Competing for Talent When You're Not the Big Dog

Susan Hall
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Interviewing Tips for Hiring Managers

10 tips to help you engage job candidates and make the right hire.

The battle for talent isn't just a Silicon Valley thing. Not by a long shot.


Good news about growth in private-sector jobs is tempered by a continued mismatch between available jobs and workers' skills.


Here at NarrowCast Group, the parent of IT Business Edge, Technology VP Steve Hardin is four months into a search for a senior Web developer for our Louisville, Ky., office. He's looking for someone to work on Microsoft's platform-ASP.NET, C+, SQL Server-pretty mainstream skills. But he's finding the talent pool isn't that big and he has some big competition in town, companies like Heartland Payment Systems, UPS and Yum! Brands, the parent company of restaurants such as KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.


From ads on Monster.com and other career sites, other departments of our company might get 30 applications, while he might get three. He said:

You hear a lot about unemployment, but you have to realize that there are pockets of our economy where unemployment is not 10 percent.

Indeed, the IT unemployment rate nationwide is 4.3 percent.


In addition, Hardin's finding that people with a job are hesitant to move, especially to a company they don't know much about. He went to career day at the University of Louisville and was one of 60 companies vying to talk to students. He's since hired a recruiter and widened his search to neighboring cities such as Nashville, Indianapolis and Cincinnati. But he's resigned to the fact that he'll have to bump up the salary in addition to paying a recruiter. And he said other IT hiring managers in the area are reporting the same problems.


Lyla Perrodin, VP and CIO for Midwest Research Institute in Kansas City, admits it can be tough. She expressed concern about the difficulty in hiring at our recent CIO Midmarket Forum. She has one help desk position open at the moment on her 15-person IT staff. She said Wednesday in an interview:

I know that in talking to my fellow CIOs that the market and the pool are not what it needs to be.

She's also competing for talent with big companies such as Sprint and health care platform vendor Cerner, but she has a different problem. She's often recruiting workers laid off from the bigger companies. So she said she's found that it's important to make clear during interviews exactly what it means to work for a small company. I wrote about the pros and cons of moving to a small company last year. She explained:

People here do multiple jobs. ... My systems administrator is also a database administrator and also an applications administrator. And our help desk is Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3 and field service. ...
Most of those people I find are coming from that siloed environment where they only do one thing. Finding out whether they can and will do multiple things easily is the challenge for me. What I've heard other CIOs in the area say is that they're just not finding people who understand that they have to, for example, 'do' as well as manage. They can't just be a project manager, they also have to be an active member of the development team.

The contract-to-hire option has been a good way, she's found, to determine whether a candidate is a good fit.

In a couple of cases, it's definitely identified somebody who we didn't want to move forward with ... and that was a good way to find that out. And in some cases it has identified people who were a really good fit. We were maybe not sure they had the capabilities we needed-it looked like they could develop them, but you just don't know how good a learner somebody is. It gave us an opportunity to get them in and test them ... It's not economically horrible to do that as long as you have a firm expectation up front of what the conversion salary will be.

She also plays up that the company allows workers to telecommute and offers flexible scheduling as much as the work allows.

I just push the idea of a smaller environment and how much you're going to get to learn as opposed to how much you'd learn in a large environment. And if the person isn't interested in that, then they're not interested in being in your environment.

My colleague Ann All has written about the ways that smaller companies can compete for talent. Among her suggestions: Play up greater access to senior executives and more opportunities to earn notice for individual achievements.


What strategies have you used to compete for talent?

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