7 IT recruiting mistakes to avoid

Recruiting tech talent is hard enough. Don't fail by making these mistakes – some of which may turn people off from even applying
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At a time when every enterprise is a technology company, attracting IT talent becomes more difficult than ever. IT leaders are feeling the talent pressure: 89% of hiring managers find it difficult to find talent, according to the Linux Foundation’s 2017 Open Source Jobs report. And at the WSJ CIO Network’s annual gathering on March 6,  a snap poll showed that more than 50% of CIOs said they are “secretly worried that their firms don’t have the IT talent they will need to compete.”

IT leaders continue to explore smart tactics to locate and win over job candidates. (See our related story: IT recruiting: 8 creative strategies that work.) But just as important as incorporating new recruiting and hiring approaches is letting go of what is no longer working.  

 We talked to recruiters and IT leaders to shine a light on seven common – and potentially costly – recruiting mistakes that hamper hiring efforts.

Mistake #1: Writing one-way job descriptions

Too many IT leaders think the job exists solely to explain what the company’s needs are. In a tight job market, however, they must also address the candidate’s needs. “Companies need to include more information about what is in it for the person they hire to attract people with in-demand skills who have a lot of options,” says David Trance, managing director of recruiting at Computer Task Group (CTG). “Descriptions that also address work-life balance, a day in the life in the new job, and perks of being on the team will likely be more competitive.”

IT leaders should also be more judicious about what they include in these depictions of roles. “A laundry list of skills that aren’t necessarily required to perform certain functions might deter otherwise qualified candidates,” says Betsy Vyce, senior recruiter in CTG’s strategic staffing services group. “On the flip side of the coin, providing little to no information can also be a detriment and have prospective employees skipping past the listing altogether.”

Mistake #2: Desperately seeking unicorns

“Many times, the list of skills and qualifications a company is seeking for a role don’t exist in the IT talent market – at least, not in one person,” says Carol Lynn Thistle, managing director with Heller Search Associates. “For example, they may have decided they need an experienced PMO leader who can also be the CIO successor, so they lump together what are essentially two different professionals.” Trouble is, they will never find such a person. “We see this all the time,” Thistle says. “Companies will fill roles more effectively and more quickly when their job descriptions are aligned with the profiles of real people in the talent market.”

Mistake #3: Focusing on the technical

Many IT recruiters still believe that the best IT candidates must have a technology or computer science background. It’s the IT leader’s job to disabuse any hiring partners of that notion. “To succeed in the enterprise, IT organizations need advocates who understand technology from a business perspective and who can serve as ambassadors to other internal groups,” says Julia Davis, senior vice president and CIO of Aflac. In addition, hiring a variety of viewpoints is critical in supporting customers, she says. 

“Technical skills evolve, and while they are essential to succeeding in these roles, we find that more often than not they can be taught by talented senior technology leaders,” says Casey Foss, director of marketing at business and technology consultancy West Monroe. “It is much harder to teach the broad spectrum of soft skills, and finding a deep technologist with soft skills is a very daunting task.” 

A deeply technical interview often won’t yield the candidates CIOs are looking for, particularly when it comes to senior IT roles, says Thistle of Heller Search Associates. “Your senior IT leaders are businesspeople responsible for building relationships with the business, understanding the business strategy and growth plans, and leading teams, ” she says. 

CIOs can employ interviewing tactics that enable them to observe non-tech capabilities. They can conduct “case interviews” in which the hiring manager tees up a challenge someone may face as part of their job and give the candidate an opportunity to role-play a response. They can then follow up with a writing sample, to test the applicant’s ability to provide solutions in the written form. “All of this is designed to validate that they are able to apply technology to real-world business problems and use communication to influence the outcome,” Foss explains.

Mistake #4: Avoiding job hoppers

It’s time for IT leaders to let go of their antiquated notions of employee loyalty. Top talent can and will move freely in a market short on supply. “There still seems to be significant fear around the age-old notion of a ‘job hopper,’” says Jon Toelke, senior manager of talent acquisition at human capital management company Paycor. “New technologies pop up every day, leading to large migrations of talent.” 

CIOs can no longer afford to assume that frequent company changes on a resume are a sign of poor performance. “Technology and change are driving movement in the workforce, and strong organizations need to be able to endure and capitalize on the trends that are driving these changes,” Toelke says.

Mistake #5: Not coordinating interview tactics

Formal recruitment planning should include not only in-depth budgeting and forecasting, but better governance over the interviewing process. 

“One complaint I hear from candidates is that they are asked the same questions by each person that interviews them,” says Wendy Schwartz, CEO of Search Pro Direct International. A coordinated effort where each interviewer asks different questions is not only much more efficient and effective for the IT organization, it gives candidates a better impression. 

“Everyone who interacts with a candidate throughout the selection process affects the candidate’s perception of the specific position and the company in general,” says Trance of CTG. IT leaders can work more closely with HR to orchestrate interviewing plans and practices. 

Mistake #6: Just throwing money at the problem

“Due to the competitive environment, many companies find themselves being forced to overpay candidates,” says Toelke of Paycor. “This causes deep ramifications within organizations as it can upset internal equity and render HR job grade parameters meaningless.”

Before launching any candidate search, IT leaders and recruiters should be on the same page regarding the average salaries for the positions in the respective locations and clear about setting expectations around salary limits, Vyce says. 

Mistake #7: Moving too slowly

When IT hiring managers underestimate the options that candidates have available to them and allow lags in the hiring process, they will suffer the consequences. “We see smart companies and managers condensing interview cycles so that they are able to strike quickly as top talent becomes available,” says Travis Almy, VP of recruiting for TRC Professional Services. 

That means identifying candidates quickly and efficiently, conducting concise and agile interviews, and making offers promptly when a good fit is identified. “Companies with flexible and nimble hiring processes are winning the war for talent,” Almy says. “Speed is critical for building momentum and maintaining candidate excitement.”

[ Struggling to find candidates who "fit"? Read also: How to hire with culture in mind. ]

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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.

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