3 Reasons CIOs Must Lose Hiring Perfection Goggles

Got open IT job slots? Holding out for Mr. or Ms. Absolutely, Completely, Utterly Right is likely to backfire. Here's how to get real and get hiring.

Tracy Cashman, SVP & Partner, WinterWyman

September 30, 2014

7 Min Read

10 IT Job Interview Phrases To Make You Run

10 IT Job Interview Phrases To Make You Run

10 IT Job Interview Phrases To Make You Run(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Tech hiring is about to heat up significantly, say reports from Dice.com, InformationWeek's new Skills Crunch Survey, and my overflowing inbox. There's a dearth of qualified candidates and too many posts to fill. Competition for top talent is fierce, and some organizations search for months or even a year to find that perfect employee. But at what cost?

In the past, as markets improved and demand increased, I saw organizations become more flexible with their hiring. They interviewed and ultimately selected candidates who could check off most of the boxes. However, during this market recovery, that lowering of the bar has not occurred. Employers are stubbornly sticking to their stringent "must have" lists. Marketable (usually employed) candidates can afford to be selective in this environment. Employers cannot, at least without leaving gaping holes in their work forces.

Refusing to remove the hiring perfection goggles is a short-sighted strategy.

Many times, the missing piece from a prospective employee's resume is a technical skill, yet these skills can be taught, often in a few weeks' time on the job or with an intensive course. In many instances, companies are looking at their open positions and realizing that the "pretty good" person they interviewed and rejected months ago could have been up to speed and contributing now. Instead, she's working for a competitor. And the slot is still open.

What gives? Why are hiring managers and company leaders holding on to unnecessarily (and unrealistically) strict requirements? There are three main reasons. See if any of these sound familiar.

1. You made some hiring mistakes in the past and are afraid of repeating those blunders. However, strategically loosening requirements doesn't mean taking just any warm body to fill a seat. If a candidate is properly vetted for smarts and the ability to learn quickly -- and is a good fit for the organization -- he could become your dream candidate with just a little training.

2. You don't have an accurate view of the market. Companies hear about unemployment numbers and global uncertainty and figure they're in the catbird seat. But in reality, while the overall economy is improving slowly, the tech space is exploding. And stats show that the unemployment rate for people with four-year degrees is hovering below 4%.

3. You believe you don't have the bandwidth to train new people. Current staff is flat out and can't take the time, and training courses can be expensive. You'd rather have someone else absorb that cost. Well, there is a price tag attached to training and development, but what is the cost of keeping a position vacant? Look at the ROI. For example, a company may be looking for a developer to complete a website overhaul. In the months that the position remains unfilled, how many customers and, more importantly, how much revenue will be lost because of a subpar site?

It's time for a reality check. Tech hiring managers can no longer afford to be persnickety. As recently as five years ago, companies could have their pick of prospective employees who met rigorous hiring standards. Positions were filled in a snap. The market has shifted, and hiring managers must adjust or be willing to pay the consequences. An unwillingness to loosen requirements doesn't just cause hiring problems; it also produces an unsavory side effect: disgruntled current employees. You know, the people working 50 hours a week and not taking vacation as they pick up the slack for the empty positions.

Make no mistake, they're overburdened with work and will stick it out for only so long before their morale plummets. They realize it is a competitive market, and they figure they can find a job somewhere else -- where they'll be appreciated. This retention issue is not to be taken lightly. I have seen clients go from one open position to three in a matter of months. If you're having trouble filling one position, it's certainly not going to be any easier to hire three people.

Leaving positions open for too long can also hurt a company's brand and reputation. It's like a house that's sat on the market for six months. At one local company, a director-level position had gone unfilled for a year and a half. Many candidates wouldn't even interview, assuming something was wrong with the role or that the firm had unrealistic expectations.

You may think you come off as discerning when you wait to hire, but if you let that go on too long, candidates see an impossible-to-please employer.

So it's time to pry off those goggles and hire. How?

1. Hire on personality: Is the candidate a good fit for the organization and culture? Is he or she eager to learn? Does he have a strong technical and experience base? Has she demonstrated in the past that she can learn on the job? What do his or her references say? Trash the idea of screening candidates based on a keyword search of a particular technology. Instead, look at the total package.

2. Seriously consider development: Employers may balk at shelling out money to train a prospective employee on a technical skill required for the job. But what's the current situation? Is the work not getting done? Are current employees expected to pick up the slack? Or, worse, is the organization paying consultants to do it? Consultants' fees are typically double the cost of paying an in-house employee. Participating in training not only gets a new employee ready for work, but it is also a great recruitment and retention strategy if prospects and employees see the company investing in their careers and futures.

3. Look within and backfill: Instead of trying to find a perfect fit from the outside, grow your own. Promote internally by training people who have almost all the skills needed for the job. Then hire for the lower-level job. Again, this strategy improves morale (employees love to see internal room for growth) and takes the burden off others more quickly. This person also won't need the rampup time to get familiar with the company and culture.

4. Sell yourself: Many organizations are still in the mindset that offering a job is enough. That's so 2009. In this competitive market, hiring managers need to treat potential candidates like a precious commodity (they are). How can you highlight your strengths? What does your organization offer employees that others don't? Hiring managers need to determine why their company, opportunities, and environment are better and communicate that to prospects. That coveted DevOps engineer needs to be wooed.

5. Look to the future: Even with the best marketing and hiring strategies, this is still a tight market. Think creatively about the long-term STEM shortage, and establish strategies for growing and recruiting talent. Where are you going to find your people now and in the future? What are some nontraditional strategies you can use? Some companies are successfully partnering with colleges that offer co-op programs for students. By hosting students within an organization, employees can get to know them and train them in accordance with the company's standards. Often, these interns come back for full-time work after graduation. Other nonprofit programs work to teach young people technical and business skills. Year Up is one such program that's designed to provide training, skills development, and college credit to low-income young adults. Partnering with these nonprofit groups opens your doors to tomorrow's employees. It is also a testament to the company's mission to give back -- an important criterion on many Millennials' perfect job list.

In this competitive market, hiring managers and company leaders must realize that only through a broader and more long-term approach to recruiting, interviewing, and hiring candidates, and investing in the development of employees, can they continue to grow.

If the world wasn't changing, we might continue to view IT purely as a service organization, and ITSM might be the most important focus for IT leaders. But it's not, it isn't and it won't be -- at least not in its present form. Get the Research: Beyond IT Service Management report today (free registration required).

About the Author(s)

Tracy Cashman

SVP & Partner, WinterWyman

Tracy Cashman is a Senior Vice President and Partner in the Information Technology Search practice of WinterWyman, one of the largest recruitment firms in the Northeast. Tracy has deep relationships in the Boston-area tech community and regularly provides job seeker advice via boston.com. Contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @tcashwoman.

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