Walking the recruitment tightrope

In today's candidate-poor market, quick and well-informed hiring decisions are essential, says Katherine Spencer Lee

Acrobatic abilities weren’t listed as a requirement when you applied for your position as an IT manager. But the truth is that a strong sense of balance and the ability to juggle multiple priorities at once are characteristics that define the strongest supervisors.

Nowhere are these skills more apparent than during the hiring process. One slip — caused by rushing to hire a questionable candidate, for instance — can cost your firm significant time, money and resources. Stumble in the opposite direction — for example, by waiting too long to extend an offer to a prized applicant — and your overburdened staff inches that much closer to burnout.

Before walking the recruitment tightrope, it’s vital to understand the current employment market. Knowing the size of the pool of available talent, the types of positions competing firms are looking to fill and the skills that are in short supply in your area can help you prepare an appropriate hiring strategy.

In the US (and in New Zealand and Australia), a number of signs point to a tightening labour market that is making it difficult for companies to locate skilled IT professionals. More firms are in hiring mode than were a year or two ago, increasing the competition for top talent. According to the quarterly Robert Half Technology IT Hiring and Skills Report, 16% of CIOs plan to hire full-time staffers before the end of the year. Only 4% anticipate a decline in personnel. The net 12% increase is up one point from the third-quarter 2005 projection and six points from the fourth quarter of 2004. It continues a trend that started a year and a half ago of steady increases in hiring activity. The survey results are at their highest levels since 2002.

Other statistics support these findings. For example, according to the Employment Dynamic and Growth Expectations (EDGE) Report, released by CareerBuilder.com and Robert Half International, a large majority of employers (86%) feel that it will be equally or more challenging to find candidates a year from now. The main reason: a shortage of qualified job seekers, according to 47% of respondents.

Recognising their slight advantage in the employment market, workers are becoming more aggressive in their pursuit of better compensation packages, surveys show. More than half (60%) of employees surveyed for the EDGE Report say they are more likely to push for more generous salary and benefits packages now than they would have been a year ago.

This means hiring managers should carefully consider the offers they extend to potential employees. The Robert Half Technology 2006 Salary Guide predicts a 3% increase in average base pay over 2005 levels, but in some cases, this may not be enough to attract top-level candidates. You must be prepared to spend a little more than competing firms to woo the most highly skilled IT professionals. Keep in mind, though, that balance is key. Offering a new employer a higher salary than tenured workers with similar experience and expertise could upset your department’s pay scale, cause resentment among staff members and spur a decline in morale.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a major IT recruitment firm in the US

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