IT recruiting: 8 creative strategies that work

You can't offer $10,000 signing bonuses? You're not alone. Try these approaches to lure IT talent
1072 readers like this.
CIO_Talent War_1

The competition for business-savvy IT talent has never been greater, given the importance of technology to competitive advantage. CIOs are getting more creative in their attempts to recruit IT candidates. They’ve gotten so creative, in fact, that recruiting firm Robert Half Technology recently shared some extreme measures IT leaders have adopted to attract IT hires, from $10,000 signing bonuses and promises of complete schedule flexibility to guaranteed fast-track promotions and company cars. (And if that's not enough, check out the approach to unusual benefits: Pay for employee weddings. ) 

CIOs seeking somewhat less radical methods of mining for talent can consider incorporating these eight strategies:

1. Groom more apprentices

To appeal to millennial candidates and beyond, IT must target them early and offer real career opportunities, says Julia Davis, senior vice president and CIO of Aflac. The insurer offers accelerated 10-week IT internship programs that provide current college students with a hands-on experience collaborating with each other and IT leaders on real projects, while receiving valuable career guidance – as well as a two-year IT apprenticeship for select internship graduates and others. Apprentices rotate through various IT positions every few months.

“Ultimately, this program helps to fill areas with a skill set gap, balance the right mix of experts to lead their own fields, and identify the best blend of personalities for team collaboration and communication,” says Davis. The apprentices also participate in reverse mentoring, helping IT leaders become more open and break down the hierarchical structure that can hinder an agile, team-based model.

“Although it’s not a groundbreaking approach, most companies are spending more time recruiting and hiring new college graduates,” says Jon Toelke, senior manager of talent acquisition at HR software provider Paycor, who says the IT job market is the most competitive it’s been since 2008. “They have been forced to abandon the practice of hiring the ‘perfect candidate’ and are now looking to bring in new graduates with a foundation of experience, who they can train.”

[ Need to recruit hybrid cloud pros? See our related article, Hybrid cloud talent: How to find and keep it. ]

2. DIY networking

A new trend with recruiting value is organizing meet-and-greet events in the local community. “Some companies have started partnering with local businesses, like craft breweries, for example, to host a networking happy hour, and inviting their tech team to bring a referral or guest as a way to meet new tech professionals,” says LaCinda Clem, executive director of permanent placement for Robert Half Technology. Hosting user group events on location and offering free continued education for prospective IT hires can be powerful draws as well.

Employee referral programs and sponsorships are taking center stage. “Great IT candidates want to work on cool projects with their friends, and this helps accomplish both,” says Judy Collister, executive vice president of HR for storage and server support company Park Place Technologies. “IT recruiters are searching, and modern recruits know that. They are talking to their friends and looking for technology environments that foster learning and development, rewards and innovation. We have to seek them where they hang out and share goals and desires. This means traditional methods [and] posting to public sources are no longer viable methods of recruiting.”

3. Have the CIO identify passive candidates

The hardest part of IT recruiting is getting the best talent – particularly passive candidates – engaged in the process.  “We recently had a company that was having difficulty attracting top technical talent.  Rather than providing the CIO a list of qualified candidates, we provided LinkedIn bios and let the executive choose for himself who he was interested in,” says Travis Almy, vice president of recruiting for TRC Professional Solutions.

“We then followed up with a message that [read] ‘the CIO of a leading company reviewed your profile and requested that I reach out to you for an opening on his team.’ This generated very favorable results and increased the response rates of potential candidates.”

4. Think outside the industry boxes

"Unfortunately, I think many IT recruiters are still under the impression that successful professionals should only have a tech or computer science background."

To successfully build talented teams, IT leaders must look beyond certifications or industry backgrounds to consider each individual’s broader skillset, education, experience level, business expertise, and other qualities. “Unfortunately, I think many IT recruiters are still under the impression that successful professionals should only have a tech or computer science background,” says Aflac’s Davis. “However, within IT organizations, multiple talents and perspectives are as important to daily operations as they are to supporting future growth, and they can spur innovation in the process. In addition, hiring a variety of viewpoints is critical in supporting customers.”

“It’s important to be flexible and thinking outside the box in order to find the right candidate,” says Carol Lynn Thistle, managing director with Heller Search Associates.

One of Thistle’s clients was initially dead set on finding an application development leader with biotech experience, which limited the talent pool. “I suggested that they take a look at a few candidates from high tech manufacturing who possessed all of the other traits and leadership skills they sought,” says Thistle. “It was one of those candidates who was ultimately hired.”

5. Build a better job ad

If CIOs want to attract the best prospects, they need to write standout job postings, says Robert Half’s Clem, “regardless of whether you’re posting on a job board or your company website.” Clem advises incorporating images to draw attention and making sure to include language that will engage applicants from the start.

“Highlighting positive reviews and testimonials from review sites in job postings is another strategy hiring managers will use. They want candidates to see that other employees are happy at their company, and hopefully it will help when making career decisions,” says Clem. Consider using social media profiles to show off company culture to potential new employees, Clem adds.


Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.