In a survey of 1,400 US-based CIOs conducted last month by IT recruitment firm Robert Half Technology, 16% of executives polled plan to hire full-time IT staff in the fourth quarter of this year, while only 4% plan to reduce personnel.
That represents a net 12% increase in hiring, the largest since the third quarter of 2002.
However, in their search, IT executives will have to battle over what surveys show are fewer and fewer qualified applicants.
The number of tertiary students majoring in Computer Science has declined for the past four years and is now 39% lower than in the fall of 2000, according a survey by the US Computing Research Association.
Federal laws that cap the number of foreign workers also might limit the number of candidates. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services last month said that the 65,000-person cap on H-1B visas for the fiscal year 2006 has already been reached. While that could mean more job openings for American students, the number of qualified students needed to fill jobs might not meet demand, considering the decline in Computer Science enrolments.
As a result, IT executives are taking stock of what type of people they need and where they will find them. They say that while creativity helps, old-school methods seem to fit more with today’s IT requirements.
“Executives today need to look beyond traditional technical skills,” says Jerry Lufman, an executive board member with the Society for Information Management (SIM), a professor at Steven Institute of Technology and a former CIO at IBM.
“We are looking for skills for effective communication, interpersonal skills and project management skills. Those are the kinds of things that are really high on the list of consideration.”
Lufman says you can’t find those traditionally non-techie qualities on a CV.
“You have to get out and meet with job candidates, see how they relate to you, how effective they are in marketing themselves.”
He says that tapping into professional networks, such as SIM, to find and meet potential candidates can do that. “With SIM, if somebody in my network that I have a lot of confidence in identifies a candidate for me then that is going to forgo a lot of the work that I have to do,” Lufman says.
He says that approach helps in the search for executive and mid-level jobs, but takes a really strong network to be effective for entry-level positions.
Dave Sroelov, president of A&S Computer Services, says he is less concerned about candidates’ tech skills than he is about what motivates them.
“I try to find out what they have done overall, their thought process, how they attack problems. I want to find someone who can think their way out of a paper bag, someone who is valuable to the company over the long run,” he says.
Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director at Robert Half, says IT executives also can turn to newer methods to find candidates using work-related blogs and podcasts. She says asking the people already on your staff isn’t a bad place to start.
That tactic gets the thumbs up from Robert Rosen, a CIO with a government agency and the president of IBM user group Share.
“A personal reference is always a good thing. Of course, we are restricted in the government,” says Rosen, who says there are rules on how he can advertise for jobs.
He says Share members are dissecting hiring issues. “Many are trying the job boards, like Monster, but the really big thing is personal contacts,” Rosen says.
He says future rounds of hiring won’t require such fishing expeditions if the old-school plans of mentoring can be revived as a key ingredient to homegrown IT pros.
“There are a lot of things we don’t do today that we did in the past, such as bringing people in at the bottom and then teaming them up with more senior people who can pass on their skills,” he says.
“A lot of that has gone away.”