2011 and the Looming War for IT Talent

By John Reed

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While the high unemployment rate might suggest it’s easy to find skilled applicants today, that’s not always the case with technology professionals. In fact, according to the Robert Half Technology IT Hiring Index and Skills Report for the first quarter of 2011, 54 percent of CIOs said it is very or somewhat challenging to find skilled IT professionals.

At the same time, hiring activity is increasing, leading to more competition among companies and growing concerns about retention. CIOs polled for the same report cited a net 8 percent increase in hiring in the first quarter. That is five points above the previous quarter’s forecast and three points above the national average projected for all professions.

The war for IT talent is on … are you ready?

Here are recruitment strategies to help you compete:

Avoid putting all of your eggs in one basket - If you post an employment ad and expect to be inundated with resumes from ideal applicants, you may be surprised at the outcome. Relying solely on one source for candidates may yield a lot of resumes, but not always ones from individuals who meet your requirements.

To find the best contenders in an increasingly competitive market, you need to broaden the scope of your search. Spread the word of your search through your professional and personal network, use social media, and turn to specialized staffing firms.

Also offer referral bonuses to employees, as they aren’t likely to risk damaging their own reputations by recommending people who won’t be successful if hired. These avenues may help you learn of promising candidates, including individuals who may not be actively looking for employment but who might be receptive to learning more about your job opportunity.

Reassess compensation levels - Chances are, if your company is like many, salary levels have not increased significantly (or at all) for quite some time. This may have been fine when the Great Recession was at its worst, but now that conditions are picking up, you may need to re-evaluate pay policies.

If you plan to recruit, you want your compensation package to be comparable or even slightly better than what your competitors pay so you can attract top talent. It’s not uncommon for people to walk away from job offers because the salary is too low, particularly if their skill sets are in demand.

Competitive compensation can be critical to retaining your employees, too. Read association reports, government data and salary surveys such as the annualSalary Guide from Robert Half Technology to make sure you are on track.

Streamline the screening process - If you’re looking for a Web designer who’s a pro with CSS, PHP and Java -- and who also has strong communication skills -- you’ll be joining many other companies in the search. Competition can be tight for individuals with in-demand abilities and experience.

So, make sure your screening process isn’t too drawn out. A candidate who has to endure multiple rounds of interviews at your firm may have already accepted an offer from another organization by the time you’re ready to extend yours. Streamline as much possible. For instance, have top contenders meet with middle managers and potential colleagues at the same appointment to avoid delay in your decision making.

Market your firm as an employer of choice - The best candidates will be attending interviews with the goal of not only impressing you but also determining whether your company is the right one for them. Top IT professionals may be meeting with other firms, so you want your organization to stand out.

Make sure your job ad and interview discussions highlight the primary benefits of joining your team, such as access to the latest technologies, a flexible work schedule and an impressive health plan. Also consider whether your company website adequately markets your firm as a top employer and whether there is positive buzz about your organization on sites like Yelp and Twitter. These can make a difference in candidate perceptions.

Don’t forget retention - Keep in mind, too, that it’s equally important to think about your retention strategies. What are you doing to ensure your existing staff are satisfied and loyal, especially those individuals with the most sought-after skills? Google recently gave every employee a 10 percent raise; in part to deter them from joining other expanding firms.

Even if you can’t afford similar measures, make sure you’re tuned in to what matters to your team. Talk to your staff to find out what benefits they’d like to see added or enhanced and consider confidential surveys to generate candid feedback on ways your company can improve. Then follow through with actions that will help make your firm more attractive as an employer.

One of the easiest steps you can take is to show an active interest in the professional growth of your employees. Consider implementing a mentoring program if you don’t already have one and discuss potential career paths in the firm with your staff. Be as specific as possible to show you’re serious, as people may feel that promotions and other recognition are long overdue.

Also offer access to training programs or provide tuition reimbursement for external options. The more you demonstrate to your IT team that you care about their future with your organization, the more likely they are to want to stay.

John Reed is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multiplatform systems integration to network security and technical support. The company has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.rht.com. For additional career advice, follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/roberthalftech.