Anyone who has worked in the information technology field has probably seen or heard about a company that experiences rapid growth but doesn’t have the ability to properly staff up. The best-case scenario is they learn from their mistakes and do better in later stages of growth. The worst case is that the moves are a company-killer.
So, the smart thing to do when it’s time to grow or ramp up a project is to seek out help from an IT staffing service either for temporary help or for recruitment to key positions.
But when you think about it, if you feel your company isn’t capable of hiring the right people, how confident are you in your ability to select the right staffing company?
The key to choosing the right company – like choosing an employee – is to ask the right questions before you strike a deal. And they better be able to give great answers to the questions. If not, you should be ready to move on. This process is as important – and maybe will have more impact – as any process you went through to find key senior executives and managers. Your IT staffing service will have an impact on your company for years to come. So, you need to get this one right.
Here are a few questions that the best IT staffing companies should have no problem using their experience and concrete data metrics to answer.
What is their average time to fill a position?
A good answer will vary considerably based on the type of position and type of work. Your local job market or the particulars of your compensation and benefits can also affect the time to fill.
The key metric – and a good staffing service WILL have metrics to show you – is if their average time-to-fill is better than yours. They aren’t worth the fees and commissions if they aren’t able to save you time and money.
To give you an idea of what a good number is, they should be able to beat these industry averages (in days):
Software Engineer: 35
Senior Applications Developer: 28.3
Product Engineer: 28.1
Implementation Specialist: 27.8
Hardware Engineer: 27
Quality Assurance: 25.9
Data Engineer: 25.8
Database Administrator: 25.5
Web Applications Developer: 23.5
Data Scientist: 23.2
Find out what their typical averages are for the types of positions you need to fill. You might also ask if their staff compensation is tied to speed in finding a successful hire. Those are some of the first steps to understanding their process and their overall ability to effectively find and hire the right people.
What is the turnover rate of your recruiters and other internal staff?
There is no better way to gauge their ability to hire than their own internal record. In addition to it being a sign of their general ability to find good people, you also want to know that you will be dealing with the same people consistently throughout your relationship.
According to the American Staffing Association, the turnover rate overall among recruiters is 25%, which is fairly high when compared to many industries. One of the contributing factors that causes this is burnout, when a recruiter simply doesn’t have the time to effectively recruit for all the positions on his or her schedule.
That means a high turnover rate can be a major red flag. It could mean that the people assigned to your account are overworked and might not have the time to devote to your open positions. You don’t want to be sitting in a long queue behind a dozen other accounts only to find out that the person assigned to you has quit to go work at a less dysfunctional company.
How do you remain responsive to clients and candidates?
Look for a company that shows a dedication to developing and using a real process and tools for candidate tracking and relationship management.
Their ability and willingness to respond to your emails, calls and other contacts are a sign of how well they will be able to build a relationship with candidates who are right for your open positions. They are essentially acting as your “sales force” to sell your position to potential candidates. Like with any sales position, good follow-through and communication are essential. That goes for both soft skills like the ability to communicate verbally and over email as well the essential tools that a company should be using to track and manage their customer relationships.
Have them walk you through the hiring process from the perspective of a candidate. Find out how they will connect with people, what questions they might ask, and how often they stay in contact.
You’ll also want a picture of how they maintain contact on the other side with you, the hiring party. Look for a service that provides regular check-ins and touchpoints with you, so you are always in the loop with the process.
What techniques do you use to find new candidates?
There’s a good chance that they consider this to be a trade secret of sorts. But they should be able to give you a general overview of their normal methods for finding and contacting people.
A key differentiator between going through the hiring process yourself and using an IT staffing service should be their ability to find and hire passive candidates. A passive candidate is someone who is good fit for your job but is not currently looking for work. Attracting and capturing the attention of these people can make all the difference in creating a successful hiring process.
A good IT staffing service should have a lot of experience in finding suitable passive candidates. They know that some of the best hires you can make are of people who are already employed. You go into the process knowing that they are successful in their field, are a good fit for their current team, and are only likely to change jobs when they encounter a potential passion project.
Approaching these people and convincing them to interview is the truly challenging part of this process. Your IT staffing service should have plenty of experience in this and have the hire rate to prove it.
What kind of evaluation and skills tests do you conduct?
For some positions, there are specific certifications or education that must come along with any candidate. With others, a job knowledge or skills test could be a good indicator of suitability for the job.
There are a number of tools out there, such as Vervoe, that provide good insight into the real applicable skills of a candidate beyond their paper credentials. A good staffing service will use one of these tools or some in-house success measurement tool. They should be able to share these types of tests with you and show you some proof of their effectiveness
In addition to tests that are directly related to the work the candidate will be doing, a lot of staffing services also conduct personality tests, cognitive tests, integrity tests, emotional intelligence tests and more. For each of these types of analytical tools, it’s important that the service be able to explain the significance and value of each test.
Your recruiting company should be able to tell you, for example, how an emotional intelligence score corresponds with the overall job performance. Emotional intelligence includes traits such as self-awareness, self-management, and social relationship management. Many companies have found that high-scoring people in these areas tend to deliver a better predictor of success than certain other tests, such as an IQ test. But an experienced staffing service should be able to connect the dots and show you how their specific methodology accomplishes this.
What is your process for background checks?
The Society of Human Resource Managers found that a shocking 53 percent of job applications and résumés have inaccuracies. For a staffing service, they are basically placing their reputation on the line with each individual hire. They can sometimes even be liable legally if for the actions of a person they place in a job.
