How to Compete for Tech Talent

Sell your strengths and pitch the unique benefits of working for a partner. Those are just two of the ways.

August 10, 2018

7 Min Read
IT guy in data center

By Kevin Casey

Recruiting and hiring the best possible people is fundamental to any successful business. That’s an easy principle for most owners and managers to grasp. The tricky part is actually doing it.

Partners face a particular challenge on this front: How do you ensure your business has top-notch technical talent? You’re competing not just with other partners, but with in-house IT teams and employers of all shapes and sizes.

You’re also competing with an ongoing and notorious IT skills gap. We say “notorious” because so much has already been written and said about the shortage of qualified tech talent. Yet at least the perception of a tech skills shortage persists: Eight out of every 10 IT and business executives included in a recent CompTIA report are at least somewhat concerned with an IT skills gap in their organization, and one in four said they’re very concerned.

This isn’t cause for a pity party, though. Smart partners will turn the fierce competition for talent into a competitive advantage.

“It’s a very competitive technology recruiting landscape, but you can increase your odds by focusing on what distinguishes you from other firms and building a strong campaign around why people want to work at your firm,” says John Reed, executive vice president of Robert Half Managed Technology Solutions, a division of the national recruiting firm Robert Half.

Let’s examine some specific strategies for doing just that.

Sell Your Strengths

Savvy technologists aren’t typically looking for just any job; they’re looking for the right job, and that means so many different things to different people. It’s crucial, Reed says, to know your company’s strengths and lead with them in your recruiting and hiring efforts. The odds are that your particular strengths will match up with someone’s criteria for the “right” job.

This is all the more important because there’s always another company out there that can outspend you in the market for IT talent. And that’s just fine.

“Money is certainly important; however, many technology professionals are also highly motivated by other factors including commute time, ability to work remotely, training opportunities, access to leadership, collaborative environments, and career growth opportunities,” Reed says. “Remember, not everyone wants to work in a larger firm, so focus your recruiting on what makes your organization unique.”

A specific strength might be, say, a family-friendly workplace, the ability to work remotely, or hands-on experience with emergent technologies like containers and orchestration. Know what makes your shop appealing to potential employees and make that evident in your recruiting and hiring materials and practices.

Ashley Curless, associate manager of talent acquisition at TDS Telecom, advocates for the employee value proposition (EVP) approach – which you can think of as a somewhat more formal version of selling your strengths – to recruiting, hiring and retention. In her role, Curless recruits IT talent for TDS subsidiary OneNeck IT Solutions.

“It’s important to know what your company has to offer candidates, and what differentiates you from other tech companies,” Curless says. “This way, when they choose to join your organization, they become long-term, happy employees.”

Pitch the Unique Benefits of Working for a Partner

Here’s a strength just about any partner can sell: the advantages of working in the channel universe. Remember that you’re competing for tech talent, not just with other partners, but with IT departments in all types of businesses and industries.

“MSPs can offer opportunities that in-house IT cannot,” says Mark Nelson, senior director of performance services at West Monroe Partners.

For starters, IT pros working in partner environments are rarely bored. Nelson points to the exposure to different industries, the likelihood that you’ll be working with different technologies across a diverse and evolving set of client environments, and the generally fast-paced nature of being an IT service provider driving critical technology initiatives for multiple customers at the same time. And that’s not all.

“I think MSPs also develop customer-facing skills that in-house IT departments don’t necessarily focus on, allowing employees to develop their soft skills,” Nelson says. “That naturally opens up more career advancement and opportunities.”

All of this holds significant appeal to technology job seekers, according to Reed of Robert Half, so don’t sell it short.

“The variety of work and client environments that technology professionals are exposed to is one of the leading competitive recruiting advantages of services and solutions providers,” Reed says. “IT professionals who enjoy the variety of work associated with assisting clients with technology challenges in various industries and companies find that it broadens their experience and allows them to focus solely on the work.”

Be Clear About What You’re Looking For

If you’re going to get the best people on your team, you need to start by defining what that means – or better yet, who that ideal person is – for your business. If you read enough job descriptions online, though, it’s not always evident that every employer gets this right. Use that to your advantage.

“Successfully recruiting technical talent at OneNeck begins with a partnership between the hiring manager and the HR recruiting professional,” Curless explains. “We first establish a clear understanding of what the job is and the type of person that would be successful; then, we focus on the technologies and skills necessary to do the work in order to ‘talk the talk’ to successfully attract candidates to our open positions.”

Show a Visible Clear Path

Both Curless and Nelson extol the virtues of MSPs and other partners offering evident career paths and opportunities for advancement. IT pros tend to care a great deal about this, and it tends to be highly attractive in an employer.

It’s also a key strategy when you’re up against larger employers with deeper pockets.

“Larger firms may have a bigger budget, but we see many times that they don’t have a career model or able to communicate the path for advancement,” says West Monroe’s Nelson. “We are able to work with recruits and really show them ‘a day in the life’ and have very specific conversations about their career and how we would see them advance.”

Showcase Happy Employees and a Positive Work Culture

Happy employees beget more happy employees. Word of mouth travels fast, perhaps especially in the partner world, so investing not just in your hiring practices but in the long-term success and satisfaction of your employees almost always pays dividends. It’s just smart business.

“When you hire strong technologists that love the work they do and really enjoy the people they work with, they share referrals from their network,” Nelson says.

This is, hopefully, the sum total of your specific strengths and values. You’re going to have a leg up in the competition for tech talent if you build a reputation as a good place to work — and then continually reinforce and showcase the reasons for that reputation.

“When we talk to candidates we discuss the position, but we also share all the things that make OneNeck a great place to work, such as the culture, coworkers, technology, flexibility, success factors, benefits — really helping candidates understand the advantages of joining a Fortune 1000 company,” Curless says.

Keep in mind that when a good IT pro hits the job market, she’s probably going to field multiple offers. That means they’re interviewing you as much you’re interviewing them. If they see a ho-hum or negative workplace, they’re likely to keep looking, just as you’re likely to keep looking after meeting an unimpressive candidate.

Nelson notes that West Monroe’s people-focused culture has helped it win various “best place to work” awards. That certainly helps recruiting and hiring — but you still have to pay off on that reputation, which West Monroe takes care to do.

“Once they are able to interview with [us], they get to meet many of our people, both leaders in the practice and future peers,” Nelson says. “They meet people who are excited to work at West Monroe and it sells itself.”

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