Team IT: Recruiters to the rescue
WHEN DICK MASON, program manager at Unisys U.S. Federal Government Group, in
Reston, Va., has a project to bid on, he begins the process by tapping in to an unusual
source. He calls Natasha Schebella, his company's ace in-house technical recruiter.
"She's the first person who comes on board when I start putting a proposal
together," says Mason, who in the last six months has hired Oracle programmers, a Unix
systems administrator, software engineers and programmers, and Windows NT desktop-
Schebella will analyze a potential project for staffing issues and advise whether
staffing is both feasible and cost-effective. "When I've got a big bid coming up, I
turn to her and the recruiting department to get the program off the ground," Mason
Last year, Mason was reviewing a potential contract in Denver, a locale where
Unisys Federal hadn't worked previously. (Unisys declined to give contract details.)
Mason wanted to make a bid for the work but saw a hurdle: He would need to put together
a local team of 12 or 13 software and network engineers in only 10 days.
"I knew making this contract materialize was going to be extremely difficult,
basically because we had no existing database of potential candidates in Denver," Mason
recalls. "On top of that, [Schebella] was working from a remote location."
Mason had seen Schebella pull a recruiting rabbit out of a hat before. The
recruiter once assembled a technical team in Kansas in a mere 72 hours, conducting an
impromptu recruitment open house and finding candidates literally overnight.
For the Denver contract, Schebella made a series of cold calls, contacting local IT
workers via a network culled from earlier hires and previously qualified job applicants
whose résumés and contact information she saves. Her effort paid off.
"Natasha saved our bacon in Denver, as she does every time," Mason says. "If it
wasn't for her ability to find truly qualified people at a minute's notice, there would
be a large number of bids that we couldn't be part of at all."
Technical recruiters become players
Organizations are recognizing IT recruiters' influence and importance to the bottom
line, says Marjorie Bynum, vice president, workforce development at Information
Technology Association of America (ITAA), in Arlington, Va.
"Technical recruiters are becoming more integrated into IT projects. They are
taking on more of a role than just identifying the right person to hire. They are,
after all, pipelines to the IT talent as well as pipelines to the company they work
for," Bynum says.
Recruiters interpret the paperwork
With the IT labor shortage making for staffing dramas everywhere, recruiters have
to be on top of their skills-assessment game. Some even go to great lengths to
understand the target of their efforts. Laura Chilton, a technical recruiter for
Attachmate, a software developer, in Bellevue, Wash., regularly enrolls in tech
Chilton says tech training allows her to assess a candidate's technical skills in
one résumé reading. "I could waste time doing a phone screen for soft skills,
then another screening for technical skills. But such a long process is just not
acceptable in today's tight market," Chilton says.
Like Chilton, Schebella can sling a little lingo. "She doesn't just know the
buzzwords. She understands the technology," says Mike Florio, Schebella's boss and
director of worldwide planning and recruiting at Unisys U.S. Federal Government
Group. "I wouldn't be surprised if soon a candidate gave her the ultimate compliment
for a technical recruiter by asking her whether or not she is an engineer too."
Part of Schebella's philosophy is getting right to the heart of the technology. She
believes that to actually know systems analysis and design is integral to her job. A
technical background helps her not only connect with a candidate but also discuss a
candidate's skills with an IT manager.
Although technical knowledge is important, good recruiters can read between the
résumé lines and judge technical candidates' soft skills, Bynum says. Such
skills, says ITAA's vice president, might be overlooked by a technical manager. "In the
long run, a technical employee's lack of interpersonal or organizational skills could
jeopardize a team's efficiency," Bynum says. "Finding a well-rounded staff is key, and
only a recruiter can prescreen for that."
Make an offer
Besides insight into a candidate's skills, a successful technical recruiter
understands the IT-hiring landscape and knows a fair employment offer on sight.
"I rely on our technical recruiter to update me properly on whether the offer we
want to make is competitive, because he knows the industry trends in compensation for
IT workers," says Michael Barnett, a senior technical manager and director of
professional services at Blueprint Technologies, an e-commerce and legacy systems
software architecture company in McLean, Va.
Technical manager recruit informally
In-house recruiters also work with IT managers to utilize every recruitment
opportunity. Russell Klosk, interim director of recruiting at Blueprint, must. The
three-year-old company currently has 56 staff members, more than twice the number of
employees it had in October 1999. Blueprint plans to have a staff of 70 to 85 by the
end of 2000.
In July, Klosk wrote and circulated a high-level recruiting memo for technical
managers to e-mail informally to colleagues for the purpose of advertising the company
and leverage their personal contacts. Klosk hopes that the informal memo will be passed
along by these contacts to someone looking for a new job. The memo consists of
rewritten formal job specifications for the company's always-in-demand position of
senior software architect experienced in a variety of computer languages and codes. The
memo isn't like the usual job posting; it goes out minus the human resources
jargon. "It's nothing fancy or glossy, just a means to help brand the company," Klosk
says. "It also gets the technical managers and other hiring managers involved."
Recruiters move up the corporate ranks
With IT staffing a huge bottom-line issue, recruiters hold a new star status. Brian
Hunt, vice president of corporate development and recruiting at New York-based
Clickthebutton.com, a price-comparison Web site, is considered part of the company's
Hunt acts like any other dot-com executive. He works long hours and eats lunch at
his desk, and both practices give him good insight into the corporate culture. Recently
the exec made an unusual, albeit small, move. His desk used to be in the corner. Now
the exec-recruiter sits smack-dab in the middle of the officce's loft space. He also
attends weekly meetings with department heads to prioritize hires.
It's all part of a plan to give him the recruiting edge. "How else could I
understand the company at present and the company in the future? Being so available
will ultimately result in selecting people well," Hunt says.
Hunt isn't alone in the long hours. Unisys' Schebella is no clock-watcher. "I'm not
a nine-to-fiver," she says. "I'm available all the time because IT recruiting these
days is done on a daily basis and has a sense of urgency to it. So I'm in constant
communication with what I call my 'triangle' -- the candidates, the customers, and the
clients. I understand the IT environment; I'm a mediator, not an administrator. My job,
as I see it, is to help Unisys grow."