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How to Stay Competitive in Tech Recruiting

image for fizkes / Getty Images
fizkes / Getty Images
  • Digital transformation and continually changing skill sets require organizations to be savvy and forward-thinking in who they hire.
  • Finding tech talent requires a strong, focused recruitment strategy.
  • Develop an interview process that reflects your company vision and brings out interviewees' true skill sets.
  • Look outside the traditional recruiting bubble and reach out to individuals who can add a diverse skill set and background to your company.
  • Don't ignore soft skills when determining the ideal candidate.

Today's companies must fight for tech talent. In a strong economy, they must continue to find a way to fill roles with a landscape where many potential employees have several choices for where to work and are picky about what those assignments should look like.

Companies use a wide range of options for tackling this dilemma, with increased focus on hiring managers who focus on attracting talent with the right skills. For other organizations, the answer is turning to tech recruiters who claim to know the magic that will lure the right candidates their way. Others develop elaborate in-house strategies and dedicated recruiting teams to fill the roles they need.

Recruiting tech talent is a concern that goes all the way to the top of companies. A PricewaterhouseCoopers survey identified finding talent as a top concern among CEOs. From recruiting to interviewing and finding the right skill sets, there is an ongoing challenge to find the right fit. As companies compete in tight markets, ensuring you have the best employee roster should be a priority.

Many look at the issue as a lack of available talent, given the strong competition among tech companies and the changing nature of the hiring process.

Tony Martin, executive vice president of recruitment process outsourcing and talent management at Hudson RPO, said that no matter the specifics behind any perceived shortage, it's up to companies to get the ones they want in the door.

"Many companies are not doing the best job at attracting the talent that's out there," he said. "Finding the best person for a position goes beyond matching a skill set to a list of job requirements. In fact, smart companies are taking a look at what skills are available in the market and figuring how those skills can be applied to their particular needs."

The key is being transparent about the role itself. If you peruse enough job descriptions, you'll find lots of specifications that the candidate will need to be "hardworking" and "impactful." However, a strong sense of purpose and work-life balance can be equally or even more important.

"Candidates today want to understand the totality of a role – what their experience will be at an organization and what it has to offer them," Martin said. "That's why it's so important for organizations to convey what they can offer these candidates beyond a simple job description. It also goes back to companies understanding what their target market is looking for and what's important to them. For example, younger generations – and, in particular, women with a STEM education – are looking for more meaning and flexibility from their work life."

A Harvard Business Review report indicates that companies might not be taking the right approach. For example, it recommends that companies refine the interview process.

The time spent on interviews has nearly doubled since 2009, according to the report. Companies would get better results with fewer, more consistent interviews as part of a carefully refined process. When managers ask questions on the fly that they think will be a good gauge of fitness for the role, they often tend to seek information out of their own bias.

"Tech companies should also consider training people with transferable skills, who can, for instance, learn a new computer language to meet the job requirement," said Darlene Gillard, partnership director of community and events at social enterprise DigitalUndivided. "The talent is out there, but they need to be given access to jobs and opportunities. The folks in HR at these newer tech companies must do their due diligence in recruiting talent."

They should also be wary of their outsourcing, as outsourced recruiting may be further subcontracted to other agencies that may not give the matter the attention it needs.

The success of the recruiting process may come down to the way an employer brands itself.

"Tech has a marketing problem," said Gillard, whose company develops programs to increase active participation of urban communities in the digital space. "When people think of tech, they think of a 25-year-old Mark Zuckerberg-type guy. That's a very narrow point of view and could be a deterrent for anyone looking to work for a tech company. In order to stand out, companies need to change the face of their brand."

There are many good strategies for recruiting the best talent. Companies can shout about the advantages they offer – the total compensation package, additional benefits, flexible working capabilities, and other perks before they even talk about salary. Many workers are also moved by philanthropic ideas and the opportunity to contribute to an organization that has a higher purpose.

Even with a good strategy, it can be challenging to find good tech talent. A digital skills gap, according to the Capgemini Digital Transformation Institute, is still something to tackle. However, it's not just in the technical skills – 59% of employers in the survey said their organizations don't have employees with the right soft skills, while 51% said the same about the traditional hard skills.

The report indicates that customer centricity, passion for learning, and cybersecurity and cloud computing are the most in-demand skills from both sides of the spectrum. It's important to keep both sides of an individual's skill set in mind while evaluating a candidate pool.

Much attention is paid to coding skills and other specifics that are necessary to do the job well and fit in with the team's goals. However, there is also much attention being paid to the other aspects that make an individual employee effective.

According to the LinkedIn Learning 2019 Workplace Learning Report, creativity is the most in-demand soft skill in 2019, with persuasion, collaboration, adaptability and time management also considered critical. When it comes to those sought-after hard skills, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, analytical reasoning, people management and UX design round out the list of top needs.

It's popular for companies to use technical recruiters for finding the next talented hires. As with many aspects of a company, outsourcing work to the perceived specialists seems like a timesaver.

How recruiters get paid varies by organization and several other factors. Internal recruiters are part of an organization, where finding new talent is their focused job. With an agency, recruiters can be compensated based on the number of leads or successful conversions. In some cases, the compensation is a percentage of the recruit's salary, or a hybrid of an upfront fee and money paid out for a successful placement.

The key is to understand how a particular agency operates, and if its methods are the right mix with how your company wants to fill roles. This ethos also applies to building up your in-house team of recruiters. Many recruiters also offer a CRM system to track the recruiting and hiring process internally.

"The demand for tech professionals continues to increase as companies continue to invest in tech, but [the number of] people choosing that field is not increasing," said John Reed, senior executive director of IT staffing firm Robert Half Technology. "There's a supply-demand imbalance."

One of the best ways to recruit is to look internally and develop systems so current employees look for those new opportunities. That's why Reed recommends considering current employees when tech positions open up.

"Always start with re-recruiting your existing staff," he said. "They're probably getting calls [from other recruiters] and the problem gets compounded – you need more talent, but your current staff is getting recruited away."

Being open to promoting from within, or switching someone's role based on their strengths, is beneficial for everyone involved: The company doesn't have to "sell" itself to an employee who already works there, and the promoted employee will be satisfied, which could prove to be useful when you do need an outside hire.

"Your employees are your best brand ambassadors in the marketplace," Reed said.

The process of finding and keeping tech talent is going to be a challenge for companies no matter the state of the economy. There are some solid steps for recruiting the best talent, such as helping your company better market itself and helping your employees feel good about where they work. Teams that are happy with their job and feel positive about their shared sense of purpose are likely to be enthusiastic spokespersons for your organization.

These are some of the strategies that can make the tech recruiting process more manageable. In a quickly evolving tech landscape, what works may change over time. However, sticking to key, forward-thinking principles can set your company on the foundation for recruiting success.

Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Derek Walter

Derek Walter is the founder of Walter Media, which offers writing and content strategy services. He is also the author of Learning MIT App Inventor: A Hands-On Guide to Building Your Own Android Apps.