Making Contract IT Staff Successful: 6 Essential Considerations

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Making Contract IT Staff Successful: 6 Essential Considerations

  1. 1. WHITE PAPER Making Contract IT Staff Successful: 6 Essential Considerations A Staffing Services White Paper | September 2011 A B ST R AC T IT staff augmentation has become a routine requirement in an increasing number of IT shops—primarily because it represents a ready means of controlling labor expenses. This white paper takes an in-depth look at one of the many options available to those seeking to supple- ment their internal IT resources—technical staffing agencies that specialize in IT contractors. There is a multitude of firms that specialize in technical staff augmentation, with little differentiation from one another—making it challenging for any hiring IT manager to know with certainty the quality of the resource being recommended. The white paper discusses 6 characteristics—increasingly being regarded as staffing best practices—that IT professionals should look for in any technical staffing firm under consideration. The white paper discusses 6characteristics—increasingly being regarded as staffing best practices—that ITprofessionals should look for in any techni- cal staffing firm under consideration. W W W. C P T E C H . C O M 781.273.4100 STAFFING
  2. 2. TECHNICAL WHITE PAPER A small number of IT staff I N T RO D UC TI O N augmentation firms are creating a IT staff augmentation has become a routine requirement in an increasing number of IT shops—primarily be- new hiring paradigm,that places on- cause it represents a ready means of controlling labor expenses. There are many options available to those staff senior IT Solutions Architects in seeking to supplement their internal IT resources: general staffing agencies that also supply technical charge of screening and talent; technical staffing agencies that specialize in IT talent; independent IT contractors that seek direct recommending talent in their areas of contract work; outsourced IT resources; and insourced IT professional services firms. competencies. The scope of this white paper precludes a comparison of the many staffing augmentation options listed above. Rather, it takes an in-depth look at one—technical staffing agencies that specialize in IT contrac- tors—and discusses 6 considerations IT professionals should make to ensure that any contract IT staffers hired are successful at meeting their company’s goals. 1 . M A KE I T PRO F E S S I O N ALS R E S PO N S I BLE FO R PL AC E M E N T IT staffing firms typically use career recruiters to screen and place senior IT talent. Such firms use a fundamentally identical qualification process, which matches a specific technical skill set with a similar spec originated by the hiring company. When responding to a client’s query, recruiters typically search vast databases and seek matches to the stated technical skill set. While such an approach is widely practiced, it is not without its problems— a career recruiter can never match the technical knowledge of a career IT solutions architect. Such architects have seldom been in- volved in IT staffing recommendations in the past, but they are becoming involved now. A small number of IT staff augmentation firms—namely those part of a larger IT professional services firm—are creating a new hiring paradigm, that places on-staff senior IT Solutions Architects in charge of screening and recommending talent in their areas of competencies. An Architect will interact with the IT professional responsible for hiring, understand the job requirements, write the job spec, then personally screen, select, and recommend the most appropriate talent. This new paradigm has three sets of skilled IT professionals—client, staffing agency, and contractor—com- municating with one another, from establishing the job spec to recommending the best-fit candidate, and is very likely to result in higher consultant success ratios in less time than ever before. 2 . G O B E YO N D T EC HN I C AL E X PE RT I S E Historically, IT job specs—both those originated by the hiring client and those generated by IT staffing agen- cies—have concentrated on technical skill sets, including levels of seniority and number of years’ experi- ence. A typical technical job spec for a Senior Network/Security Engineer working with team members to architect, design, and deploy solutions that involve Network and Security might be as follows: »» Cisco and NetScreen administration, consulting, or integration experience »» Experience with switching, routing, firewall, intrusion detection/prevention, and network load balanc- ing infrastructures. »» Systems consulting experience with security/networking technologies »» Experience with f5 LTM and GTM »» Experience with Link Controllers »» Experience with Juniper products, firewalls, SSLVPN, intrusion detection, routers and switches Such technical consideration is important, because without such expertise, a contractor would not begin to qualify for a given assignment. However, technical skill sets alone are an inadequate predictor of a candidate’s ability to be successful onsite. A superior approach would require a job spec that goes beyond technical expertise to enumerating the precise work that must be accomplished during the assignment. So for the Senior Network/Security Engineer, a competent statement of work would also include: »» Deliver medium to large size, single or multi-product projects, could include multiple computer environ- ments where design is fairly straight forward to extremely complex »» Perform Network/security audits, assessments, utilization studies, and security reviews »» Assist in pre-sales consulting when required »» Estimate time frames, quality and quantity of resources required to successfully implement project 2 W W W. C P T E C H . C O M 781.273.4100 STAFFING
