Retain a high-tech employee instead of recruiting for one

Dec. 1, 1999

The first thing to look at is where you are losing people. Plug the leaks before you start bailing the water.

The shrugged shoulders and the clenched-lips look of hiring managers have frustrated recruiting efforts at the best of companies. Have you been down the same path over and over again? Do a little self-audit and see what number of new job openings are really replacements (be honest) and how many are actually completely new-business-related. Are you always having to look for high-tech help?

I agree it is difficult to find, recruit, and retain qualified high-technology employees. There are endless lists of tips and tricks and Websites devoted to improving recruiting efforts. I believe we are in search of a Holy Grail when, really, none is needed. Since your business is going so well, you need to expand; I congratulate you. How will you go about recruiting and hiring the next employee(s) needed to support this expansion?

The same way you did in 1989, 1979, and before. Placing an ad in the paper, the trade journals, and Websites, and hiring a head-hunter are all good ideas, but what are you doing differently? The fact that you post a job opening on a Website instead of in a newspaper is hardly a paradigm shift. What number of these new positions are truly new and could not have come from your existing staff? Are you really recruiting or just replacing high-tech employees?

In Austin, TX, the unemployment rate officially hovers right now around 2%. This number is statistical noise, and the rate for skilled professionals is probably a negative number. Therefore, placing an ad and waiting for the resumes to come pouring in is hardly an effective strategy, yet it's the most common strategy.

Examine the areas and reasons why employees are leaving your company. You would be surprised at how often money is not the reason for people leaving and taking a position at another company. The issue of more money just makes the decision to leave easier.

When an employee tells you he's unhappy or unsatisfied, you should be listening with this in mind, "Do I want to go through all the hassle of replacing this employee?" There is no need to yield to every complaint or minor whim of an employee, but so often complaints or suggestions just fall on deaf ears. Do this often enough and soon you are recruiting for high-tech employees.

If you have not even visited employee retention as a management topic (and believe me, you're in the majority), why bother recruiting new help when you have no plan to retain them once hired? Empty chairs are expensive. When someone leaves, regardless of their overall productivity, they leave a chair that produces zero. Perks and money are not bad lures for obtaining new hires, but if the new employee's loyalty is based solely on these lures, don't be surprised when he turns in his notice to take up with something even more alluring. Simply blaming it on more money means you're avoiding your responsibility at employee retention.

For a real tip on how to recruit high-tech employees, start devising a plan of retention once you've hired them. The retention plan need not be complicated or even written down. Did you ever quit and take a new job? Sure, there were the "great-opportunity jobs," but what about the jobs you quit, then eventually settled for any job that paid decent money? You were not happy with something or someone. So what's the plan when one of your high-tech employees, so carefully recruited, is not happy with you?

Attractive salaries are a must. A full benefits package is also a necessity when recruiting talented people. Clever, innovative perks or rewards are always helpful, but nothing is of any real use unless you first close the back door before bringing them in the front door. All employees are dear to an employer, but high-tech employees are in such short supply, it's nothing short of foolishness to let even one slip away.

Employee retention is far cheaper and more productive than recruiting a new employee.

Jeffrey Miller is sales manager at nts/xxcal, a nationwide technical-resources company specializing in information-technology solutions.

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