RTT – Recruiting Top IT Talent: Attraction and Retention

These are the thoughts and takeaways from the latest Resourcing Think Tank (RTT) held on Thursday 6th March 2014 hosted by Harrods’ Hannah Chard (Resourcing Partner) titled ‘Recruiting Top IT Talent: Attraction and Retention’.

The following summary has been prepared to reflect a segment of the discussion held amongst senior HR and Resourcing professionals from leading national and international businesses. Specific company details, experiences and examples have been omitted from this summary as all discussions are held under ‘Chatham House Rules’.

Toward the end of 2013, the IT recruitment market saw a 23% uplift in activity demonstrating a strong demand for IT professionals. However, whilst the market seems buoyant, IT placements have actually decreased by 9% over the course of the year highlighting a scarcity of ‘top IT talent’ (APSCo, 2013).

Evidently, many businesses are finding it tough to source top IT professionals and are having to invest extra resource and time for selecting, attracting and importantly, retaining these individuals. Some of the prevalent challenges being faced include:

  • Skills shortage in a competitive market
  • Accurately testing expertise during the selection process
  • Partnering with agencies to ensure they are committed and capable of delivering against the brief
  • Establishing an effective balance between hard skills, soft skills and cultural fit
  • Talent pipelining for required skills over the mid-to-long term.

Partnering with your agencies

Within many businesses, particularly those that don’t naturally operate within the IT / tech space by trade, the world of IT recruitment is a minefield. It’s a fast-paced competitive industry full of complicated jargon. As such businesses will often have a heavy reliance on recruitment agencies, so knowing how to get the best from them is key. It’s a case of knowing which agencies are going to deliver and have a proven track record; have you engaged with your top IT talent and taken recommendations from them? After all they’re experts in their field.

When you’ve selected your agencies, engagement is essential. And that’s engagement from both parties; agencies will put more energy into sourcing you the best talent if you work together and honour one another’s commitments. Engaging five or more agencies on the same search will drive the wrong behaviours and will de-motivate their recruiters to provide a top quality service; after all each agency’s chance of filling the position is dramatically reduced when caught up in the rat race. It’s about creating a partnership and true partnerships cannot be built on mass. A good agency will provide you with a sourcing strategy, communication plan and timelines – if you’ve agreed on this, you’ll have something tangible to push back with if they’re not delivering. Equally, you need to hold up your side of the bargain!

The end goal is to make hires, right? So make sure you’re giving your agency (ies) the best chance for success. Where feasible, agencies should be taking face-to-face briefs, particularly if they’ve never worked with you before. They need to get to know your company, your culture, your key hiring managers, how the role integrates with the rest of the business etc. Ever considered holding dedicated agency days (across your key business units) where your agency account managers spends 1-2 days immersed in your company? Get them to live and breathe your work environment and what makes you unique, arrange for your business units’ influential people to deliver presentations, organise a tour of the facilities, show them how varied your canteen food is and what a quick walk it is from the car park (basically anything that your employees rave about!).

So what’s the best way to drive quality? Firstly, it’s worth remembering that one size doesn’t fit all within the IT recruitment space. Engage true specialists, not just IT agencies, but consultancies that operate within a niche. Secondly, continue to review your PSL against key metrics (quality of relationship, added value, CV to interview ratios, number of placements etc). Have you ever thought of binding your PSL agreement to the agency consultant? You don’t want to risk a reduction in quality from your agency should your key contact move on…

A partnership is about give and take. And your specialist agencies will have a large amount of expertise and knowledge to share with you, particularly if IT recruitment isn’t your forte. If you’re struggling to get to grips with the ‘right’ questions to ask IT candidates, need some help understanding the technical jargon, require some assistance with your screening process – spend some time with your agencies to improve what you’re doing.