  3. 3. TECHNICAL WHITE PAPER The job specification that outlines specific »» Submit customer incident details in problem management system and centralize documents on-line work to be accomplished as well as the »» Provide Knowledge Transfer and informal training to Customerstechnical expertise required would certainly appear to result in more highly qualified The job specification that outlines specific work to be accomplished as well as the technical expertise candidates—and can seldom be written by required would certainly appear to result in more highly qualified candidates—and can seldom be written a recruiter. by a recruiter. It requires the intimate knowledge of a senior IT professional who has personally done such work before, more than likely, many times. As noted in Consideration #1 above, such professionals are most often available to guide staffing recommendations when they work in IT professional services firms that also offer IT staff augmentation. 3 . RE Q U IR E F I R S T- HAN D K N OWLE D GE O F CO N S U LTAN T S Most IT staffing firms—especially those with a decade or more experience— have extensive databases with resumes on thousands of consultant candidates. Those whom they have placed in the past have been rated for their job performance, and these ratings are part of their record. For firsttime placement candidates, reference checks from former employers are undertaken and associated with their record. This typical placement process works to recommend what appear to be right-fit candidates with a history of the best job-approval ratings. Such a system that rewards highest-rated candidates was considered best practice until recently, when an even more definitive approach has surfaced. This newer approach is only available in IT professional services firms that also have IT staffing capabilities, because it requires that potential staffing candidates have worked along-side the recommending IT professional in an actual client engagement. So, for example, if the IT professional services firm were hired to plan and implement a data center migra- IT staffing firms that can recommend tion project, the project team would routinely involve a lead Senior Solutions Architect overseeing a team of consultants with a first-hand knowledge full-time and contract Systems Engineers. If later there were a request for a contractor with migration expe- of that consultant’s proven ability to do rience, that same lead Senior Solutions Architect would intimately know if the capabilities of the contract the work, have the potential of being able System Engineer and able to judge if that individual would be capable of handling the migration assign- to make better-fit recommendations than ment. IT staffing firms that can recommend consultants with a first-hand knowledge of that consultant’s firms relying only on third-party evalua- proven ability to do the work, have the potential of being able to make better-fit recommendations than tions and ratings. firms relying only on third-party evaluations and ratings. 4. SO FT S K I LLS M AT TE R The great majority of IT staffing firms balance “hard skills”, such as the ability to perform specified job- related tasks and/or technical expertise, with “soft skills”, such as personality and work ethic. For the Senior Network/Security Engineer, for example, such skills might include the following: »» Be able to communicate and work with members of several teams responsible for different functions and technologies and exhibit diplomacy in coordinating/leading project efforts »» Be capable of learning new products and technology and understand how they fit into the overall strategy »» Have a high level of initiative and sound independent judgment »» Demonstrate a disciplined and conscientious outlook, good planning and organizational skills »» Have excellent presentation and communication skills to provide effective knowledge transfer The sophistication and thoroughness with which soft skills are judged, however, varies considerably from firm to firm, and person-to-person doing the evaluation—but they have as much bearing on potential suc- cess as do hard skills. Many firms rely on face-to-face interviews and reference checks to get at success-defining (or defeating) attributes. The challenge with gaining an accurate assessment of these softer skills, and their likely positive or negative effect on the work to be performed, is that such assessments are usually subjective. Some IT staffing firms seek to remove such subjectivity through more a more formalized testing process. Some have even developed their own proprietary tests, which may be proven to correlate with higher success rates over time. Be sure to ask any IT staffing firms you are thinking of working with if they utilize formalized testing, and ask to see the tests. Also ask what correlation they have experienced between specific test results and placement success rates. It is very likely that those firms having a testing track record that is predictive of a consultant’s onsite success will be able to recommend best-fit candidates far more efficiently that those without such capability. 3 W W W. C P T E C H . C O M 781.273.4100 STAFFING
