Recruiters to the Rescue

When Dick Mason, program manager at Unisys U.S.

Federal Government Group, in Reston, Va., has a project to bid on, he begins the process by tapping in to an unusual source. He calls Natalie Schebella, his company's ace in-house technical recruiter.

"She's the first person who comes on board when I start putting a proposal together," says Mason, who in the last six months has hired Oracle programmers, a Unix systems administrator, software engineers and programmers, and Windows NT desktop-support staffers.

Schebella will analyze a potential project for staffing issues and advise whether staffing is both feasible and cost-effective. "When I've got a big bid coming up, I turn to her and the recruiting department to get the program off the ground," Mason says.

Last year, Mason was reviewing a potential contract in Denver, a locale where Unisys Federal hadn't worked previously. (Unisys Corp. declined to give contract details.) Mason wanted to make a bid for the work but saw a hurdle: He would need to put together a local team of 12 or 13 software and network engineers in only 10 days.

"I knew making this contract materialize was going to be extremely difficult, basically because we had no existing database of potential candidates in Denver," Mason recalls. "On top of that, [Schebella] was working from a remote location."

Mason had seen Schebella pull a recruiting rabbit out of a hat before. The recruiter once assembled a technical team in Kansas in a mere 72 hours, conducting an impromptu recruitment open house and finding candidates literally overnight.

For the Denver contract, Schebella made a series of cold calls, contacting local IT workers via a network culled from earlier hires and previously qualified job applicants whose resumes and contact information she saves. Her effort paid off.

"Natalie saved our bacon in Denver, as she does every time," Mason says. "If it wasn't for her ability to find truly qualified people at a minute's notice, there would be a large number of bids that we couldn't be part of at all."

Technical recruiters become players

Organizations are recognizing IT recruiters' influence and importance to the bottom line, says Marjorie Bynum, vice president, workforce development at Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), in Arlington, Va.

"Technical recruiters are becoming more integrated into IT projects. They are taking on more of a role than just identifying the right person to hire. They are, after all, pipelines to the IT talent as well as pipelines to the company they work for," Bynum says.

Recruiters interpret the paperwork

With the IT labor shortage making for staffing dramas everywhere, recruiters have to be on top of their skills-assessment game. Some even go to great lengths to understand the target of their efforts. Laura Chilton, a technical recruiter for Attachmate Corp., a software developer, in Bellevue, Wash., regularly enrolls in tech classes.

Chilton says tech training allows her to assess a candidate's technical skills in one resume reading. "I could waste time doing a phone screen for soft skills, then another screening for technical skills. But such a long process is just not acceptable in today's tight market," Chilton says.

Like Chilton, Schebella can sling a little lingo. "She doesn't just know the buzzwords. She understands the technology," says Mike Florio, Schebella's boss and director of worldwide planning and recruiting at Unisys U.S. Federal Government Group. "I wouldn't be surprised if soon a candidate gave her the ultimate compliment for a technical recruiter by asking her whether or not she is an engineer too."

Part of Schebella's philosophy is getting right to the heart of the technology.

She believes that to actually know systems analysis and design is integral to her job. A technical background helps her not only connect with a candidate but also discuss a candidate's skills with an IT manager.

Although technical knowledge is important, good recruiters can read between the resume lines and judge technical candidates' soft skills, Bynum says. Such skills, says ITAA's vice president, might be overlooked by a technical manager.

"In the long run, a technical employee's lack of interpersonal or organizational skills could jeopardize a team's efficiency," Bynum says.

"Finding a well-rounded staff is key, and only a recruiter can prescreen for that."

Make an offer

Besides insight into a candidate's skills, a successful technical recruiter understands the IT-hiring landscape and knows a fair employment offer on sight.

"I rely on our technical recruiter to update me properly on whether the offer we want to make is competitive, because he knows the industry trends in compensation for IT workers," says Michael Barnett, a senior technical manager and director of professional services at Blueprint Technologies, an e-commerce and legacy systems software architecture company in McLean, Va.

Technical manager recruit informally

In-house recruiters also work with IT managers to utilize every recruitment opportunity. Russell Klosk, interim director of recruiting at Blueprint, must.

The three-year-old company currently has 56 staff members, more than twice the number of employees it had in October 1999. Blueprint plans to have a staff of 70 to 85 by the end of 2000.

In July, Klosk wrote and circulated a high-level recruiting memo for technical managers to e-mail informally to colleagues for the purpose of advertising the company and leverage their personal contacts. Klosk hopes that the informal memo will be passed along by these contacts to someone looking for a new job.

The memo consists of rewritten formal job specifications for the company's always-in-demand position of senior software architect experienced in a variety of computer languages and codes. The memo isn't like the usual job posting; it goes out minus the human resources jargon. "It's nothing fancy or glossy, just a means to help brand the company," Klosk says. "It also gets the technical managers and other hiring managers involved."

Recruiters move up the corporate ranks

With IT staffing a huge bottom-line issue, recruiters hold a new star status.

Brian Hunt, vice president of corporate development and recruiting at New York-based Clickthebutton.com Inc., a price-comparison Web site, is considered part of the company's management team.

Hunt acts like any other dot-com executive. He works long hours and eats lunch at his desk, and both practices give him good insight into the corporate culture. Recently the exec made an unusual, albeit small, move. His desk used to be in the corner. Now the exec-recruiter sits smack-dab in the middle of the office's loft space. He also attends weekly meetings with department heads to prioritize hires.

It's all part of a plan to give him the recruiting edge. "How else could I understand the company at present and the company in the future? Being so available will ultimately result in selecting people well," Hunt says.

Hunt isn't alone in the long hours. Unisys' Schebella is no clock-watcher. "I'm not a nine-to-fiver," she says. "I'm available all the time because IT recruiting these days is done on a daily basis and has a sense of urgency to it. So I'm in constant communication with what I call my 'triangle' -- the candidates, the customers, and the clients. I understand the IT environment; I'm a mediator, not an administrator. My job, as I see it, is to help Unisys grow."

Reena Jana is a free-lance writer in New York. Contact her at reena_jana@hotmail.com.

Tips for technical managers on working with in-house IT recruitersCommunicate:

"So many technical managers see their world and that of the in-house recruiter as separate islands," says Marjorie Bynum, vice president of workforce development at Information Technology Association of America, in Arlington, Va.

"But spending time together visiting each other's departments and engaging in a constant, ongoing dialogue about each other's needs is key."

Documenting all meetings in writing, especially those in which candidate requirements or salary and benefits are discussed, is vital, Bynum says.

Educate: "I try to help our recruiter understand what the hot new technical skills are," says Michael Barnett, a senior technical manager at Blueprint Technologies, a software developer, in McLean, Va. "Technology moves and changes so quickly these days. In six months, I might be looking for a completely different set of skills." Inviting a recruiter to technical meetings, encouraging them to take programming classes, or simply engaging in one-on-one briefings are all excellent strategies, Barnett says.

Participate: Sometimes attending job fairs with your in-house IT recruiter can help. "Having a real, live technical manager makes a position and company seem more real to a potential hire," says Dick Mason, program manager at Unisys U.S.

Federal Government Group, in Reston, Va. "And you can answer specific technical questions. It might not seems like it, but working as a team at a fair can save a lot of future candidate screening time."

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