Finally! HR reps who 'get' IT

As the market for tech talent heats up, some companies gain competitive advantage with HR staffers who specialize in IT recruitment.

If you've ever had to hire someone in IT, this drill might sound familiar:

Step 1: Explain to an overworked, under-focused HR generalist the basics of what you need in a new hire.

Step 2: Struggle to make clear the subtle differences among IT roles.

Step 3: Toss half the resumes selected on your behalf after steps 1 and 2 prove ineffective.

Step 4: Endure squirm-making interviews with remaining candidates, who are still mismatched in one way or another.

Step 5: Repeat.

Jean Scire feels your pain -- that cycle of frustration was part of her life in previous IT positions. But no more. That's because Scire currently works for Philips North America, and Philips has an expert in hiring IT workers on its human resources staff, which makes a world of difference, Scire says.

"Hiring is hard; there's a lot of time invested in it," says Scire, senior director of healthcare IT operations and programs at Philips' facility in Andover, Mass. "I want to make that whole process as lean as possible, because there's nothing worse than sitting in an interview two minutes in and knowing that I'm not going to hire [that person]."

Julie Magliozzi, IT talent acquisition specialist for Philips, says her job is to understand what managers like Scire need and then find them the right candidates. "Even if we don't have a single open position, I'm always networking with top IT talent, kind of grooming them for when we do have openings," Magliozzi says. "I understand the needs of the people in my network, and I understand the needs of IT because I support only IT, so I can make the best match for both."

That's a valuable contribution when you consider how difficult finding the right candidate can be.

An IT talent management survey released in February by IT staffing firm TEKsystems Inc. of Hanover, Md., found that 78% of IT managers either agreed or strongly agreed that many IT resumes contain buzzwords that are irrelevant to the individual's experience. And 77% of IT leaders either agreed or strongly agreed that many IT resumes include exaggerations, with 40% saying they believe IT professionals commonly get positions for which they are unqualified.

The impact of that mismatch can be significant. A CareerBuilder survey released last December found that 69% of employers reported that their companies were adversely affected by a bad hire during 2012, with 41% of those businesses estimating the cost of that bad hire to be more than $25,000 and 24% percent saying the bad hire cost them more than $50,000. The cost of these bad hires, which includes all types of workers, not just IT employees, incorporates recruitment and training costs as well as lost productivity.

Given those stakes, it's no surprise that companies like Philips, with approximately 2,100 IT employees globally, including 460 in the United States, are using in-house experts to smooth the process.

"It is certainly more efficient because I don't have to ask questions A through Z every time," Magliozzi says. "I understand 20 of those 26 answers already. I know where we're going because I know what we've done in the past that worked, and what skill sets work within IT."

Unlike an HR generalist, Magliozzi is familiar with the company's platforms and systems, can explain why IT values ITIL experience and understands IT's mission to drive customer satisfaction and operational excellence.

Tracking IT's many changes

Retaining an HR professional who specializes in IT makes particular sense given the current demand for certain tech skills and the generally changeable nature of IT, says Bruce Ballengee, president and CEO of Dallas-based Pariveda Solutions Inc., an IT consulting firm.

The IT discipline is full of numerous specialties, puzzling acronyms and unique skill requirements that could confuse and overwhelm an HR rep who's assigned to help on a one-off basis, says Ballengee, a founding member of the national Society for Information Management's Enterprise Architecture Working Group. What's more, "IT specialties come and go, so that puts an extra burden on HR recruiters, more so than in other types of business disciplines," Ballengee points out.

Candidates too benefit from working with an IT-conversant HR person, and that ultimately helps the company snag a great hire, says Scott Hajer, a recruiting manager at Pariveda.

"These are people who are getting pinged by lots of recruiters, and being someone who speaks their language is going to allow you to engage them better and leave them with a better impression," he says. That, in turn, helps the company land that sought-after candidate who may have been less impressed with another company's generic hiring process.

How to hire well

IT-focused HR pros offer three tips for finding tech talent in a tight market:

Build relationships in the marketplace. Attend groups. Network. The best IT workers aren't necessarily the ones actively looking for work, so you've got to seek them out, says Scott Hajer, recruiting manager at Pariveda Solutions Inc.