Up front skills testing

At the risk of generalising, some IT professionals don’t naturally excel within the typical hiring process (selling themselves on paper or during face-to-face / telephone / video meetings). However, introducing testing into the recruitment process offers these professionals the chance to showcase their skills and also helps the recruiter draw conclusions on a candidate’s technical ability. Hack-a-thons, fixing a problem or cracking a code are all common examples of IT recruitment tests – however it’s pointless to introduce a test for the sake of it, it has to be relevant to the role. For example there would be no value in putting your IT Project Managers into a hack-a-thon! Work with your hiring managers to identify the key competencies of the role and build an appropriate test to reflect these skills. Ideally this assessment tool should be introduced at the beginning of the process; saving recruiters’ and hiring managers’ time in the long run.

Positioning your business as an IT employer and accessing that niche top talent

One of the core challenges that businesses face when recruiting top IT talent is that the wider market doesn’t view them as a destination IT employer. However, IT is becoming increasingly more essential within most businesses as technology continues to evolve and develop. So how can you position yourself as an IT employer? It’s quite simply a branding exercise, where you influence the perception of the market. Get your experts to present at thought-leadership events, sponsor industry conferences, conduct research in the field, develop or join communities, build associations with relevant trade bodies and get your IT talent to start blogging on behalf of your business. Have you ever asked your IT employees how they enrich their knowledge – what events do they attend and what websites do they read? Join them!

It’s also important to perfect the messaging around your IT careers offering. People buy into stories, particularly if they are relatable and they can see how and where they fit in. What do your IT employees love about working for your business and what journey have they been on? Use these positive case studies to show candidates why they should aspire to join your business. One way of capturing this information is to hold ‘Stay Interviews’ (flipping the concept of Exit Interviews on the head) following the three month probation period to identify the elements of the job that really appeal to your talent.

When it comes to sourcing IT professionals directly, where should you be looking? It’s a question of knowing where they hang out as for many LinkedIn is now a bit dated. Have you tried joining community platforms like Google+ (where passive candidates are less expectant of recruiters’ motives) and engaging with these talent pools before wading in with opportunities? Think creativity about where you look for candidates, you might be surprised at who you might find reviewing a piece of software on Amazon or partaking in online forums. Another avenue that shouldn’t be overlooked is the strength of your Hiring Managers’ networks, involve them in the recruitment process and get them to circulate IT requisitions within their networks.

Development opportunities for IT professionals

With the high level of competition within the IT recruitment space, once you’ve found your talent, retaining them is an obvious objective! However for IT professionals, traditional leadership / management development career paths aren’t always as applicable; many employees will need to be offered more ‘Specialist’ development opportunities whereby they have the chance to become true subject matter experts. The Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) provides a model for developing and managing the competencies of IT professionals; entirely bespoke for each IT role. This framework can be implemented to help your IT talent develop their skillset and also highlights the skills gap for one IT role to another. With any retention or development plan, it’s crucial to understand why people leave in the first place to ensure that your strategy is in-line with the drivers of your employee base.


  • Differentiation is key when it comes to appealing to your target market
  • LinkedIn has become overused for targeting candidates; utilise other social media channels such as Google+ to build communities and engage with your desired talent in a softer way
  • Position your business as tech / IT experts by blogging and attending / sponsoring / presenting at events  to tap into those hard to reach talent arenas
  • Work in partnership with your agencies – choose a select few consultancies and work collaboratively with them for maximum value
  • It’s not only recruiters who should be sourcing IT professionals – use your hiring managers and positive stories to spread the message
  • IT recruitment testing, such as ‘hack-a-thons’ or code cracking, is a great way of getting candidates to showcase their skills and assess their competency levels
  • Through staff engagement, understand what makes your company a great place to work to counter any less attractive elements such as location, salaries, working hours etc.
  • Understand where your candidates are hanging out and engage with them
Oasis HR

Written by , Network Driven HR Recruitment

Oasis HR is a multi-award winning HR Recruitment Agency based in London that delivers Contingency and Search services within the Human Resource and Business Change Markets. Our client base encompasses all industry sectors and we have a proven track record of delivering permanent, interim and temporary professionals at all levels across all HR disciplines. From a £20k HR Administrator to a £200k HR Director, Oasis HR is well placed to identify, approach and secure the best available talent in the market

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