Why are employers so picky?
THINK EMPLOYERS ARE getting a little too picky when looking for new hires?
You're not alone. Consider the long laundry list of skills needed to fill this recent
job opening posted in the classified section of a Silicon Valley newspaper.
Wanted: Network operations center supervisor to supervise Internet systems
engineers who provide customer service and technical support.
Requirements: Must know the technology behind Cisco routers, hubs, bridges, DSU/CSU
switches and be familiar with common Internet applications. A good understanding of
TCP/IP and other protocols in the LAN and WAN environment, firewalls, Cisco products
and subnets is required. An understanding of DNS configuration, BIND, RWHOIS VLSM, and
HTML is a plus. Knowledge of transport protocols such as T3/E3, T1/E1, FDDI, Ethernet,
Fast Ethernet, ISDN, and frame relay is desired. Must have Microsoft and Cisco
certifications and a basic knowledge of Unix (Unix certification a plus). Customer
service skill is required, as is the ability to work independently. Two to three years
supervisory experience also required. Telco or access provider environment desired.
Welcome to the IT job market of the late 1990s. Detailed lists of qualifications
are by no means unusual, as a casual glance of the help-wanted section of any big-city
newspaper or industry trade magazine will attest.
It's a market in which hiring managers cobble together lengthy wish lists of
education, qualifications, skills, and talents when seeking candidates to fill slots in
their IT departments -- and may not fill the positions until they find the perfect
Mike Bakonyi, director of national staffing company Pencom Systems' Austin, Texas,
office, says one of his clients has been looking for four build engineers for more than
six months because the right candidates with the right set of skills haven't been
Why not simply fill the positions with candidates who meet some of the
qualifications? Employers and recruiters say several factors make that a difficult
New economy, new rules
As businesses large and small face tighter competition, lightning-fast change
brought on by the Internet, and unfettered globalization, IT has become the heart and
soul of many an organization.
Managers are demanding workers who can help them thrive in the new digital economy,
says Tim Pappas, an executive recruiter at Pappas & Delaney, in Milwaukee. Workers
without the requisite talents can't help them remain competitive.
Claire Holmes, a nationwide communications manager at Kaiser Permanente Information
Technology, in Oakland, Calif., says her health care organization asks for long lists
of skills because it really needs people with those skills in today's complex,
dispersed IT environment.
"You can't just know telephone or the Web or networking or programming," Holmes
says. "It's not just a simple stream of work anymore; it's a much more complex
environment, and it's all interrelated."
Because IT has become so critical, hiring managers are more careful about whom they
hire than they used to be, according to Pappas and others.
Another reason employers ask for a lot is that they have to pay a lot -- and they
have no assurance that they'll keep their employees for long.
Holmes explains that the shortage of trained and experienced IT workers has forced
Kaiser and other organizations to pay top dollar for talent. She says that if she is
going to hire people at such high salary levels, she expects a lot from the future
"You have to look for the best people you can get," Holmes says.
With workers jumping frequently from one position to another, employers have tried
to protect themselves by asking for more and more from their new hires.
"Companies are extremely reluctant to hire someone who needs training or
retraining," says Steve McMahan, Boston-based regional vice president of IT at Romac
International, a nationwide staffing company. McMahan says this reluctance stems from a
fear that the newly trained employee will leave for another company, perhaps a
Therefore, McMahan says, his clients would rather hire consultants or temporary
employees until they can find the candidates that best fit a detailed job description.
That wait can be months, often more than half a year.
The ability of workers to easily move from job to job has made most of his
clients "gun-shy about hiring candidates who might need some additional training to
fill openings on their staff," McMahan says.
"The more IT employees demand without demonstrating a commitment," Pappas
says, "the less likely that companies will splurge on training and perks."
The rise of the independent contractor is also contributing to this laundry-list
phenomenon, according to Pappas and McMahan.
In a contractor-oriented market, companies believe they have the "right" to demand
the specific skills for the ever-escalating wages demanded by job candidates, Pappas
and McMahan say. If they can't get those skills from an employee, then they can get
them from contractors, at least on an interim basis.
Beyond skill lists
Of course, skills aren't the only thing employers are looking for.
David Foote, managing partner at IT compensation consulting company Foote Partners
and Foote Research Group, in New Canaan, Conn., says that the right experience alone is
worth a long list of skills that haven't been tested on the job.
"It's one thing to say that you have a year of SAP [experience], and it's another
thing to say that you have a year of SAP [experience] working with one company on one
project, and you actually saw the project through to completion," Foote says. "For many
candidates, there's an experience factor that's missing."
And despite all the reasons employers have for asking for certain skills, many of
them may be willing to compromise -- to a point.
Bakonyi says hiring managers usually know which skills are essential.
"Since these are 'dream' lists, most managers have a priority list that they will
go off of," Bakonyi says. "So they are willing to take people lacking skills in some of
the areas. The biggest issue is what do the other team members have for skills, and
what is the direction of the project, and what skills are easy to learn. That helps
managers prioritize their dream list."
Holmes says she is willing to train new hires if they come up short in one or two
skill areas. She believes that it is essential for all employers to consider training
to improve the overall talent pool in the IT arena.
"It's not a good long-term strategy" not to pay for training, Holmes says. "It's a
circular process. From a philosophical standpoint, we should be providing the
marketplace with these skills."