Winning the Technology Talent War: A Manager's Guide to Recruiting

Winning the Technology Talent War: A Manager's Guide to Recruiting

Book Description:

The nationwide labour shortage has reached crisis stage in the Information Technology industry, making effective employee recruitment and selection a strategic business issue for all large organisations - not just an IT manager's problem anymore. Winning the Technology Talent War shows companies how to aggressively but selectively recruit technology workers, develop their skills once they're on the job - and, just as critical, keep them happy so they don't leave.

Written by two Fortune 50 recruitment specialists, the guidebook provides techniques for creating a positive first impression through the recruiting pages on your company's website, finding candidates through employee networking, and wooing candidates with financial and non-financial incentives.


Overcoming the Odds

The odds are one in two, the experts say, that U.S. companies that create new IT positions won't be able to fill them. And one in 12 that U.S. companies won't be able to restaff IT positions that fall vacant. Against those odds, how do companies hang on to the IT workers they already have, let alone staff up their IS departments when strategic business needs demand it?

Time, resources and commitment are key to finding and keeping high-tech talent, say the two recruitment specialists who wrote Winning the Technology Talent War. So are imagination, persistence and companies' willingness to market themselves aggressively. The 15 marketing tactics discussed in this excerpt from Chapter 1 can be used by even the smallest companies to overcome the odds when they are recruiting IT workers.

There was a time, not so long ago, when technical executives never said the word marketing without adding the word fluff. Those days are over. The best product on the planet doesn't stand a chance if it isn't marketed aggressively and well. Vacancies on your IT staff are no different.

Filling these positions calls for more than a fat address book and a good eye for talent. Recruiting and retention efforts that fail to incorporate four basic marketing principles simply don't stand a chance. Nobody will buy from you (that is, work for you) until you: get their attention, establish your credibility, prove the value of what you're offering and ask for the sale in no uncertain terms. This means your job is to promote your company or department, and the opportunities within it, as diligently as marketing people promote their brand. This doesn't have to cost a fortune, and you don't need a bevy of consultants to make it happen. What you do need is imagination and persistence.

What if nobody knows your name? According to Mike Strong, director of global staffing at E-Trade, "We have a backlog of applicants for every position, so we believe we can fill a job slot and get another person working within days of a turnover." Lucky guy. How come E-Trade can pick and choose while other companies are digging under rocks for talent? In a word: marketing. The better known your company or department is beyond its own four walls, the easier it is to recruit good people. Certainly, it helps to be an e-commerce powerhouse with a multimillion dollar advertising budget. But the issue here is one of scale, not approach. A five-person IT department in a small Midwestern town can apply the same principles that work well for the rich and famous.

If your company has a strong brand, is an industry leader and understands the value of marketing, you're miles ahead. If you don't already have these advantages, employ as many of the tactics below as you can. It's easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission, and you need all the help you can get.

Refuse to Be Pigeonholed

You can't build a talent pipeline unless you get out of the office. Literally. Why? Because you need to see with your own eyes what's out there.

How can you do this if you're in a small company or a department with limited resources? No matter how big, small, resource-rich or impoverished your situation, you can use this tactic successfully. Like so many marketing and networking techniques, this has nothing to do with money and everything to do with opening the lines of communication between you and the rest of the world. Go where people are. Become visible, audible and recognisable, and do this in person, not through job posting boards or broadcast e-mails. People need to know first-hand that you're looking for talent.

Move Your Fishhook

If you're constantly competing for talent (and losing) against bigger, better-known companies in your own city, find another fishing hole. Focus on smaller cities a four- to eight-hour drive away, where you'll uncover ambitious candidates who see your bigger-city location as a good career move.

Prepare well for these recruiting trips. Advertise in advance in the destination city, and make this a fun, informal event. Rent a reception room, put on some music and serve snacks. The whole idea is to show people what your company has to offer in a casual, no-pressure setting.

How can you do this if you're in a small company or a department with limited resources? Scale everything back. You can adapt aspects of this idea and still see results. Local libraries and schools offer free meeting rooms for community events, and letting a user group, trade association or civic organisation know you're coming to town is an effective way to get the word out.

