At last! HR pros who understand IT

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

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Companies that are too small to justify employing a full-time IT hiring specialist can still benefit by cultivating close relationships between their IT managers and third-party recruiters, says Claire Schooley, an analyst at Forrester Research.

"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 those kinds of relationships -- with either in-house recruiters or 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."

At Publix Super Markets in Lakeland, Fla., fostering a good relationship between recruiters and IT professionals is a priority. The retailer's tech staffing and training function resides within the IT group. IT workforce manager Melanie McClellan, who reports to the director of IT finance, has a staff of three people who work with tech managers on recruiting, hiring and training 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 microcultures," says IT recruiter Rhonda Burke, who reports to McClellan.

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 able to quickly 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.

The IT organization that serves Ascension Health, a Catholic healthcare system, AHIS employs nearly 3,000 IT associates. Two hiring specialists, including recruiter Kraig Whittenberg, handle the 225 IT job openings that AHIS averages each year.

Asking the right questions and figuring from the answers whether candidates 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 -- that's the real art of recruiting, Whittenberg says.

"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."

Pratt is a Computerworld contributing writer in Waltham, Mass. You can contact her at marykpratt@verizon.net.

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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