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Finding technical talent is tough, not impossible

April 6, 2017

By Dan Van Slambrook, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

April 3rd marked the first day this year that H-1B visa applications were accepted by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  The date holds particular significance for many employers who hire technical talent, as the H-1B is a vehicle by which many difficult-to-hire IT and engineering vacancies are filled with foreign workers. Historically, the application cap of 85,000 has been reached within five days.  This year, the agency announced that it is temporarily suspending the option of premium processing, which speeds up the review turnaround time, in an effort to curb suspected fraud and abuse of the H-1B system.  But H-1B should only be part of a larger strategy for finding technical talent.

In a labor climate characterized by scarcity and an ever-increasing demand for technical expertise, the USCIS policy may leave employers feeling all the more constrained in their ability to fill needed high-tech positions.  Yet for many organizations, the visa process is but one piece in the frustrating puzzle of attracting and retaining technical talent.  Technical recruitment, in general, has become a significant challenge.  

There is no “silver bullet” source for finding high-tech talent—no secret job boards or underground networking venues where sought after engineers all congregate on Thursday nights. Technical candidates are recruited every day, but that rarely happens inadvertently—or without significant effort.  Employers who are most successful employ a well-considered, consistent, and multi-faceted approach.  

Consider trying the following:

  • Create a game plan to source for potential talent:  When tapping into precious new reserves, oil companies develop specific plans to determine where they will dig, how far down, and which tools are best suited for the job.  Like oil, high-tech talent is a rare commodity. Develop a strategy that spells out whom you will target and where, the tools/resources you will need, how to best get your message out to potential candidates, and who will be responsible for doing what within that strategy.  
  • Adopt a proactive stance: The “post and pray” approach, as it’s sometimes called, rarely works with high-tech talent.  While posting and other marketing efforts can certainly be part of the overall strategy, the most successful recruiters go out to find talent candidates, adopting a hunter mentality. Where? Job fairs, professional networking groups, social media sites like LinkedIn, traditional job boards, niche job boards, institutions of higher learning, and referrals to name a few. 
  • Involve hiring managers and employees:  Supervisors often know which schools turn out solid candidates and often belong to professional organizations that can yield referrals.  Technical employees currently on the payroll can be a great source for providing leads to other technical talent.  Have a plan to communicate open positions to existing employees, and consider an employee referral bonus—some organizations offer up to $2,000 for referrals who are hired and retained for a specific length of time.   
  • Be open-minded and realistic:  Hiring managers can sometimes be overzealous in establishing their experience requirements for a position vacancy. Review the position specifications with the hiring manager to boil down what is absolutely required versus “nice to have.” 
  • Engage early:  Many technical candidates receive job offers months before graduation. Consider an internship or co-op program to help stock the organization’s talent funnel.  If there is already one in place, review it to ensure that it’s engaging with technical majors. Form relationships with college teaching staff. They often know who the strong students are, and they will steer them towards strong employers. 
  • Time is of the essence: Technical candidates are not candidates for long. Impress on stakeholders the importance of moving quickly—or risk losing the hire to a competitor.  
  • Stay in touch with compensation:  High-tech talent comes with a price.  Be prepared to pay competitively or even above-market to attract the best. 

Individually, these approaches yield moderate results.  If there is any “secret” to recruiting technical talent, it’s executing these in concert.  Doing so can create a powerful recruiting force that affords a decided advantage over the many employers who do not.  

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