Show Up in Surprising Places

In Seattle and San Francisco, the competition for IT talent is so fierce that employers and headhunters have become ingenious marketers simply to survive. They purchase ads on pizza boxes, sponsor rock concerts and distribute promotional literature with the tickets, and put recruiters on the beach in Florida's Panama City and Daytona during spring break. Far-fetched, yes, but brilliant guerrilla tactics.

How can you do this if you're in a small company or a department with limited resources? These techniques work because they're imaginative, not because they cost a lot of money. The magic word here is creativity. If you don't feel particularly creative yourself, pull together a group of co-workers for a brainstorming session. Challenge yourselves to come up with 100 non-traditional ways to get the word out about openings at your company. You'll leave the session with at least 20 good ideas you can put to work immediately - guaranteed.

Reward Referrals

Rewarding employees who refer successful job candidates is standard procedure for most forward-looking companies. If you're not doing it, better reconsider. Most rewards are monetary, and US$ 1,000 bonuses are pretty typical. But time off is often more prized than money. Consider a hybrid incentive for referring employees: a cash bonus plus a week off with pay. Your department or company's situation will dictate which makes more business sense.

Another effective twist on referral reward programs is to include vendors and friends of the company. Your suppliers have ongoing contact with a talent pool that you'll never reach as easily as they can. Granted, you must think carefully here. You don't want to put vendors in a compromising position with other clients (nobody wants to buy from somebody who's raiding their staff), and corporate policy prevents some from accepting referral fees.

How can you do this if you're in a small company or a department with limited resources? Skip cash bonuses altogether and reward referrals exclusively with time off. If you consistently run shorthanded, and your people work long hours on a regular basis, the gift of time is priceless. Don't be stingy here. A person's absence for a day, a week or even a couple of weeks will not bring your whole operation to a halt.

Make Your Recruiting and Retention Efforts Newsworthy Several years ago the Atlanta Business Chronicle wrote about a software company whose employee benefit package included company-leased BMWs for everybody. What seemed to be an incredibly extravagant gesture actually made financial sense, put the company front and center among potential employees, and spoke volumes about how serious the company was about attracting and retaining talent.

You don't need to spring for BMWs across the board to catch the press's attention. When you do something truly innovative, leverage it. E-mail or phone a business reporter and ask if he or she is interested in writing about it.

You may be thinking, "No way! We're not publicising our secrets for the competition!" Guess what? The competitors know what you're doing anyway - and if they don't, they'll certainly figure it out. With positive media coverage, you'll get exposure to potential employees you'd never reach any other way and earn public recognition as an innovator.

Publish an Internal Manifesto

What lights up your IT people? What do they stand for? Why do they stay? When the CIO of a Tulsa, Okla., company faced the daunting task of hiring 700 technical professionals within nine months for a massive reengineering project, one of the first things he did was produce a manifesto - a blunt, no-holds-barred document describing the culture he intended to build. When job applicants saw this, along with a companion document titled "Is This Opportunity Right for You?" they knew right away whether this was a place where they wanted to work. You'll find the more clearly you can express the character of your organisation, and the more distinctive that character is, the more attractive you'll become to job seekers. Most important, you'll attract applicants whose values and drive match your own.

How can you do this if you're in a small company or a department with limited resources? This idea costs absolutely nothing (unless you count the billable hours you and your people will spend writing the document).

Find Out Where Your Staff Hangs Out

Sounds obvious, doesn't it? But it's amazing how few managers actually do this. What radio stations do your IT people listen to? What local papers do they read? Where do they buy pizza, CDs, coffee? Where do they grab a beer and rent their videos? Find out. These are ideal venues for guerrilla marketing tactics.

What Relationships Can You Develop with Technical Training Companies?

Hundreds of providers offer training for Microsoft, Oracle, Novell, Java and Cisco certification, and they're all looking for a competitive edge to attract students. Since those prospective students want better jobs the moment they earn their certification - and you've got jobs to fill - there's a natural connection here. No, you can't guarantee a job, or even an interview, for most of them. But you can explore an arrangement with the training company that gives you the first look at each crop of graduates, no strings attached.

There are pitfalls in this scenario. No ethical training company will give you first crack at newly minted Microsoft certified systems engineers whose certification was paid for by another employer. But career-changers and new entrants to the workforce are usually fair game, and when you see them first, you get first pick.

