For example, ITA ran ads on the Boston T subway featuring a series of complex puzzles. “The idea was, ‘If you can solve this, you can work here,’ ” McDonald says. “We still hear from people who remember the puzzles.”
But as have many firms, ITA has also beefed up its internal recruiting efforts. The company offers employees $5,000 bonuses for successful referrals and encourages peer reviews of candidates.
“We have a very bottom-up interviewing process,” McDonald says. “If you were an engineer who interviewed with us, you’d probably meet with one manager and five other engineers. Recruiting really isn’t part of their job, but they want high-quality people as colleagues.”
It also helps to look in industries that you already sell into, says Cindy Jaudon, CEO of IFS North America, a division of the Swedish ERP vendor.
“When we’re looking to add employees, we don’t spend all our time trying to rob people from our competitors,” Jaudon says. “If you do that, you just get into bidding wars. We try to find people who are already working in the culture we sell into, like aerospace, defense, or high tech, and might be interested in joining our services organization.”
Companies have also had to scale back their ambitions and loosen their purse strings, says Brendan Courtney, vice president of Spherion, a major recruiting and staffing company based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“Eighteen months ago employers were able to hold out for the ‘perfect’ candidate,” Courtney says. “Now when they hand us their wish list we say, ‘Well, if you’re willing to pay $130K we can fill this for you, but if you’re only paying $90K, you’ve got to decide what you’re willing to give up.’ ”
Among other things, IT organizations are ratcheting down the years of experience or knowledge of particular applications they require, Courtney says. Meanwhile salaries are going up, and they tend to be much higher at world-class companies, says Erik Dorr, senior business adviser at The Hackett Group, an Atlanta-based research company that measures organizational efficiency and effectiveness. Top-tier companies pay 32 percent more on average for their IT staff, he says.
“If you’re a mediocre company, raising all salaries across the board won’t make you world-class,” Dorr adds. “But as part of a general strategy in concert with other talent management initiatives, you’ll probably end up paying more for your IT staff.”
Life and work in balance
In times of high competition, the best and the brightest gravitate toward companies that are doing more cutting-edge work, Dorr says. He cites wireless technologies, information security, and data mining as three hot areas of interest.
“It’s always exciting for people in technology to work in a place that has a reputation for doing leading-edge stuff,” Dorr says. “It’s essential to make your workplace an exciting place to be. Creating that kind of culture will help attract top talent and keep them there.”
Offering the right life/work balance is also key, Spherion’s Courtney says. The ability to telecommute, work flexible hours, and get on-the-job training may be more important than money, benefits, or a foosball table in the employee lounge.