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Seven Strategies for Attracting and Retaining Top IT Talent

Seven Strategies for Attracting and Retaining Top IT Talent

Adopting these tactics for attracting and keeping the cream of the crop will help you become a better leader and a more sought-after candidate for the top IT jobs

Wouldn't it be great to start the new year armed with award-winning IT organizations' best practices for attracting and retaining top talent? If your answer isn't a resounding yes, consider this your wake-up call. According to Business 2.0 magazine, for every two baby boomers who retire in the next decade, there will only be one college grad to take their place. "The challenge [for IT managers] is going to be getting candidates in the door and hanging onto them," says former Northwestern Mutual Life VP of IT Phil Zwieg, given what he calls the "abysmal" enrolment in college IT programs.

The IT departments that effectively support and enable their companies in the next decade will be — pure and simple — the ones that have enough of the best people. Those that fall behind will do so because they underestimated the competitiveness of what many economists predict to be the most intensive war for talent in the history of business.

Over the next decade, your career will hinge on your ability to attract and retain top-notch IT professionals. Your success in doing so carries an additional bonus: It helps you stand out as a top candidate for IT management opportunities down the road. Below are seven tactics for winning the talent war.

1.Go for it! Winning the war for talent requires pursuing the best and the brightest with relentless determination. "Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking we're just interviewing people, and they have to sell us [on themselves]," says Bob Prosen, author of the book Kiss Theory Good Bye. In truth, you need to sell prospective candidates — especially the hottest ones — on your organization.

Todd Lunsford, the CIO of Quicken Loans, says his senior executives aren't shy about personally following up with top prospects. After all, nothing makes an impression on a candidate like getting a personal call from the employer's top brass. "I've had the CEO or chairman contact people if we [IT managers] feel we haven't done a good enough job of selling them on our culture," he says. The devotion of Quicken Loans' senior executives to pursuing top talent is one reason why the company's offer acceptance rates are so high, at 80 percent.

2.Offer challenging work that matters Sonja Nelson, who built world-class software development teams for BMC and Neon Enterprise Software, knows what it takes to court the industry's best. After all, she's hired more than a hundred of them in her multi-decade career. "If they're really talented, there's no point in giving them ordinary, day-to-day work," she notes. "They want to be the architects, not the bricklayers." So don't wait until your best people have left to find out they were bored. Challenge them with important initiatives. Then watch them rise to the occasion.

At Northwestern Mutual, former VP of IT Zwieg created a resource centre focused on employee development and feedback. One of its primary purposes was to match the department's needs with the projects his IT employees most enjoyed working on. This model helped Zwieg's IT group land in the top 20 on US Computerworld's Best Places to Work in IT list, and resulted in a flurry of qualified employee referrals.

Providing a challenging work environment has an additional benefit: When you do lose good workers, it increases the chances of them returning, especially if their new job doesn't measure up to their old one. That was the case for at least one IT worker who left PCL Construction only to return six months later, according to Brian Ranger, the Canada-based company's general manager of systems and technology. Ranger says the employee sought his previous job because he wasn't growing as much in the world of consulting as he was at PCL.

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