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IT job recruitment, staffing not a bigger problem for SMBs

Maxine Kincora, Contributor

When recruiting IT pros, small and midsized companies don't have to stand in line behind Fortune 500 firms and accept the leftovers. SMBs can attract top candidates by emphasizing the same values that win and keep customers, according to hiring experts.

To win customers, SMBs often differentiate themselves from large firms with a personal touch and a willingness to do whatever is needed to get the job done. That's the hook that can also catch the best IT

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employees, too.

There's little doubt the competition for IT employees will get tougher in the coming months. A heavy IT job recruitment period has already started and should continue into 2006, according to experts from online IT recruiting engines and job listing services, such as Dice Inc., Yoh Services, Robert Half Technology, Salary.com and TheLadders.com.

The September 2005 issue of The Dice Report noted a 53% increase in IT job postings in New York City. That was the largest increase in IT job postings during the summer. And just about all metropolitan areas in the U.S. showed increases.

The law of supply and demand is pushing average salaries up as well. Dice reported an average IT worker salary of $67,900.

SMBs may suffer in comparison with big firms in salary offerings, said Charlie Jones, vice president of process and operations for Yoh Services, a recruiting company based in Philadelphia. "Obviously, SMBs may not be able to afford to offer the highest salaries or the best benefit packages," Jones said.

I want a person in my shop who can take responsibility, think on the fly and who wants to feel like an intrinsic part of the company.
Richard Service
Vice President of information servicesSt. George Crystal Ltd.

That's not a good reason to bow out of the competition for a good employee, however. After all, SMBs often can't offer the best prices to customers, either. Here's where the value proposition has to be played, according to experts. It's the value of the work environment that can be the SMB's trump card in hiring negotiations.

In an SMB, there's an opportunity for IT employees to have a very personal relationship with co-workers and an investment in the company's goals. "You're not just a cog in a machine," said David Foote, managing partner of New Canaan, Conn.-based Foote Partners LLC. "You may interact with the CEO on a daily basis, which is something a huge corporation can't offer."

In large IT shops, an employee may be slotted into a humdrum routine, performing just one kind of task, day after day. The pay scale might be better than in an SMB shop, but the opportunities for variety are not.

Variety keeps Richard Service excited about going to work each day at a midsized business. "It's incredibly exciting to never know what I will be working on in two hours," said Service, vice president of information services of St. George Crystal Ltd., a fine crystal manufacturer in Jeannette, Penn. "It's never boring."

An SMB IT shop like Service's, which has two full-time and one half-time employees, is the right fit for IT pros who have the ability to adapt to changing conditions, learn quickly and stay calm under pressure.

"I want a person in my shop who can take responsibility, think on the fly and who wants to feel like an intrinsic part of the company," Service said.

When Service is looking for employees to fill his tech positions, he focuses less on technical abilities and more on personality and temperament. "I look for people with the right attitude," Service said. He seeks people who believe that anything that needs to be done can be done. "The skill sets our shop needs may change with the technologies, but the need for those qualities won't," he said.

More to choose from

The exciting variety offered by IT shops can give SMBs a larger employee prospect pool.

"The SMB is an attractive employer for generalists with many skill and abilities," Jones said. This is an advantage that SMBs have over larger companies, which often need someone who has multiple certifications in one technology or on one platform.

Jones advises IT hiring managers at SMBs to look for job candidates who have the ability handle all eight steps of product lifecycle methodology. "Be sure to hire IT employees who can follow through on a project, from inception to fit/gap to scope; hardware and software installation; configuration development and systems testing; aggression testing; closure; and production support," he advised.

The SMB IT shop can be a haven for IT pros who want to be a big wheel instead of a cog in a machine, Service said. That's a key value that SMBs can offer that can tip the balance, and the employee, to them.

IT jobs on the rise

Experts point to several trends that are fueling the increase in IT job openings:
  • Now that the kinks in e-business applications have been worked out, a second wave of Web application implementations has started.
  • Venture capital funding has become available for new companies and technology innovators.
  • The rise of open source software and Java development is increasing demand for IT pros with those skills.
  • A mild economic recovery is fueling business growth in most sectors, particularly in banking, insurance and real estate. Over one-third of CIOs polled by Robert Half Technology cited business expansion as the reason for their hiring increases.

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