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Dear CIO: How to help HR help you on technology hiring

Technology hiring is a bear these days. Whining about an inept HR department is not the answer, however. Here's some advice from IT staffing experts.

Technology hiring is tough. In Is the tech hiring headache all the HR department's fault?, we reported that IT nomenclature remains challenge No. 1, especially for positions requiring deep technology skills. The same role -- for example, enterprise information architect -- can call for radically different skills and responsibilities at different companies depending on their IT strategy. Throw in the high demand for such complex, high-end skills as data, cloud and mobile management; couple that with a three-year low in IT unemployment; and the hiring process becomes even tougher.

"The talent marketplace is reminiscent of the Y2K, dot-com and SOX [Sarbanes-Oxley Act] demand levels," said Michael Brooks, regional account executive at Kforce Technology Staffing, a subsidiary of Tampa, Fla.-based professional staffing firm Kforce Inc.

Moreover, as demand for technology talent reaches new highs, companies have, if anything, upped their standards for technology hiring, according to Todd Thibodeaux, president and CEO at CompTIA (Computing Technology Industry Association) in Downers Grove, Ill. "They're looking for people who have the exact qualifications they need out of the box. In a better economy they would take chances on what they perceive to be less qualified people," he said.

You can only control your end. If you're the one who is complaining that you're not getting the attention you need, you have to change it.

Making matters even more difficult, possessing the exact technical qualifications is not enough, as IT tools and skills become integral to business processes. In their quest to find technology professionals who can interact effectively with the business, enterprises increasingly are adding behavioral testing to the interview process, even for lower-level jobs, Thibodeaux said. All of which he says might explain why CIOs are voicing increasing frustration with their human resources (HR) departments, as CIOs did in his meetings with them during a recent weeks-long tour for CompTIA.

Kforce's Brooks says he can relate. A former vice president of HR for a large telecom company before joining Kforce, and now the 2012 president of the Boston chapter of the Society for Information Management, Brooks has found HR departments "woefully incapable of recruiting and qualifying talent in IT skill sets."

David Foote, CEO at IT research and consulting firm Foote Partners LLC in Vero Beach, Fla., has tracked IT hiring and compensation for more than two decades. He's seen HR departments "run the gamut from clueless to totally clued-in." Pointing fingers is not the answer, however. "Anybody who works with senior IT management and HR as much as our firm does knows that HR is as effective as IT wants it to be," he said.

Make tech hiring personal with dedicated HR team

The most effective way for CIOs to combat the tech hiring crunch is for them to do whatever they can to build a strong relationship with HR, said all three experts, as well as other staffing professionals contacted by

The HR departments that fail most often are those where the CIO has not taken control of the hiring process, Foote said. "They don't have informed people doing the hiring, or they haven't spent time to educate them so they understand what's needed. Disconnects are everywhere when this is present," he added. The only way around this is for CIOs be more involved. "That can mean bringing in people to represent them in HR."

The main barrier to good hiring is poor communication, said Judy Homer, president at retained executive search firm JB Homer Associates Inc. in New York. "CIOs don't have time to educate HR," she said. Her firm finds CIOs and chief technology officers and other high-level IT executives for companies ranging from Fortune 500 to startups. She advises CIOs to find a person on their team who enjoys recruiting talent to manage IT's relationship with HR.

"That person doesn't have to be same person all the time," Homer said. In fact, that person probably should vary according to the position in need of filling. Compensation is critical for taking on a role that may be over and above the person's day job, she added.

"From a CIO perspective, you can only control your end," Homer said. "If you're the one who is complaining that you're not getting the attention you need, you have to change it."

Of course, everyone acknowledged that getting the attention you need is easier said than done. Because the IT function itself is undergoing massive transformation, tech hiring today is like chasing a moving target, said Shalini Das, a research director at Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Executive Board Co. (CEB). (In 2010, she said, CEB published a set of five radical shifts in the way IT organizations create value today, and all those predicted changes are coming to pass.)

"Successful HR teams understand the importance of aligning recruiting efforts with a function's overall objectives, talent goals and external labor market realities," Das said. "But given the ongoing evolutionary status of IT, CIOs must proactively conduct skills forecasting and communicate their changing needs to HR well in advance."

Enterprises need to get wise to this dilemma if they hope to attract the kind of IT people required these days to leverage technology, said analyst Marc Cecere. "The company needs to recognize that hiring IT people is a specialty that requires HR people dedicated to IT," said Cecere, principal analyst serving CIOs at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., and an expert in the design of IT organizations. His one caution? "They shouldn't report within IT, as this removes a key outlet for IT [staff] who have complaints against their bosses."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, executive editor. Karen Goulart contributed to this story.

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