7 paths to spotting and spurring hidden IT talent

Your next great IT hire already works for your organization. Here's how to discover hidden IT gems

Everyone knows the secret to business success is to hire great talent. But some of the most talented employees around might already be working for you -- and you may not even know it.

"Not enough time is spent identifying talent within companies, let alone grooming them for senior-level positions," says Iman Jalali, president of TrainSignal, an online IT training platform. "Looking inside doesn't just build morale, but is good for business, too. Sometimes you'll identify individuals that are emerging talent that need to be coached, trained, and groomed for future senior positions."

How do you do it? We asked hiring pros, CTOs, and CEOs how they unearthed the hidden gems inside their organizations and how you can do it too.

Some of their secrets? Hold a hackathon to identify closet geeks or establish extracurricular projects for employees who want to show off their skills. Some techniques are as simple as setting up a suggestion box or scheduling time routinely to talk tech with your employees. Others involve pushing top performers out of their comfort zones or enlisting them in the hunt for top talent. Finally, you also need to know when to cut the cord and let your most talented employees move on to better things. Making their career paths a priority for your organization helps to ensure loyalty and get the best from your best.

Spotting hidden IT talent tip No. 1: Host hackathons

If there's programming talent hiding in your organization, nothing will bring it out like a hackathon. HireVue, creators of a platform that allows companies to send interview questions to candidates and record their responses via Web cam, holds regular "hackweek" contests to suss out new talent and ideas, says CEO Mark Newman.

"We ask them, 'What is that irritating thing you've always wanted to fix? If you had nothing else to do all day, what is the one really cool thing you'd want to build?'" he says. "We recently asked a team of 20 people internally these questions, and within one week we had five testable products to look at. It was awesome."

Robert LeCount, director of IT for financial education firm The Rich Dad Co., says the best tech ideas don't always come from IT pros. Last winter, Rich Dad split its staff of 22 employees into six cross-departmental teams. Their assignment: Come up with new marketing concepts for the company employing video, Web, and physical marketing materials.

"It pushed everyone out of their comfort zone and allowed us to assess where people work well -- who's more creative, who's better with technology, and who's more process-driven," says LeCount. "It got our IT guys learning how to use FinalCut and our accountants using InDesign and Illustrator. It turns out our accountants have great creative skills. In the end, the winning team came up with something we're now using as a marketing campaign."

But don't get too carried away by the cool tools and lose sight of the big picture, warns Joel Bomgar, CEO of remote IT solution provider Bomgar.

"To develop new, transformative technology, employees need some creative license, and letting employees experiment is a great way to uncover hidden talent," he says. "But if everyone isn't working toward the same endgame, you can end up with a lot of 'cool tools' that don't add up to a business."

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