A new approach in luring top tech talent: a streamlined hiring process

Partnering with human resources can help IT managers find better qualified candidates

Free snacks and on-site video games may help companies attract skilled IT workers, but speeding up the hiring cycle is also important. Drawn-out employee searches frustrate IT managers and prompt good candidates to accept jobs elsewhere.

Increased corporate IT investment and the technology industry's low unemployment rate have created a candidate-driven market, so companies need to streamline the recruitment process if they want to get their hands on the best IT pros available.

"The unemployment for technical jobs in most of our markets is a lower rate than the general unemployment rate," said Victor Gaines, vice president of talent acquisition at Fiserv, which provides financial services technology to banks, retailers and investment firms, among other clients. "Folks who have technical skill sets are finding jobs at a faster rate and they're staying at those jobs [longer] than perhaps some other skill sets."

Fiserv, which has offices in top technology markets including Silicon Valley and Austin, Texas, has found that other companies are courting the same IT workers they're looking to hire.

"We end up in situations with candidates with competing offers, which is great for the workforce but it's tough for us to manage," he said.

Jack Cullen, president of IT staffing firm Modis, offered a blunt assessment of the U.S. IT hiring process: "Managers that are hiring IT talent, they're pickier than ever and they're hurting themselves." Talented workers may have multiple job offers, he added, so slow and overly selective employers will lose their top choices.

IT job website Dice.com placed the U.S. technology industry's unemployment rate at 2.7 percent in 2014's first quarter, compared to an overall U.S. unemployment rate of 6.7 percent.

The need for technology workers isn't limited to the U.S., said Duncan Williamson, vice president of education at SAP, whose territory covers the Asia-Pacific region.

"The challenge out there is there just isn't enough talent to fill the jobs," he said of employers looking for people who have experience with SAP's ERP (enterprise resource planning) software.

And when positions stay open companies lose out.

"When we don't have that job filled, we're impacting the business because we're not able to devote the number of resources to the product or the service that we need to," Gaines said.

A protracted hiring process also works against a company. Managers begin to lose "a little bit of momentum" if the process extends for too long, said Gaines.

Decisive and assertive IT hiring managers will get the best talent, said Cullen. Because lengthy hiring cycles might cause candidates to lose interest and look for other opportunities, this can leave businesses with applicants who may be less qualified than their top choice, he said.

"You've got to sell your opportunity if you feel that this person might be a fit," he said. "You've got to start going for the jugular in the interview process to gain them."

Cullen partly attributes the selective IT hiring process to more cautious corporate spending.

Before the recession, "IT budgets were pretty expansive and managers would hire maybe more people than they needed. Today, every dollar is accounted for, timelines for projects are very tight, there's less of a budget to do the hiring."

Additionally, the recruitment process requires conversations between hiring managers, human resource staff and recruiters about all the skills a person needs to be successful. Vendor management software and other applications that scan resumes for keywords can overlook a role's essential skills, he said. An algorithm may not understand that a company wants a Java developer who can solve business problems and interact with clients, not just someone who can code.

"All these factors are so important and if they're not taking place at the inception that's where it really breaks down," Cullen said.

Receiving applicants that aren't right forces managers to conduct their own screening process, which adds another layer -- and time -- to the hiring process.

"Your mind starts ruling out rather than ruling in people," said Cullen.

A better scenario, he said, would allow the IT hiring manager to directly tell human resources and recruiters the specific technical and soft skills and cultural fit that the role requires.

At Fiserv, the human resources department works with IT to help managers better define a job's required and preferred skills. Getting managers to hone in on a candidate's necessary background helps recruiters better understand what type of person the business needs and allows them to identify the right people up front.

"There are some managers who really need to get in the thick of it and start interviewing candidates before they have that moment when they say 'I thought I need these five things, but now I only need three of those, but there's another piece I need instead," said Gaines.

Defining a job's vital skills before the talent search starts can avoid looking for an IT worker who may not exist, said Gaines. For instance, finding a Windows engineer who is a technical project manager and .Net expert would prove challenging, he said.

"When you start stacking those pieces together that creates somebody who can be a little bit of a purple squirrel for us."

By delivering quality candidates, human resources proves its credibility, he said.

Human resources can offer a perspective beyond what technology background a job requires, Williamson said. IT departments are "very often blind to other aspects of an individual which is going to determine whether they're going to be successful in the organization," Williamson said.

"We've seen people who are technically competent but struggle because they may not have the soft skills or they may just not have the corporate fit," he said.

Given the need for technology workers, employers shouldn't rule out people who aren't a total match, said Ray Lowrey, CIO of McGraw-Hill Education. Some skills can be learned, he said, and employers should talk to potential employees on how they can close the gap.

"I've seen several situations where during the initial interview it may come across that there is a gap that can't be managed," he said. "But you recognize that the individual is very talented. Look at things a little bit deeper, start laying out a 90-day plan as far as how would you address things and at that point the risk is manageable."

Williamson pointed out that many companies have training programs where employees can learn soft skills.

"A lot of the IT organizations have very strong methodologies, cultures, an approach that they want to instill on the people they hire and part of that is around soft skills," he said. "If you can find somebody who has the technical abilities, you'll put them through the [training] machine in your organization to get the soft skills."

Fred O'Connor writes about IT careers and health IT for The IDG News Service. Follow Fred on Twitter at @fredjoconnor. Fred's e-mail address is fred_o'connor@idg.com

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