Spend time early in the planning process accurately articulating the projects and challenges you want the new hire to tackle. "IT people love a challenge, and they want to walk in the door and have an understanding of the type of projects they're going to be working on," says Bryan Banks, an associate manager of talent acquisition at Aflac. "If you can paint that picture, you set up the candidate for success."

Ask not just what candidates did in their previous jobs, but how and why to get a better sense of their skills, motivation and temperament. "To get the right people in place, try to focus less on the buzzwords on the resume, and more on who you are hiring," says Julie Magliozzi, IT talent acquisition specialist for Philips North America.

Bryan Banks, an associate manager of talent acquisition at Aflac in Columbus, Ga., has an IT specialist on staff and was himself an IT recruiter for 15 years. The value of the position comes from being able to really understand IT-speak. "It's not just understanding an acronym but understanding hardware, software, and the nuances between, for example, a network engineer and a system administrator," he says.

Tech-centric hiring professionals have insight into an organization's overall IT environment and strategy -- whether it's a mainframe or distributed environment, or whether the company is moving toward iOS or an Android platform, for example.

"Someone who is not an IT recruiter, it's not that they can't learn, but there is a heavy learning curve to understand all the systems in place," he says.

That insight allows IT-focused recruiters to be proactive. Because they get to know the hiring managers, their teams, the culture and the department's roadmap, they're able to scout for talent before their company actually needs it, Banks says, echoing Philips' Magliozzi.

Getting inside IT's head

Companies that are too small to justify paying a full-time IT hiring specialist can still benefit by cultivating a close relationship between their outside recruiters and their IT managers, says Claire Schooley, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Inc.

"I've worked with companies where the outsourcers were almost like employees because they knew the company so well," says Schooley. "Companies that need very, very specialized IT people make sure the recruiters really talk with the managers and get inside their heads and make sure they understand what they need."

Schooley says many companies don't foster that kind of relationship -- with either their in-house recruiters or their outside headhunters. "The recruiting people see the job description and that's all they see, and they don't understand what the IT manager wants," she observes. "But the closer that relationship, the better the end product is."

Publix Super Markets of Lakeland, Fla., takes that recommendation seriously -- its tech staffing and training function resides within the IT department. IS workforce manager Melanie McClellan, who reports to the director of IT Finance, has a staff of three that works with IT managers on recruiting and hiring as well as training and development for the IT team of 1,050.

"We build very strong relationships with our hiring managers, so we get to a place where we can anticipate their needs. We can align our efforts with their strategic goals, their unique micro-cultures in their areas," says IS recruiter Rhonda Burke, one of McClellan's direct reports.

Right now Burke and McClellan are working with IT managers to understand the department's vision for mobility, so they can focus several months out on the tech skills that will eventually be needed.

A leadership position that recently opened up in Publix's enterprise data warehouse group needed an updated job description. Because Burke had been working with the group and knew its strategy, she and senior IT management were quickly able to define the position's scope as well as required and preferred qualifications. "There's a nice dialogue that happens before the job posting so we're on point," she explains.

Marilyn Talbot, chief human resources officer at Ascension Health Information Services (AHIS), agrees that knowing the company well is key to making great IT hires.

AHIS, the IT organization that serves Ascension Health, a Catholic healthcare system, employs nearly 3,000 IT associates. For the 225 open IT positions it averages annually, AHIS has two hiring staffers, including recruiter Kraig Whittenberg.

Asking the right questions and figuring from the answers whether a candidate will fit into the IT culture, where they'll best serve IT, what managers they'll best mesh with, and where they might move within the company in the future -- all of that, Whittenberg says, is the real art of the job and the value he and others in this position bring to the IT department.

"It's not just knowing the skill sets, it's understanding the overall picture," he says. "And the better you can be at that, the further ahead you are."

This story, "Finally! HR reps who 'get' IT" was originally published by Computerworld.

What’s wrong? The new clean desk test
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies