Is It Time to Hire?

By Dave Willmer

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Business is starting to pick up, and demand is growing within your IT department. But signs of a sustained economic turnaround are still somewhat murky and, despite the need for new staff, you’re not yet convinced it’s time to hire. After all, you had to lay off workers when the recession hit and you don’t want to be forced down this path again if promising conditions suddenly change.

Many companies in the same situation are beginning to cautiously add staff. The latest Robert Half Technology IT Hiring Index and Skills Report marked the third consecutive quarter of increased plans to add staff. Most (81 percent) technology executives surveyed said they are very or somewhat confident in their organization’s growth prospects in the third quarter. Many factors may be pushing some firms to begin recruiting again. For example:

It may be impossible to take on new IT projects simply because there aren’t enough employees to manage them. In fact, 64 percent of CIOs we polled said under staffing interferes at least somewhat with their ability to implement innovative or emerging technologies.

Determining hiring needs

If any of these situations sound familiar, it may be time to add headcount. Yet, before you take steps to hire, it’s worth evaluating your staffing situation carefully.

Here’s how:

Don’t hire on autopilot - Be careful about automatically filling vacancies. The needs of your team may have changed since a job was last open. Look at key business and departmental goals to determine what qualities might be lacking in your group. In some cases, it may make sense to restructure an empty role or hire in a different area instead.

Look at the long term - Do you have a need for a particular skill set for the foreseeable future? For instance, if your firm is launching a new product or service and will need to create a corresponding website, you will likely need full-time web talent to handle the immediate and ongoing demands.

Consider available talent - With a large pool of skilled job seekers still in the employment market, you may be able to attract top IT professionals you couldn’t in the past. The additional expertise these individuals offer could give your firm a competitive edge. Even if you don’t have an immediate need for a full-time worker, making a strategic hire now -- before the best talent is recruited by other firms -- could have long-term benefits for your firm.

Remain flexible - If you can’t predict your department’s needs over the course of the year, or you’re unsure about your organization’s continued expansion, it may be better to bring in contract IT professionals. That way, you can easily and cost-effectively staff up or down as needed. Using interim personnel also can be beneficial in helping core employees keep up with workload spikes caused by new projects or unforeseen absences.

Ask for staff input - Your team is on the front lines and may recognize hiring needs that aren’t readily apparent to you. Their feedback is valuable whether you’re about to search for full-time talent or bring in contract IT professionals. For instance, you may feel your group would benefit from having another middle manager to oversee key projects, while your employees might recommend more staff-level personnel who can handle growing daily demands. Listen to their opinions and be willing to shift your approach.

Staying on track

Keep in mind that the best staffing strategies are those that are assessed and updated regularly; not those that are developed at the last minute when a hiring need becomes pressing. By evaluating your personnel situation periodically, you can start to see early signs of skills and knowledge gaps in your team and changes in business goals. This will enable you to develop a thoughtful plan as to whether you need interim or full-time staff to fill the void.

As the economy improves further, the way you handle hiring will become all the more critical. Companies that leave their teams understaffed and overworked are more likely to face retention challenges. Firms that put together their recruitment plans hastily may also make more mistakes when adding staff. A thorough assessment may take more time but can help ensure you make the right decisions making you more confident that you are ready to hire.

Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multi-platform systems integration to network security and technical support. The company has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services.