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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

5 ways to differentiate your IT department to attract tech talent

With so many IT opportunities, candidates are scheduling interviews with multiple companies at once, so make the most of your time by starting with your company story.

5 ways to differentiate your IT department to attract tech talent
[deagreez/AdobeStock]

While the pandemic hurt many sectors of the U.S. economy, the rise in remote work, distance learning, and e-commerce caused demand for technology services and infrastructure to explode. While tech industry job growth only hit 0.1% in 2020, in April 2021, experts were already expecting 2% growth for 2021. By June 2021, IT job openings were reaching a two-year high, but unemployment rates and tech workers looking for jobs were at a two-year low. Companies have gotten competitive, even desperate, to draw in tech workers and keep them on their teams.

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Meanwhile, industry growth made Minnesota a technology hotbed long before the pandemic. By 2017, the state’s tech industry was ranked 17th in the nation. Three years later, it ranked sixth in technology and science workforce. In 2021, CNBC placed it among the top four U.S. states for technology and innovation. Even people in the field may not know there are 18 Fortune 500 companies in Minnesota, many of which are in tech, because of how quickly this growth happened.

Since my company is based in Minnesota, we felt this competition growing for years before COVID-19, and we sometimes struggled to attract talent. Over time we learned that these five things, even more than salary alone, can be the real deal makers or breakers in hiring and keeping talent.

1. OFFER OPPORTUNITIES FOR ADVANCEMENT

To compete with larger tech companies with direct paths up the ladder, smaller businesses need to offer opportunities for advancement. Some small companies may have more people on their team than there are rungs to climb up the ladder, so instead of traditional promotions, offer opportunities to systematically take on more responsibility. Offer your team individual development planning for their career paths, as well as competency paths for training and increased skills. Engage your employees early by sharing opportunities your organization offers so they feel compelled to stay.

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2. BE FLEXIBLE WITH WORK HOURS AND LOCATION

Since the pandemic, work from home (WFH) has become a norm that many people are unwilling to give up. One 2021 survey of remote workers found that 58% would “absolutely” look for a new job if they were expected to return to an office, and another report found 65% of tech workers preferred to work from home at least three days a week or more. Even before the pandemic, large tech companies on the coasts were offering higher wages and fully remote work, plucking a lot of talent from our backyard, and we had to open the door to hybrid options and remote recruitment strategies. WFH is not for everyone, but you should at least have remote capabilities to offer flexible options to compete.

3. START WITH YOUR COMPANY STORY

With so many IT opportunities, candidates are scheduling interviews with multiple companies at once, so make the most of your time by starting with your company story. When we were hiring a while back, the first two candidates we chose ended up having more offers on the backburner. One resigned after two weeks; the other emailed us Friday evening letting us know we shouldn’t expect them to start on Monday. The second time around, we knew we needed to make candidates feel more committed to our company from the start, so instead of jumping into technical questions, we told them our story. We talked about our growth, culture, and experience being on the ground floor of a booming industry. When you share your company story, a candidate starts envisioning themselves as a part of it and feels more committed to staying.

4. HAVE TOP TECH TOOLS

Attract top tech talent by having top tech tools. Our company offers dedicated fiber to the building and fiber to the desk, direct to the workstation. When candidates walk in to see a whole building of fiber with access to information in milliseconds, it’s a pretty big sell.

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Even after hiring, a tech company has to systematically give workers new shiny tools that can improve their performance. I knew an engineer who once quit a job just because he wanted better gadgets. To attract tech workers and keep them, make sure you stay up-to-date with the most popular tools among industry experts.

5. BE ALIGNED WHERE IT MATTERS MOST

Even in technology, it’s the people part of the business that makes a difference, so look for a strong alignment of goals, values, and discipline, especially when recruiting top tech and C-suite talent. According to Gallup, a 10% improvement in connecting employees with the mission or purpose of their organization would lead to an 8.1% decrease in turnover. Building and promoting this organizational identity has to start at the top, so hire workers in alignment with your values and make sure you adhere to them with integrity yourself.

WIN THEM OVER

The tech industry has always been competitive, but now might be the most competitive it’s been since the dotcom bubble burst over two decades ago. The pandemic brought a flood of businesses upgrading to enterprise software to go remote, while homebound consumer tech simultaneously boomed. Between the tech giants and a sea of emerging startups hoping to ride that wave, competition for talent will be high. If you have the benefits, opportunities, flexibility, and tools, your chances of winning over candidates can be just as high.

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Cheri Beranek is the President and CEO of Clearfield, providing optical-fiber management and connectivity solutions across North America.

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