Join Trade Associations and Be an Active Member No matter how small or how large your company or your department, this is one of the best ways to build a talent referral network. Simply joining won't do the trick, however. You must be an active, vocal, involved member to get your money's worth. Volunteering for a committee - marketing, community outreach or the job bank - delivers the quickest returns, but only if you follow through on all commitments you make.

Don't Burn Bridges, Build Them

The concept is simple. Stay in contact with former employees and make them feel they still have a place in your organisation. When job-hoppers discover the grass isn't greener elsewhere, many will ask to return if they know they will be welcomed. When they do, you won't find a more loyal worker. Experienced contributors who understand your culture and your business are invaluable. If and when they go, make sure they understand the door is still open.

Repeat the Message Everywhere but the Bathroom Wall This particular trick is so easy, and so foolproof, that you'd use it even if you had a hundred qualified applicants for every opening. Just add a line to your e-mail signature block that tells the world your company's a great place to work.

The wording can range from a direct call to action (Ask me about working with ABC) to something more subtle (ABC: the best place to build an IT career). The more people participate in this effort, the better it works.

Follow Up Faithfully, and Don't Delegate This to HR Companies that assume the relationship's over when they decide not to extend a job offer (or when the candidate turns the offer down) miss a huge marketing opportunity. Handled well, the relationship can actually be strengthened at this point to produce invaluable long-term benefits for both parties.

Think about the best and the worst job-hunting experiences you've ever had. Now imagine what the last person you interviewed is saying about your company right now. Glowing endorsement? Lukewarm? Downright negative? Applicants in the first camp are superb advocates, and they're particularly credible because they're not even on the payroll. It is impossible to calculate how much good - and how much damage - former candidates and applicants can do to your reputation as an employer.

Earning their goodwill is not difficult. All it takes is common courtesy, faithfully applied. Send a handwritten follow-up note to everyone you interview. The underlying message is that you understand the value of the other person's time and appreciate their spending some of it with you. This is a powerful compliment and a gracious gesture few people will ever forget. Apply this practice across the board: candidates you rejected, candidates who rejected you and those who are undecided. Do not assume someone else will handle this, and don't delegate the task.

No Recruiting Brochure? Produce One Now.

Virtually every Fortune 100 company uses recruiting brochures, but they're scarce in smaller organisations. That's too bad, because there's real value in a marketing piece targeted specifically to potential employees. The mere fact that it exists says, "Recruiting good people is so important to us that we make a special effort to tell our story professionally." A well-written brochure guarantees that every applicant gets a consistent view of your company.

Your recruiting brochure doesn't have to be an expensive four-color extravaganza. Keep it simple, keep it short, and keep it honest. Brief quotes from employees about why they chose to work there, a high-level description of your benefits package and a quick overview of your company's industry, history and reason for being are the basics; everything beyond that is up to you. Don't gush and don't oversell.

If you're telling yourself you can get by without a recruiting brochure because your corporate brochure does the trick, or you expect applicants to get everything they need from your website, think again. Making your corporate brochure do double-duty is like using the same business letter for every situation - it doesn't work for anybody but the sender. And don't expect the Web to completely replace ink-on-paper any time soon.

How can you do this if you're in a small company or a department with limited resources?

Forget the graphic designer and copywriter. Sit down at your keyboard and make a list of your company's tangible benefits (health club membership, health insurance, family snow days) and intangible benefits (casual dress every day, walking distance to the park). Ask a few colleagues what they like best about working for your company, and capture their comments on paper. Print it all out on letterhead and put contact information in a visible place on every page. Simple as it is, you've produced something that 98 percent of your competitors don't have.

Every T-shirt's a Bulletin Board

One of the most painless ways to make your company or IT department more visible is to sponsor a kids' soccer team, Corporate Challenge runners, a bowling league or a softball team. Don't scoff at the impact a good-sized logo (with your URL, of course) can have on the back of a T-shirt. You'll never find a harder-working advertisement for under US$ 10.

Make Your Website Earn Its Keep

If you do nothing else, you must put time and effort into this. Eighty-seven percent of business-to-business buyers search the Web before they contact a company for product or service information, and informed job seekers behave the same way. They'll judge your company based upon what they see on the Internet, so make sure the experience works in your favour.

Reprinted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Cos.

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