How to Recruit and Retain the Best IT Workers

By Joe Peters

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In today's global economy, with the explosion of electronic commerce and the ability to build relationships via the Internet, the IT professional's role arguably has become one of the most important functions to any successful business organization. So important, in fact, that the U.S. Department of Labor and Bureau Labor Statistics predicts the IT industry to be one of the fastest-growing sectors by 2010.

However, until the need for these professionals catches up with its future (both monetarily and logistically), most managers will continue to grapple with the dilemma of how to recruit and retain workers today. Charged now with the daunting task of keeping production levels up while holding employee spending down, managers have begun to recognize that traditional salary and benefits packages just aren't feasible in today's stagnant economy.

Yet, there is hope for managers looking to attract the best because, as luck would have it, salary and benefits aren't what drive today's IT workers anyway. In fact, in a recent KPMG survey it was revealed that for the first time "community quality-of-life factors" are leading criteria when selecting where to work, outstripping stock options, other economic benefits and even company stability (all of which have been longtime priorities for workers) as key criteria.

"Unlike generations of American workers before them, today's [IT] workers are choosing where to live and work based heavily on lifestyle considerations," says writer Paul Van Slambrouck in a recent Christian Science Monitor article ("Lifestyle Drives Today's Workers"). "This emerging trend runs counter to the stereotype of technology workers as work-obsessed and driven only by a gold-rush mentality."

Quality-of-life issues are not new concepts in the workplace, especially since Gen X entered the workforce. But according to experts, it seems to be especially important to today's IT professionals, who many say are adding a kick to the trend.

So how can you ensure that you are attracting and retaining the same, or better, candidates than your competitors? We suggest a variety of steps that will help you increase your recruitment and retention rates without decreasing your bottom line.

Determine Your Corporate Culture

The first thing you need to determine is what kind of work environment you envision for your employees and if you can realistically provide this to them.

Many companies may want a laissez-faire atmosphere, but in reality this may not work for their type of organization. That's why it's important to set your corporate goals and then decide if they can be reached with your proposed plan.

Maybe you can't afford to give half-day Fridays, but you may be able to allow some professionals to work from home. Very few companies have the luxury of being able to provide employees with all the "perks" they seek, but if you're willing to work with them you may just find the perfect work/life balance that everyone is happy with.

Conceptualize Your Perfect Candidate

Once you've decided what kind of working environment you want to set for your employees, you should determine what kind of employee fits into this culture and will best help you meet your business objectives.

This not only ensures a positive corporate culture to keep existing employees happy, but also helps attract potential workers by depicting a team-oriented atmosphere which, according to recent reports, is an important element in any job function for today's job seekers.

To find the candidate that best fits your organization, you first need to know what kind of employee you are looking for. To do so, make a list of all the credentials you would like your employee to possess and then a list of the personality characteristics he or she should have to succeed in the job. Once you have the picture of your ideal candidate, the rest of the work is easy -- if you know how to read between the lines.

For example, if you're seeking a laid-back candidate, take a look at his or her previous positions. Was he or she with a small dot-com where creativity is encouraged, or was it with a Fortune 500 company where strict guidelines would be the norm?

Hobbies and organizations also are a great way to read someone's personality. Is he or she involved in a lot of activities, maybe indicating an outgoing person? Or do he or she tend to shy away from these things? Of course, you really won't know for sure what a candidate is really like until you meet him or her. But these few tricks will help you weed through the plethora of resumes.

Know How to 'Sell' Your Business

Making your organization as attractive to your candidates as it is for your customers is the best step you can take to recruit qualified workers. Today's employees value pride and integrity, so tell them what your company has to offer. Is your organization a highly respected member of the business community or has it won awards that show its success rate?

Published news articles and word-of-mouth are also great sources for reinforcing your company's image in the mind of the applicant. What are people really saying about you and, more importantly, what are your employees saying?

These things, while they may seem menial, are very important to workers. In fact, many have stated that they'd rather take a pay cut and work with a reputable company than make more money with a questionable organization.

Knowing who you are, what you are willing to give and what you want from an employee are the three most essential steps for staying competitive in today's labor market. Providing a work-life balance while ensuring that goals are met not only gives you a highly qualified workforce, but a happy one.

Joe Peters, who has more than 14 years' experience in the technology and staffing business, has been president and CEO of Scientific Search since 2001. For more information about Scientific Search visit www.scientificsearch.com.