5 Tips for Finding Great IT Candidates

September 23, 2015

When sourcing IT candidates, recruiters are often looking for niche skillsets—which makes hiring in this sector a challenge.

The biggest point of friction is this: companies want people with multi-faceted technical, managerial, and business skills, and these people tend to be unicorns. In the past, IT was a support function, but today, similar roles are becoming cross-functional and strategic.

We’ve asked 5 staffing agency leaders to nominate their best tips for finding and placing these unicorns. Here’s what they had to say.

1. Seek out talent in unexpected places

Nominated by: Matthew Ripaldi, Senior Vice President at Modis

The IT recruiting landscape is changing fast and is completely different from what it was even a year ago.

The more tenure or niche experience you’re looking for, the more you’ll typically have to pay.  It’s good to go into hiring with an open mind,” says Ripaldi.

Ripaldi encourages hiring managers and recruiting leaders to drop their preconceived notions about what makes an ‘ideal’ hire.

“Many of the best developers are self taught,” says Ripaldi. “If you’re looking for someone with a burgeoning skill set, they may not have extensive experience. Be open and judge your candidates based on the projects they’ve completed and their vision for the future of their craft.”

Keep your eyes peeled for hard-working career changers. As Ripaldi points out, IT talent is in short supply, with many job categories seeing “negative unemployment.”

“You have to make concessions,” says Ripaldi.

2. Spend your time building long-term candidate relationships

Nominated by: Brian Tomasello, Principal Owner at AVID Technical Resources

Tomasello, who has personally placed more than 1,000 technology professionals and grown his IT recruiting business to 43 employees in 8 U.S. cities, explains that there is “no smoking gun” when it comes to finding quality hires.

“It’s your job as recruiter to find candidates, and build the relationship with them, whether you meet for coffee, lunch, or what have you,” says Tomasello. “And then, your job is to stay close to them, and hopefully, when the time is right, help them find their next position.”

Tomasello explains that this long-term process requires extreme organization. You need to keep track of the people with whom you’re connecting and engaging.

“When that perfect position comes up, it doesn’t do you any good if you can’t remember or be organized enough to go identify and find that person again,” he says. “You need to create your own systems to stay on track.”

3. Become connected to IT communities

Nominated by: Michael Thrasher, Analyst and Reporter at ValuePenguin (formerly a recruiter at Jobspring Partners)

In his experience as a recruiter, Thrasher found that the best IT candidates were happily employed. He found little success from posting job listings and sending cold emails. He learned that his best strategy was to become a part of his target audience’s communities.

“You have to find them when they've decided to start looking for a new opportunity, but haven't actually started looking yet,” Thrasher explains.

To find these communities, Thrasher encourages recruiters to seek out as many recommendations and referrals as possible. If you want to uncover true, hidden, and untapped opportunities, you need to adopt the mindset of the person you’re trying to reach.

“I am not an IT professional by trade so as a recruiter, this was sometimes a challenge,” says Thrasher. “What I learned is that IT professionals know more than anyone about their field.”

Online communities are strong starting points. Join conversations on Twitter, Quora, LinkedIn, StackOverflow, and Reddit, for instance. Find people who are asking great questions and sharing even better answers. These forums will help you get to know potential candidates who are on the outskirts of the job market.

4. Look for soft skills

Nominated by: RJ Hunter, Recruiting Consultant

One of the biggest challenges that technology recruiters experience is that IT is becoming more niche. Recruiting based on technical knowledge is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

“For example, I am working on a specific role and there are only a handful of people in the country who have this specific knowledge since most of these positions are filled overseas,” says Hunter.

Hunter tackles this challenge by prioritizing culture fit, first and foremost. He explains that he frequently passes on candidates who clash with teams’ and companies’ values. Instead, he seeks out candidates who are passionate and willing to learn.

“I often come across many people who are extremely good at what they do but they can’t explain to you why they do what they do and why they enjoy it,” says Hunter.

In addition to understanding the industry, you need to fully learn what the position entails and what ownership the candidate will have. This in-depth understanding will help you widen the parameters for your search.

“You have to be able to explain WHY this opportunity is huge for a candidate and if you can show them you understand their skillset and industry, communicating and engaging will be that much easier,” says Hunter.

5. Get face to face time with the hiring manager

Tip nominated by: Greg Denman, Technical Recruiting Manager at Verity Recruiting

When a staffing agency enters the hiring picture, it’s often through an HR team, recruiting software, or an in-house recruiter.  In many cases, the job descriptions that you receive will have minimal input from the hiring manager.

“The job description doesn’t have enough of what the hiring manager is looking for,” says Denman. “It will have a lot of fluff or filler.”

Denman tackles this challenge, in every case, by forging a direct relationship with the position’s hiring manager.

“We get a strong sense of the culture fit and the personalities that the hiring manager is seeking out,” says Denman. “We strongly feel that 60% is personality, 30% is skills, and 10% is monetary. If we can sit down with the hiring manager, coupled with a list of skills, we’re 90% there.”

Final thoughts

When tech evolves, so does recruiting. With IT being an especially competitive market, recruiters need to bring their best strategies to light. Staffing industry leaders are in a great position to test new waters. Look for unexpected candidates, built lasting relationships, and join communities of IT pros. Success in IT recruiting means getting human.

For more tips, download The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Finding IT Professionals and Contractors on LinkedIn. 

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