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CIO Bench Coach: How to staff the most difficult-to-fill IT positions

October 31, 2017

Midsize companies are constantly competing with larger enterprises for customers and revenue. But the competition for skilled IT talent is beyond fierce, particularly when it comes to specialized roles like business intelligence (BI) analyst, data scientist, cybersecurity manager and enterprise architect.

So, what’s a CIO to do?

Larry Bonfante, founder of CIO Bench Coach, an executive coaching firm, said there are several steps that CIOs of midsize companies can take when faced with a dearth of candidates for key IT positions. 

"I think the first thing you should do is to try and grow some of that talent on your own," said Bonfante, who served as CIO of the United States Tennis Association for 15 years. "Trying to attract that talent as a midmarket company is going to be difficult because these people are in high demand and most people can't afford that kind of price tag."

Plant a seed, watch it grow
The first step toward creating an internal pipeline of talent that can fill IT leadership roles is to identify the people on your team with a desire to learn more about these positions. For example, if a junior member of the IT team shows an aptitude for database management and analysis, that person is probably a good candidate to nurture for future BI and data analytics roles.

The next step is to let that person work beyond their job description, perhaps by getting involved in cross-functional teams or by shadowing more senior members of the IT staff. They should also shadow business stakeholders from time-to-time to get a better idea of how the business leverages technology. Allow candidates to get some additional offsite classroom training if budgets permit. 

"I think too many CIOs take their people and put boundaries around them for their job descriptions," Bonfante said. "It's better to give them the opportunity to learn and grow and contribute beyond that."

Partnering closely with software vendors can also go a long way toward helping you grow talent from within. Vendors understand their technologies better than anyone and can help transfer that knowledge to your IT team.

Build your brand
While attracting the right people for IT leadership roles is often difficult for midmarket companies, it's not impossible, says Bonfante. 

"I think you can find ways to enhance not only your personal brand but, more importantly, your organization's brand that bring a sense of visibility to your organization," Bonfante said. "So when people see opportunities there they'll say, 'that might be a great place to work,' because they know that the company is doing some interesting things and innovating in the industry."

One way to get the word out about your winning culture is to investigate industry awards and try to earn some recognition you can publicize. For example, CIO.com's CIO100 Awards honor organizations and the teams that are using IT to deliver business value in innovative ways.

Also, make sure your internal HR team is working with employees to provide positive testimonials at recruitment fairs and in online forums.

When it comes to building your own personal brand, never underestimate the power of word-of-mouth advertising. Before people come to work for you, they'll talk to people who have worked for you in the past.

"Being the right kind of leader and also making sure that people recognize that and recognize what your organization is all about is really important in the IT industry," Bonfante said.

The toughest IT roles to fill
In addition to data analyst, enterprise architect and cybersecurity roles, some of the toughest IT positions to fill these days include technical director, SAP manager, systems analyst, Java architect and Salesforce/CRM developer, according to a study from Burning Glass Technologies, a job market data firm.

When attempting to attract candidates for these roles, don't be afraid to play up the fact that working for a midsize company—an innovative company that's taking on the big guys and shaking up the industry—is an exciting prospect for any potential recruit. And to retain skilled workers after they are hired, make it personal. Find out what's important to your employees on an individual level and help them achieve their goals.

"It's a matter of knowing what matters to your people and giving them the opportunity to accomplish those things and to meet their priorities," Bonfante said. "When you do that you'll get a whole lot of support back in return. When people know you've got their back, they're going to have your back."

Get more expert advice for CIOs today.

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