How do you attract and retain high-tech talent?

Here are some ideas you haven’t heard before, and tried-and-true ones with a new twist.

Word of mouth
This is perhaps the number-one tool in any high-tech recruiter’s arsenal. Alcatel gets 39 per cent of its new hires through referrals. That’s likely due in large part to the fact that they pay $3,000 to $8,000 to employees whose referrals are hired. Referred people tend to stay around longer because they arrive with a greater awareness of the company’s corporate culture. Since the inception of the referral system six months ago, the company has seen retention of new recruits improve dramatically — in fact, none have left.

Alumni program
Alcatel tracks high-tech workers who have left the company and sends them periodic messages about how well the company is doing. Starting this month, each one will receive e-mails about stock prices, successes and general company information. Carolyn Gill, recruitment manager at Alcatel, is hoping this “subtle message” will bring the workers back to the fold.

Give them what they want. Stock options. And lots of money. “I got three raises and about six bonuses this year,” says one engineer at a large high-tech firm in Ottawa.

Don’t try to be hip
“There is a distinct difference between what’s corporate and what’s cool,” says Bruce Linton of WebHancer. At 33, he respects the fact that he’s probably worlds apart from the coolest employees on his payroll. He doesn’t try to give them “corporatewear” that he thinks is cool because he knows it won’t hit the mark. “They don’t golf. They don’t want a golf shirt… ‘Thank you, that’s a lovely (piece of clothing), I’ll give it to my dad.’”

Respect their knowledge
“You’re hiring people for their brains; let them use them,” says Linton. If you’re not giving them some slack to exploit their own talent, “then you’re overpaying typists.”

Include them
Create a structure that allows for inclusion of their ideas in the overall plans of the company. It’s not that you have to change the goals, but you should allow the employees to contribute to the ways in which you achieve those goals.

Monthly reviews
Everything in the high-tech world is compressed. Slow becomes fast; fast becomes faster. It makes sense to do quarterly or monthly reviews rather than annual reviews. Everything is “really, really, really contracted,” says Linton. Twelve months is way too long to find out how you’ve been doing.

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