Five tips to getting the best networking team

If you haven't noticed, there's a significant change happening in the IT and networking industry -- the hiring floodgates are opening.

Gartner recently reported in its annual IT Compensation Report that of 188 U.S.-based organizations surveyed, about 61% have projected an increase in IT staff by March 2007. Add to this the actual time of the year -- summer when schools let out and families can move around -- and you'll see it's clearly time to hone those recruiting and hiring skills.

But lest you think you can use those same old techniques from a few years ago, think again. The landscape has changed, according to experts.

The Gartner report shows demand for project management skills as IT teams are turning their attention from managing costs to supporting business growth. Gartner reports that the most difficult-to-fill positions are project manager and database administrator. Enterprise architect, network architect and Internet/Web architect positions also pose challenges, according to Gartner. The top skills to recruit involve ERP software and IT compliance. The research firm also finds that while security is still a hot field, many of those spots have been filled over the past few years.

Recruiting and hiring experts warn not to focus on skills alone. "Hiring is no longer task-oriented; it's looking for the best overall athlete," says Bill Gilbert, country leader for the U.S. at Futurestep Inc., a recruiting subsidiary of Korn/Ferry International. "You want people that can come in and do a certain job but that can also move around in the organization." He says this differs from previous years where hiring focused on specific technical skills such as Java development.

Bennett Ockrim, vice president of professional services at Spherion Corp., a recruitment and staffing firm in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., agrees. "Companies that just looked for technical skills ran afoul with bloated staffs. Now they are coming out of this and looking at staffing as human capital -- 'why are we hiring this individual and what do we need to achieve? What can this person truly deliver to the organization?' "

Both experts say the key to building a better overall IT and networking team lies in the recruitment and hiring skills of the CIO, human resources and other influential teams. They offer these tips to make sure that in this hot hiring season you get the best candidate for your corporate buck.

  1. Know what you want before you go looking. "Define what you need as an organization before you post a job," Gilbert says. He warns not to think short term, but instead consider the long-term needs of the organization as a whole. "There needs to be a general consensus on what type of skills and person are needed overall." Companies should develop a strategy for creating positions that allow movement within the ranks. "If you're trying to bring someone to the table and sell them on your opportunity, they have to feel you're committed to them."

  2. Expand your search. Although Ockrim says most companies post their job listings on Monster.com and other job boards, that pool is often hard to sift through. "You may catch lightning in a bottle, but it's just one of many things you can do to find the right person," he says. He encourages CIOs to do proactive networking themselves and via their teams through alumni organizations, industry colleagues and employee referral programs. "Offer bonuses for employees who recommend people they know and think highly of. Generally speaking, a referral is usually a great candidate because employees usually recommend people they want to work with." Although these types of recruitment techniques can take more work than job boards, Ockrim says the return is much higher in the quality of the candidate.

    Gilbert says you should expand your search in other ways. "Think outside of the box and beyond your industry. The best candidates can be anywhere. The challenge is to make sure you don't discount a company on someone's resume because it isn't within your industry," he says.

    He also recommends going beyond your normal geographic search. "Right now, people are open to hearing about relocating for a new job. However, if they have families, they typically want to be moved and settled before school starts," he says.

  3. Don't rush the recruitment and hiring process. "There is no average time frame for hiring," Gilbert says. Some positions are more difficult to find the right fit, he warns.

    One way to avoid a last-minute hire is to consider what your needs will be during your budget forecasts. If you know you're trying to get approval for a new Web project, you can start HR on the hunt for candidates, Gilbert says. "It's a year-round activity to stay in front of your people needs. You don't want to have to hire 50 people in one month."

  4. Hone your interviewing skills. "Interviewing is more of an art than a science," Ockrim says. "Companies that have excellent interviewers get excellent hires."

    He strongly recommends using behavioral interviewing in addition to technical skills testing. "Behavioral interviewing forces a candidate to talk about how they'd handle specific challenges; it's an important part of the process," he says.

    "The old technology paradigm doesn't work anymore. The candidate has to be able to understand the critical business issues of the day, quantify the impact on the company and work with others to resolve those issues. These require good communication skills, a solid work ethic and business acumen," he says. He adds that these are all divined from a behavioral approach to interviewing.

    The most important part of interviewing is to be prepared. He says too often interviewers don't review resumes or even the job they're hiring for before meeting with the candidate. "The best interviewers are prepared and rehearsed. Look at the resume, contact referrals and review testing scores. The more effort you put into the process, the better your hire will be," he says.

    He recommends that IT executives work closely with HR teams and refresh their interviewing skills.

  5. Involve your team in all facets of the interview process. IT leaders must involve their teams in the hiring process to be successful, Gilbert says. He recommends meeting with teams as you're developing a position and getting their input as to what technical and business skills are needed. In addition, he says that there should be a schedule for interviews to let the IT team know their participation is permitted, encouraged and expected.

    Ockrim says IT leaders should prep their teams as they would themselves for the interview, including reviewing resumes, the skills for the position and other pertinent questions. One strategy that he's seen work is to have team members offer candidates a real-world scenario to spark discussion.

    With a market so tight, IT executives have to be heavily involved in the hiring process to get the best candidate. "Everyone's having trouble finding talent, so you have to be committed to the interview process and finding the right fit," Gilbert says.

Sandra Gittlen is a freelance technology editor near Boston. Former events editor and writer at Network World, she developed and hosted the magazine's technology road shows. She is also the former managing editor of Network World's popular networking site, Fusion. She has won several industry awards for her reporting, including the American Society of Business Publication Editors' prestigious Gold Award. She can be reached at sgittlen@charter.net.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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