’re doing, and the resources you’re using for the projects are as broad as the network you’re able to bring to the table. There seem to be very highly qualified people out there working independently and willing to work on projects when you need them. So our clients have no issues with us bringing in a subcontractor.”
If you’re a candidate hoping to get work at a small consulting firm such as Vieo, one of the most effective ways to get your resume seen is by making use of your professional contacts, Alesi said.
“What we’ve been able to do is use a strong network of people who have [gotten a feel for our culture] to draw upon their network and draw other people in,” he said.
And given today’s economic climate, it’s even more important for a candidate to make use of all his resources to land the job.
“I have a number of resumes coming in weekly for people with strong credentials,” Alesi said. “I’m lucky to say there are more people at the moment that are highly qualified in the market than I am able to employ.”
- Agatha Gilmore, email@example.com