IT hiring: 4 things you're doing wrong (and how to fix them)

IT organizations may be their own worst enemies when it comes to effective strategies for sourcing, screening and hiring IT talent.

Hiring 60 new Java programmers in a year is a challenge for almost any IT organization, but it's a near Herculean task when your company is based in the Midwest rather than the heart of Silicon Valley.

Undeterred, Orbitz, the travel site, tried out-of-the-box methods such as attending and hosting Meetup events and deploying talent-sourcing software to help meet its ambitious recruitment targets.

With only 40 Java programmers hired by the end of 2014, the company did fall short of its goals, but it had managed to fill two-thirds of the open positions and was better-positioned to meet future hiring requirements.

"Hiring is one of those things that won't go away," says Aishah Belin, a sourcing recruiter at Orbitz, headquartered in Chicago. "We can never get caught up because we're growing so fast. But we're now trending positive, and next year, we are in a much better position to hit that 60[-hire] goal."

The so-called IT talent crunch may be a source of hot debate, but there's no disputing that companies like Orbitz are increasingly struggling to find qualified candidates, particularly in red-hot skills areas like mobile development, Web programming and advanced analytics.

Companies typically blame the skills shortage for their hiring woes, but at least some experts suggest that IT organizations may be getting in their own way when it comes to effective strategies for sourcing, screening and hiring IT talent.

Scott Whisman Jack Henry & Associates Courtsey photo

Scott Whisman, who often hires programmers and IT staffers as part of his position at Jack Henry & Associates, says some IT shops have raised their requirements so high, they're creating their own talent shortage. 

"In general, hiring restrictions and talent shortages are very industry-specific. Often the hiring challenges are really self-induced," says Scott Whisman, general manager, corporate services at Jack Henry & Associates, a provider of IT services to the banking industry.

Computerworld asked Whisman and several other hiring managers and IT recruiters to identify missteps that IT shops routinely make that can have a negative impact on sourcing new talent. Here are four hiring mistakes -- and details about how to avoid them.

Mistake #1: Holding out for the perfect candidate

Locking in on the one perfect candidate -- the so-called "purple squirrel syndrome" -- is a mistake IT organizations routinely commit when searching for talent, industry watchers say.

"While there may be the perception of a 'talent crisis,' I think a lot of hiring managers are simply raising their expectations and requirements," says Whisman, who hires programmers and other IT staffers as part of his responsibilities. "They want someone who can become an immediate contributor to productivity"-- all well and good, except that strategy overlooks candidates who will shine once they've been properly onboarded and trained.

Given the near-constant pace of technological change, it's the rare candidate that has a complete, up-to-date skill set. Nevertheless, many IT organizations can't see past what's highlighted on a resume or matches a pre-defined keyword search, undervaluing a candidate's business acumen, initiative or potential for continuous learning -- all vital attributes over the long term.

"It's not just that there's a shortage of talent, it may be that the talent isn't as bleeding edge as a company was hoping for," says Kristen Lamoreaux, president and CEO of Lamoreaux Search, a permanent placement search firm specializing in IT. "There's a wrongful expectation that everyone in IT is up to speed on every aspect of technology, and people are held in a negative light if they're not. I have clients asking for candidates with seven years of experience in Hadoop, but there is no such thing."

At Jack Henry, being flexible about geographic location has improved its efforts to find and hire highly qualified talent, according to Whisman. "The connectivity and communications technologies we use allow a much greater degree of workplace flexibility than ever before," he explains. Hiring managers that once would have insisted that candidates work on-site are now willing to forgo that checkbox. "As a result, we're able to attract a larger group of qualified candidates from around the country."

Mistake #2: Taking a one-size-fits-all approach to hiring

Not every IT position is alike, which means recruitment tactics need to vary depending on what role is being sourced. Sounds simple enough, but surprisingly, many companies settle for a standard menu of hiring practices regardless of whether they're looking for a senior IT manager or a DevOps engineer.

"Organizations don't always use the right medium and don't leverage enough channels for their search," notes Jason Hayman, research director at TEKSystems, a provider of IT staffing and talent management services. "You need to think about the types of skill sets you are looking to attract and where you need to go to find them. You are going to need a different strategy to find a security analyst with 20 years of experience compared to a help desk support staffer."

A generic job board site or social media channel like LinkedIn might help attract a viable help desk technician, but those resources are typically far less effective for finding a veteran security analyst. "You've got to use multiple channels and the right channels depending on the type of skill set you are looking for," says Hayman.

At Avnet, a distributor of electronics technology, targeted recruiting is the name of the game, according to Brian Chan, vice president of IT. "With the technology industry changing so rapidly, we're looking for people who want to continue to learn and adapt skills for different areas. It's a longer-term view of talent," explains Chan. "We're firing on all cylinders to attract talent in two or three generations."

In addition to posting job openings on its internal website as well as on sites like LinkedIn, Dice.com and Monster.com, Avnet employs both in-house hiring teams and outside IT recruiters to flush out candidates.

Along with these traditional methods, Avnet juggles a variety of other hiring activities. To draw millennial workers, the company launches social media campaigns on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter; sends representatives to university and veterans job fairs; and maintains an active internship program.