With that in mind, they should have a mature and well-considered policy on various types of background checks. Most IT staffing services will check the majority of these:
- Identity checks: For U.S.-based hires, the staffing service should have already confirmed the eligibility status of a candidate through either citizenship or a visa. Specialized staffing agencies can also facilitate the application and approval of foreign non-residents for specialized visas and residency applications. Either way, this is something that your IT staffing service should be able to take off your plate.
- Drug screens: This type of screening is becoming more common in tech. Traditionally, drug screens were employed more often for positions operating heavy machinery or handling valuable merchandise. However, IT firms are expanding their use of drug tests. Certifying a drug-free workplace can qualify a company for government contracts or other sensitive business.
- Education verification: Certain degrees and certifications may be considered requirements for a position or make a candidate eligible for better compensation or a more senior position. As important as it is to confirm that these credentials are accurate, it’s also a basic test to see if a person has lied on their résumé.
- Criminal background check: This is a particularly essential point because a criminal record is often an automatic deal-breaker for many staffing services. In rare cases when a particularly good candidate discloses their record ahead of time, the service might gather the details and let you decide on their suitability to join your organization.
- Employment reference check: This too can be simply an honesty test, where the company verifies that past employment on the résumé matches the truth in terms of dates, title and other basics. This is because many corporations prohibit their staff from discussing the history of former employees. In some cases, however, it might be possible to get a real picture of how a person might perform in a given environment by getting input from a former manager.
- Credit history check: Tech companies dealing in the financial area or handling secure customer data may be required to conduct credit checks on all employees. The thinking goes that a person with bad credit likely has many debts and could be tempted to commit fraud or steal data based on the knowledge they obtain on the job. A credit check may end up disqualifying some great candidates, but in certain industries it’s still essential to examine a candidate’s credit history.
How do you screen for soft-skills and teamwork?
A keyword search of candidates will easily turn up with a solid list of people with the technical skills to do a given job. But hiring based only off of these skills can result in technically proficient hires who lack the ability to contribute in a team setting.
Companies tend to find that their top employees have soft skills like teamwork, a focus on the customer experience and communication. Staffing services look to screen for these skills by favoring experienced, successful candidates. The downside of this is, of course, that senior people cost more. Finding someone for a junior position who already has strong soft skills is the big challenge.
In a recent survey of CIOs conducted by Robert Half, more than half responded that younger IT workers didn’t display the soft skills they valued. Missing skills included:
- Written and verbal communication: This is as simple as proper email etiquette or as complex as having the correct format and proper approach when reviewing code.
- Ability to lead others: A less essential skill in a junior worker, but still needed in certain development methodologies where a junior developer is given control of a specific feature or element of a larger project.
- Teamwork: As IT projects grow, teamwork becomes more important. Many tech companies look for the ability to collaborate over certain technical skills because they feel that a good team member can easily be taught the specific technical background for a job.
- Passion: This is probably the most difficult to measure. But when looking at younger candidates, an IT staffing service may ask to see examples of school-related or independent projects that demonstrate an ability to engage and follow through.
- Basic customer service: Even if they aren’t in positions that face your external end-users, it’s important to treat internal departments with a “customer-focused” attitude. This helps maintain a congenial and professional atmosphere.
- Positive attitude: Job references, even from totally unrelated fields can be an essential tool to assess a person’s attitude. You might not care if your new graduate knows how to clean an espresso machine, but you sure would like to know if they were willing to try.
- Desire to learn: Professional development is an essential element of a successful IT worker. There is always something new and the most successful people are willing to jump right in and figure it out.
A successful IT staffing service should have experience finding people with these soft skills and should be able to give examples of how a person’s background and previous work demonstrates them. Finding great technical candidates who also have great soft skills is a major value-added proposition for an IT staffing service.
How can you help us analyze our open positions and get our staffing levels correct?
Estimation of staffing levels and workloads is one of the things tech companies get wrong all the time. Many projects are planned, estimated and staffed based on the back-of-the-napkin calculations of an experienced manager or senior staff member. They may get it right most of the time, but when they get it wrong, it can cost the company a lot of time and money.
Companies looking to more effectively estimate the time needed to complete a project will need a more accurate and thorough process. This internal process involves:
- Identifying business goals.
- Determining current staffing levels.
- Forecasting future needs.
- Analyzing gaps between current and future needs.
- Planning the structure of your staff.
As your external partner, a good IT staffing service should be able to help with Steps 3, 4, and 5. Their staff planning process will be driven by the data and experience they have accumulated over time. A new company might be making its first attempt at a full staffing plan. But a good staffing service has seen it all before and has measurable data-driven actions it can take to help you work out yours.
Instead of telling them: “I need two senior developers and three juniors on staff by next month,” tell them about your project and ask them to assess what positions and personnel changes would support your needs. Let them come to you with specific staffing suggestions based on their experience working with similar clients.
Asking the hard questions
Remember that when you are bringing in an IT staffing service, you are bringing in a partner that should be acting in your best interests and as an extension of your corporate structure. They are also shaping the way your company and staff will look for some time to come.
That means that connecting with a staffing service is as important as hiring any senior manager or executive. You need to take the time to ask the right questions and consider the answers you receive.
For help getting started, download our one-page cheat sheet that will help you open the conversation. This is just the beginning of the process. You should spend a lot of time analyzing their ability to help. But this one-pager will help during the initial search process as you consider the impact this decision will have on your company.
download our one-page cheat sheet
that will help you open the conversation.
You should spend a lot of time analyzing their ability to help. But this one-pager will help during the initial search process as you consider the impact this decision will have on your company.