CXO

What enlightened CIOs need to know to compete for entry-level IT workers

Why is it hard for corporations to compete against consulting firms for entry-level talent? What does a CIO need to know in order to do so? Tim Landgrave has some answers.


Are you having trouble getting certified entry-level IT workers? Are you wondering why they choose to work for consulting firms rather than joining the corporate IT world? What is it that you don't understand about the competition for these workers? To help answer these questions, let me tell you why I believe that consulting firms have a better shot at these employees. I think the issues affecting the workers’ job decisions are:
  • Lifestyle issues: I ask potential employees what they like to do at 7 p.m. If they like to be home in front of the TV, playing volleyball, or going out to dinner, they ought to take the corporate job. However, if they like to be at home in front of the computer installing software, they ought to take the consulting job. Certain lifestyles seem to fit people who are successful in the consulting field, and those lifestyles usually involve staying up until 2 a.m. playing with a beta. Whereas the workers who are successful in the IT corporate community typically want to get into the office at 8 a.m., leave by 5 p.m., and not worry about computers after that. And that's not a bad thing—it's just different.
  • Compensation: With most corporations, the worker is going to get a base salary with bonuses. However, consulting firms often are willing to allow employees to make more money by putting some of their compensation at risk. Within a year they can get some percentage of billings. This creates a variable component to their compensation that they won’t find in a corporate environment. It almost always boils down to whether the worker wants the stability of a predictable paycheck, or whether he or she wants a sense of being an entrepreneur.
  • Choice of working environment: When they join a consulting firm, new workers might still get placed in a company for a year. The fact is, if workers are newly certified, the most important thing is to get good solid experience in a company. If they are coming from a nontechnical background, career change, or are right out of school, they probably don't understand the politics and nuances of working in an IT department. For that reason, they are probably better off going to work for a couple of years in an IT department to get an understanding of that work environment, as opposed to going out and trying to consult. If a consulting firm is willing to hire people straight out of school with new certifications, it will usually put them into a long-term corporate placement anyway. So what the workers don't know up front is that they are going to get placed in a company regardless of which job they take. An exception to that rule is if they go with a consulting company that primarily deals with small customers with fewer than 100 PCs; then they might get to spend a lot of time in the field, which is a great way to get experience.
  • Variety: We call this the "V word,” and because of it, consulting firms can generally hire all the IT employees they want. We ask potential employees, "Would you rather work with 50 customers in a given month and with 15 or 20 different software packages, even though you'll work some evenings and some weekends? Or, would you rather be adding users to the NT database every day for the rest of your life?" That's the power of the "V word."
  • Skills development: As a recruiting tactic, we use the argument that potential employees will have the opportunity to develop more skills if they work for us—but that's not entirely true. Enlightened CIOs will also get good employees by giving them a chance to develop a lot of skills, especially by paying for additional training. The real problem is that many CIOs are not enlightened. I have CIOs tell me, "We are not going to pay to train our employees because when we do train them, we have to pay them more or they’ll leave." So I say to them, "Let me get this straight. You’d rather keep your employees doing all the grunt work and then hire more expensive consultants like me to do the things that they can’t do because you are not willing to pay them for it or train them to do it?" Like I said: Unenlightened! For CIOs to attract and then retain entry-level talent, they have to be willing to increase an employee’s salary as his or her market value increases. Period.

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