Small companies need and want more than just smart techies.
In the coming year, company chiefs and their CIOs will be looking to hire people who combine tech savvy with project management and people skills, according to research by job market experts. Given that information technology hiring is on an upswing, they can also expect to pay a bit more to fill job vacancies on their IT teams.
Salaries are up by 4 percent to 5 percent this year compared to last, says Jack Dolmat-Connell, president of DolmatConnell & Partners, a compensation and benefits consulting firm in Waltham, Mass. But demand and compensation are not up across the board. There are certain skill sets—project management among them—for which hiring and compensation are rising faster than the national average, Dolmat-Connell says.
After the hiring doldrums of the past several years, the market for IT professionals is again gathering momentum. By the end of 2004, total employment of IT professionals had climbed to 3.5 million, surpassing the previous peak at the height of the tech boom in 2000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Consulting firm Gartner of Stamford, Conn., recently reported that employment opportunities in IT increased this year and will continue to rise moderately in 2006.
The skill most sought in new hires is managerial experience. "CIOs and hiring managers repeatedly say that hiring is no longer simply a matter of expertise in specific technical subjects," says Allan Hoffman, a technology jobs and career guidance consultant to Monster Worldwide of New York. "What matters is if workers can bring something else."
The right mix of IT and management skills is key. Nonetheless, there are some specific technical abilities that CIOs will be seeking, too.
Based on a survey of a random mix of 1,400 CIOs for its most recent hiring index report, Robert Half Technology—the IT staffing division of Robert Half International, a worldwide hiring consultant based in Menlo Park, Calif.—reports that going into next year, IT chiefs most often cite three technical skill sets that they want in new hires: 81 percent say Microsoft Windows NT, 2000 and XP administration expertise; 51 percent, SQL Server management; and 49 percent, wireless network management abilities.
As to IT specialties that will be in demand, 19 percent of respondents to the Robert Half survey point to networking, 15 percent say help-desk and end-user support skills, 12 percent cite applications development, and 11 percent say data and database management.
Hoffman says the need to combine a solid technical skill set with management strength is more important the smaller and faster growing a company is because it will likely hire only a small number of IT personnel.
IT veterans point out that project managers must work and lead colleagues in a diverse environment, says Bruce J. Rogow, principal of ViValdi Odyssey and Advisory Service, an IT management advisory firm in Marblehead, Mass. They must be able to work with a combination of technologies, across organizational boundaries, using multidisciplinary teams and service providers.
"You need a project manager who can fit all those pieces together," says Rogow, who formerly led research at Gartner.
"The challenge is much greater than it was in the past."
Adds Gary Long, a retired Gartner consultant who now heads Software Aspects, a consulting firm in McLean, Va.: "Those skills are harder to come by [than technical prowess]. Programming and applications development can be outsourced, but [companies] need the project managers in-house."
Knowledge of a particular industry is also deemed a strength. CIOs say they need people who can understand the logic of their specific business and figure out what IT initiatives would most effectively support the company's particular mission, Long says.
"CIOs have a hard time finding people with good business skills in addition to their technical skills," he notes. "Business analysts, those who know the business needs and how IT can meet those needs, are very hard to find."
Almost as important—and continually growing in importance in the eyes of those with jobs to offer—are communications skills. The ability to coordinate and facilitate communication is becoming important in supervising team efforts.
"In the past you could go in your corner and come up with your solution," says Helen Campbell, chief technology officer for two sister companies in Vienna, Va.: LaserShip, a shipping business, and LEX, a documents management service. "But today we're always working as a team, and team leaders need to be much more attuned to developing what might be a benefit to all parts of the organization."
Specifically, CIOs are looking for people with the ability to engage with project leaders in other departments and to make effective presentations.
"I value communications very highly," says Alain Benzaken, vice president of technology for TheLadders.com, a New York Internet company specializing in $100,000-plus job listings and career advancement. "Especially in a startup, where you're hired for one thing but might soon find yourself doing something else, I want people who are willing to speak up, and to make suggestions if their experience leads them to believe that there is a better approach."
CIOs also value interpersonal skills such as the ability to forge strong working and business relationships. "Eighty percent of success is attributable to network building among peers and customers—both internal and external," says Bob Rouse, a computer science professor and the vice president of the Leadership Development Institute of the Society for Information Management in Chicago. "Relationships are crucial in the business world. People who have confidence in you because of their familiarity with you from networking will support you in your business dealings."
Other sought-after people skills are the ability to be diplomatic, to deal with confrontation in a professional manner and to manage effectively with diverse personnel, Rouse adds.
Senior IT management executives are searching for sourcing experts, too, points out Christine Bullen, a senior lecturer in the Information Management Department at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J. Companies need IT executives who know where to find service providers worldwide, how to work with lawyers and other contract negotiators, and how to do pricing and arrange financing—no matter what country the provider resides in.
"Sourcing is going to be a significant strategy in the future, so [IT managers] need the skills to manage those projects," Bullen says.
The ability to manage diversity is tested rigorously when IT managers must work with offshore personnel, so those who have a good track record handling offshore service providers are in high demand, says Marc Cenedella, president and CEO of TheLadders.com. "Those who can manage a workforce in a different time zone are incredibly valued. It's becoming a requirement," he says.
Michael Cromar, CFO for CoreLogic, a fast-growing mortgage banking information services firm in Sacramento, Calif., also still relies on instinct as a key component in the hiring process. "In order to be competent, you have to recognize the difference between competence and incompetence."
Nowadays, however, the competency mix has changed, says Cromar, who has been a CIO for other financial services businesses. Increasingly, the search for competence leads Cromar and CoreLogic CIO Cary Marks to look for employees who have business management skills—such as an understanding of the business, communications abilities, and team-playing and team-leading experience—along with common business sense.
Despite all this, Cromar adds, technical expertise is not a secondary or after-thought part of the hiring equation; it's on equal par with business experience. "Technology is both the manufacturing line and delivery mechanism for our business and integral to our value proposition," he says. "Without it, we don't have a business."
The bottom line for small companies seeking IT personnel in the future is fairly clear: Technical expertise will get someone an interview. Management skills will get them hired.