To attract more seasoned IT veterans, Avnet sponsors an employee referral program and hosts and attends formal networking events.

And to drum up skilled candidates for new areas like Big Data, Chan regularly blogs and presents on the topic, all promoted with social media, to position Avnet as a pioneer in this space, which aids in attracting fresh talent.

Avnet hires about 75 to 100 IT professionals globally every year, and Chan says the multi-pronged strategy has enabled his group to fill nearly all of its open positions.

Mistake #3: Bypassing the pool of passive job seekers

IT workers who are gainfully employed and not actively looking are a rich source of talent -- that is, if you can find them. A recent TEKsystems report shows that some eight out of 10 IT professionals surveyed, or 81% of respondents, said they would entertain a new job opportunity even when happily employed and not actively seeking employment.

To tap into this wealth of talent, IT organizations need a formal strategy for courting passive job candidates. For some, like Avnet's Chan, that takes the form of continuous networking and engagement to keep relationships warm so there is opportunity for recruitment when the need is hot.

Chan and his top managers rely on networking events, job boards, chapter events and internal referrals to make these connections while the company's outside recruiting team mines for specialized talent in online groups such as SAP Network, Cloud Computing Group, and Data Storage Professionals, Chan says.

In Colorado, the Governor's Office of IT recently brought on a director of talent acquisition to broaden its pool of candidates and attract not only the right skills, but also the right attitude, seeking candidates who value a chance to leverage technology to impact society rather than focusing on a big paycheck, explains Suma Nallapati, Secretary of Technology and CIO for the state.

Suma Nallapati CIO State of Colorado Courtsey photo

In seeking to build a pipeline of IT talent, the State of Colorado is targeting passive candidates and recently hired a director of talent acquistion, says CIO Suma Nallapati. 

"We used to just post a position on the government website, and whoever applied, applied, but we weren't getting as broad an audience as we'd like," Nallapati explains. "We are also looking at more sourcing of passive candidates. We want to start building up the talent pipeline so we can fill jobs on a much more proactive and fast-paced basis."

There are a number of new technologies that can help organizations dig out good candidates who may not be actively looking. Remarkable Hire, TalentBin, Entelo and Gild are among a growing number of software tools that leverage data mining techniques and proprietary algorithms to canvass social media and communities such as GitHub to find and objectively evaluate candidates that might be beyond the reach of standard recruiting methods.

Orbitz is one company mashing up traditional recruitment tactics with these newer strategies to keep the candidate pipeline flush with both passive and active job seekers, Belin says. Gild, in particular, shows a lot of promise in discovering candidates who fly under the radar and may not be looking.

"We are getting access to more Java developers that may not post public profiles or have an active profile on LinkedIn, but who are active in the open-source community," Belin says. "We can get a feel for whether a candidate is a good fit for Orbitz without reaching out to them and asking if they have the skills. It helps with the weeding-out process."

Mistake #4: Neglecting to look within

Sometimes the best candidate is sitting right under your nose -- or close by in another department or division, depending on a company's size. IT organizations have a bad habit of turning too quickly to outside sources to fill an open position, tech managers admit. Moreover, IT departments typically don't focus enough energy on formalizing innovative programs to court and train internal candidates in the business of IT.

That's not the case at Avnet, which runs a number of programs, including what it calls "The CIO Challenge," to suss out IT-proficient job candidates from all corners of the organization, which employs 6,200 workers worldwide.

Interested employees, IT or otherwise, have an opportunity to come up with innovative ideas for IT projects and promote them to gain funding; Avnet also hosts mentoring programs to keep the technical team up-to-date on skills so it avoids having to look outside in the open market, Chan says.

"The best way to address the talent crunch is to keep the current talent you have," Chan continues. "It limits the number of open positions you have, and it helps retain and engage your current staffers."

SunTrust Bank sponsors similar internal programs, including its RISE "hackathon" and Innovation Fridays designed to get people across the bank, not just in IT, focused on innovation and technology initiatives, according to Kathy Kay, the bank's senior vice president of application services.

The last hackathon attracted 51 teams comprising 350 people across the bank. "It created relationships with people we didn't know had those capabilities, and it also got the business to see potential opportunity for people by moving into IT," Kay explains. Because the event is new, SunTrust hasn't yet made an actual hire or promotion from its newly identified contacts, but Kay is happy that employees are now in the queue for when the need arises.

Gamma-Dynacare Medical Laboratories also takes internal development very seriously as a means to source IT talent. Given the breadth of technology skills it's seeking and its requirement for IT staffers to have a solid knowledge of healthcare, it can take months to find the right candidate externally, says CIO Daniela Crivianu-Gaita. "People are in such a rush they think they don't have time to invest in someone internally -- they want to find someone to jump in right away," she says.

"The problem is if you go outside, it takes six to nine months to find the resource. You are better off taking that same amount of time to find and train an internal person who may have the business acumen, but not the technical skills."

This story, "IT hiring: 4 things you're doing wrong (and how to fix them)" was originally published by Computerworld.

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