Hiring Top IT Talent: Four Tips for CIOs

By Maruf Ahmed  |  Posted 08-30-2011

While the U.S. economy may be sending mixed signals about the strength of its recovery, the always competitive market for top IT talent shows signs of becoming more competitive -- increasing the challenges for decision-makers looking to fill important IT vacancies.

CareerBuilder.com's 2011 Mid-Year Job Forecast -- based on a survey of 2,600 hiring managers and human resource professionals across a range of industries -- found 21 percent of companies expecting to hire new IT employees in the second half of this year. IT was the second strongest category of projected job growth, behind customer service (23 percent) and ahead of sales (20 percent). Altogether, 47 percent of companies surveyed expected to be hiring new employees.

There is tremendous need for qualified IT talent today. Specialized skills in areas such as site management, network design, storage area networks, virtualization and, of course, cloud computing, are in high demand. And, as always, people with great experience are hard to find.

Competing in this seller's market for IT talent requires knowing how to identify the qualifications you really need and making your organization the one that the best people want to work for. Here are four tips for conducting a successful IT talent search.

  1. Develop a clear job description that aligns requirements with your IT future. The first thing you need to do to attract and hire the best talent is to develop a job description. This should show candidates the position's duties and responsibilities, as well as the role this position will play in helping your organization address its core IT and business challenges. Of course, you'll need to identify and include the skills and experience required to do the job. Equally important: Knowing where you want your organization to go. That means looking for candidates with skills in the technologies that relate to your goals -- and avoiding job requirements that don't support your needs. For example, if you've determined that cloud computing is not in your organization's future, there's no reason to include cloud experience in the job description.

  2. Provide training and opportunities to develop the talent you need. Training programs and opportunities to continually learn are important contributors to growth. Offering on-site certification programs or supporting staff attendance at off-site seminars, workshops or user group meetings builds the talents of your existing team and shows prospective new hires that you are committed to helping them realize their full potential. Not only does this make your company a more attractive organization for top talent, it increases the likelihood that they'll stay.

  3. Find smart people. The corollary to providing your employees with training opportunities is knowing how to identify candidates who show a history of maximizing the opportunities presented them. Resumes and interview answers should demonstrate how candidates have grown and developed their own capabilities. Have they acquired certifications? Have they joined and become meaningful contributors to user groups? Have they shown an ability to grasp new things and then to share what they know through presentations and papers? You're looking for an intangible combination of actual experience, promise and potential. This is especially important for positions that will involve new or emerging technologies.

  4. Look for problem-solvers. The ability to solve business problems is becoming an important qualification for an IT professional as the role of IT shifts to exploring how technology helps the organization do business, rather than how IT simply delivers technology. You're not looking for someone who has already solved your exact business challenges -- and, after all, many of your challenges have yet to present themselves. What you want is someone who presents a reasonable, open-minded and enthusiastic approach to problem-solving. Realizing there is no right or wrong answer, ask how a candidate would approach a particular real or hypothetical problem. (If the problem is one that you're currently facing, I would add here that of course you're not looking for a free solution.)

In every economy, top IT talent will always be in demand and in limited supply. By clarifying the positions you need to fill, offering both challenge and growth, looking for broad-based problem-solving abilities rather than one-dimensional technical know-how, and being ready to act when the right candidate is within your grasp, you can build the IT team that will carry your organization into the future.

About the author

Maruf Ahmed is President of DISYS, an ISO 9001:2008-certified IT staffing and consulting company headquartered in McLean, VA.