It’s all in the pitch

Yes, non-tech firms can compete successfully in the high-tech hiring game.

It’s no longer news. Organizations across the country are crying out for skilled information technology resources while demand continues to outstrip supply.

Nationwide, the shortfall has been estimated at no fewer than 20,000 unfilled jobs, a figure the Information Technology Association of Canada predicts will swell to 50,000 within a few years. Massive technology requirements worldwide, competitive hiring and global brain drain are just a few of the factors that have contributed to the crunch situation within the IT hiring arena.

With this ever-increasing demand, salaries are escalating and the technology workforce continues to be highly mobile. IT professionals are changing jobs every 18 months on average. Hiring managers everywhere are experiencing the full effects of the pressure. All the while, media attention focuses sharply on the massive appeal of dot-com start-ups, stock options and high-tech bullpens equipped with video arcades, leaving the distinct impression that only the newest technology firms and their well-established, brand-name counterparts are among the elite few who are winning the battle for top IT talent.

Seems logical, doesn’t it? Professionals with the best skills naturally want to be at the centre of where it all happens. This is true. But these days, the notion that only technology companies are implementing leading-edge systems and offering the really “cool” jobs is, simply put, a myth.
From manufacturing to mining, from farming to finance, businesses everywhere are relying more heavily than ever before on technology to gain and maintain competitive advantage. E-business initiatives are at the forefront across practically all industries. Right now, high-tech workers can often find the same exciting, challenging opportunities with a bank as they can in a Web development firm. And the bank may offer preferred mortgage rates to boot.

Review hiring strategy

When looking to improve the hiring process, examine the recruitment mix within the organization. Are all candidate sources being considered? Depending on the size and budget of the organization, it is wise to incorporate a wide variety of recruitment vehicles in order to secure needed resources. These include contract consulting firms, search firms, campus recruitment, Internet-based recruiting, newspaper advertising, employee referrals, career fairs and more.

Next, review all points of contact, including your advertising, your Web site and your corporate materials. Consider developing marketing material targeted specifically to job seekers. By always putting its best face forward into the community, your firm will develop a reputation, not only as a top-notch supplier of products or services, but also as a great place to work.

The key to successful hiring for any organization, high-tech or not, is quite simple. Map the features and benefits of available opportunities to the needs of IT professionals seeking employment. Among these diverse, sometimes complex needs, money is rarely the sole consideration despite rising salary scales.

High-tech professionals tend to place high value on effective management, recognition of accomplishments, and opportunities for personal development and ongoing training. They are also more inclined to remain with employers who consistently offer learning opportunities and new challenges in addition to a positive working environment. The bottom line is, never presuppose what someone is looking for. All IT professionals have their hot buttons, which can further include anything from site location to work environment or the culture of the organization.

Think about it. The Java expert who is also a fitness buff might find an in-house gym facility very appealing. Free or subsidized day care could be the deciding factor for the C++ guru who happens to be a single parent. The network administrator looking to advance to systems engineer may jump at the opportunity to join a firm that pays for additional certification. And the list goes on.

As a result, hiring managers must do all they can to “sell” given opportunities to high quality candidates. While most would not consider themselves salespeople, selling is really about determining needs and meeting them. Everyone involved in the hiring process must delve deep to find out what each person wants from her work life. Important factors could include the role itself, training opportunities, income, location, availability of flex hours and more. Once these needs are uncovered, hiring managers must consider all of the features and benefits of both the role and the organization and sell, sell, sell.

At the same time, it is important to understand the difference between “nice-to-haves” and the essentials necessary for a satisfying work experience. Definitely highlight the fact that workers come to the office in jeans and have access to game rooms and espresso bars steps from their desktops, if these are offered. But realize that work environment alone is not enough.

Most technology professionals are far more excited about the opportunity to do interesting, challenging work than they are about pool tables and free specialty coffee.

By gathering a complete picture of the candidate’s needs, the aspects of the organization and the role that addresses these needs can then be highlighted. But how can these be uncovered effectively? For this purpose, the interview is critical, yet this is where many organizations fall short.

The interview process

Productivity pressures are high. Each IT worker must be carefully selected for skills, team fit, adaptability and long-term viability. The very best candidates are those who have the analytical aptitude to perform current tasks, the flexibility to learn new technologies as required, and personalities that will help build and enhance the organization’s culture. Naturally, interviews tend to focus on the critical assessment of each candidate’s experience and abilities.

But in addition to asking the necessary questions about an individual’s background and technical skills, it is also important to place up-front emphasis on candidates’ requirements and preferences. Establish a good rapport with the candidate and create an okay-to-talk environment. Ask open-ended questions that will encourage thought-out, detailed responses. Take the time to understand what this individual appreciated and disliked about previous roles and work experiences.

Over and above the actual content of responses during an interview, special attention should be paid to the style with which candidates answer questions. Early placement of information and copious detail may spell keen interest in the subject matter. Lack of eye contact may indicate discomfort with a topic area. Although little may be assumed from these factors alone, an interviewer may be able to see patterns of thought, personality or preferences that may continue throughout the interview.

Adding to the pressures, is the fact that many firms have dozens of different mangers conducting interviews, each with his or her own unique style, organizational knowledge, sales proficiency and interpersonal skills, yet little or no formal interview training. As the magnitude of these factors expands, organizations need to actively improve their interviewing processes to yield the best results.

IT and HR must recruit together

If IT managers are interviewing candidates, provide them with training so they are not only capable of assessing quality, but also uncovering candidates’ needs and positioning the opportunity and company to map to those needs. On the other hand, if members of the HR team are conducting interviews, even if only for initial screening purposes, make sure they are familiar with the roles and technologies that are critical to the success of the organization. This is a great example of where both departments can work together for maximum leverage.

Once an interview is complete, the organization must face an additional moment of truth. Just to add to the fun, the process must also be speedy. Not only are top candidates typically evaluating multiple opportunities, but the best organizations are able to turn around written offers within one business day.

If your post-interview followup takes days, that individual may well have accepted another position elsewhere before the ink dries on your offer letter. Don’t lose out on a great candidate due to lagging internal processes. Be prepared to make an offer immediately if the situation calls for it.

The most desirable employers are not always tech firms. But the best organizations are continuously fine-tuning their hiring practices to ensure that they maintain a team of intelligent, flexible, team-oriented workers. A well-structured interviewing process, a strong and positive corporate culture and the ability to rapidly turn around sound hiring decisions are critical components in effectively competing for knowledge workers.

Dianne King is president of CNC Global Limited, a Canadian information technology and e-commerce staffing firm. She can be reached at [email protected].

To read the full story, login below.

Not a subscriber?

Start your subscription today!