  4. 4. TECHNICAL WHITE PAPER It is very likely that those firms having a 5. KN OW HOW T EC HN I C ALLY SAV V Y THE F I R M’S C LI E N TS AR E testing track record that is predictive of At the end of the day, any hiring IT professional needing staff augmentation simply wants a resource that a consultant’s onsite success will be able is technically able to get the job done, with low-to-no risk. The more challenging the job, the higher is the to recommend best-fit candidates far requirement for technical acumen and implementation excellence. In such circumstances, you will certainly more efficiently that those without such want to work with a staffing firm capable of meeting the technical needs of the most demanding clients. capability But how do you spot such clients? A Fortune 100 client list is not helpful here, unless you know the innerworkings of each IT department. Nor are most staffing firms client lists themselves very helpful, simply because although you might be aware of the product or service a given company provides, insight into the technical sophistication of that client’s IT department is hard to come by. But there is one fast way to make an initial screen of the most techni- cally competent IT staffing firms—simply seek those whose consultants serve as the bench of some of the more innovative high-technology firms, such as NetApp, SAP/BOBJ, Symantec, Oracle, and high technology consumers, such as Fidelity, JP Morgan, and the like. If their consultants are routinely hired and rehired to work IT engagements inside such technologically advanced companies, it’s a good chance they will be able to hit your mark for solid technical expertise. 6. A SK FO R T HE U LT I M AT E M E T R I C : “S T I C K I N E S S ” IT recruiters and clients alike talk about the “right fit”, but any IT professional who has ever tried to hire contractors knows how challenging that can be to achieve. Sometimes it seems that it takes more invest- ment of time to obtain acceptable contractors through a staffing firm than it would be for the hiring com- pany to do it themselves. A statistic that would be extremely helpful to clients when evaluating potential staffing firms would be “candidate stickiness”, also known as success rates. Such a statistic can be defined by a simple ratio, and expressed as percentage: 1 (the job opening)/number of candidates recommended. So a 100% success ratio would represent the optimum track record, since it would mean that the 1 candidate recommended was hired and retained to successfully complete the assignment. A 50% success ratio would mean that1 of 2 candidates was hired, while 30% success ratio would mean that 1 of 3 candidates was hired.A statistic that would be extremely helpful Obviously, the lower the ratio, the worse for the hiring company—both in terms of time spent evaluating and to clients when evaluating potential trying out candidates, but also in terms of opportunities lost. When hiring IT professionals are recruiting, staffing firms would be “candidate they are not doing their primary job, which is maintaining and improving their company’s IT infrastructure. stickiness”, also known as success rates. Equally important, when required IT talent is not on-board and productive, needed IT programs are at risk of missed deadlines, which has broader business consequences—missed cost containments, lost revenue opportunities, competitive disadvantages. Consider only working with IT staffing firms that not only have a success ratio they will openly discuss with you, but consistently average 90- percent-plus. A B O U T CO R PO R ATE T EC HN O LO GI E S , I N C . Corporate Technologies provides consulting services, project staffing, and systems integration to clients seeking continual transformation and optimization of their IT andData infrastructures. Through the ef- fective use of Virtualization, Cloud Computing, and High Impact Business Intelligence, we help our clients reduce operational costs, protect critical IT assets, and position themselves for growth. We leverage the power of Information Technology to meet our clients’ strategic and critical business goals— reducing cost, increasing revenue, and mitigating business risk. We focus on giving IT professionals the resources they need to successfully solve complex business challenges through the use of innovative, high quality and cost effective IT solutions, services, products, staff and strategic recommendations resulting in long term and mutually beneficial relationships. © 2011 Corporate Technologies, Inc. All rights reserved. Corporate Technologies is a registered trademark of Corporate Technologies, Inc. All other trademarks or registered trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

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