Tech Staffing Brief

Blog for the IT & Engineering Staffing & Solutions Industry

Forget ABC, It’s All About ABR: Always Be Recruiting

Leah McKelvey Headshot

Are you looking for great salespeople and recruiters? Join the club! I have spoken to many industry leaders over the past three months, and literally every person I have spoken to is hiring for these revenue-driving roles.

Considering this situation, your current team is likely juggling more work with fewer resources. This is often a recipe for bad hiring decisions, which ironically lead to less productivity and more stress on your workforce - it’s a vicious cycle.

I recently spoke with Tom Nunn, strategic consultant for the IT staffing industry and a member of the TechServe Alliance Board of Directors, to get his tips for overcoming a common obstacle he sees when coaching growing firms in this climate: Hiring too fast and firing too slow.

Four Ways To Identify Talent with Long-Term Potential

With decades of experience within the staffing and recruiting industry, Tom has seen many firms struggle to identify top talent that will grow with your company. But he’s also seen many that have overcome that struggle. These are Tom’s four keys to identify top talent that will advance with your company:

  1. Always be recruiting
  2. Don’t rush the interview process
  3. Set your team up for success
  4. Have discipline across your team to follow 1, 2 and 3
Staffing and Recruiting Success is All About ABR

These sound easier than they are in practice. For instance, do you have a simple people pipeline where you’re tracking potential internal hires? How often do you review this pipeline? How many conversations did you have with your leadership team about your people pipeline? This last one might be harder: how many touches did your leadership team make this month with talent you’re scouting for your internal team? Unfortunately, this critical component of hiring often becomes an afterthought. Consider adding this people pipeline to your list of key performance indicators because if you’re not ABR, you could already be behind.

1. ABR: Best practices of effective hiring programs

The most effective hiring programs tend to adhere to a set of best practices:

Always be in a recruiting mode for talent => Developing a people pipeline is crucial, or you’ll always find yourself competing with many for a select few. Remember, just because someone is happy where they are, doesn’t mean they’re out of your pipeline. The staffing and recruiting industry thrives on building relationships with passive candidates to deliver results for clients - why isn’t your organization doing the same?

Start at the executive level => Everyone within your organization has responsibility for talent. However, this starts at the top. Set the example by tasking your leadership team with making their list of dream hires and engaging with them at least once a quarter. Just like sales – it’s about timing and you want to be top of mind when your ideal candidate has a bad day.

Ask the most important question => Before moving into the interview process there’s one critical question you have to ask regarding potential talent for your organization: Will they cut it? If you hesitate or don’t know the answer, you have your answer. Be honest early in the process to save time and energy in the long run.

2. Interviewing essentials that provide better insights

Act like a buyer, not a seller => The art of interviewing has taken a hit in recent years - up your game and you’ll see significantly better results. With so much talk about a “talent war,” organizations are focusing more than ever on selling their organizations. This is absolutely important, but more critical is thinking like a “buyer” - ask the right questions to get the information needed to make an informed decision. Act like a buyer for 50 out of 60 interviewing minutes and go into selling mode later.

Go beyond the essentials => Create a standard list of thought-provoking questions to ask people. These revenue-driving roles are critical to your long-term success; digging deeper is necessary to truly understand the value a candidate can bring to your organization. Questions that provide insight into coach-ability, self-awareness and weaknesses can provide tremendous insights.

Don’t make common mistakes => Have you ever given interviewees the answer? It can be tempting, particularly if you’re excited about a particular candidate. Make candidates think with your questions (open ended questions, never “yes or no”), and engage them in further conversation. Dig deeper into their responses and probe for more information that can help determine how they might perform within your organization.

3. Nurturing your top performers for sales and recruiting success

You’ve kept your talent pipeline open - ABR is your new credo and everyone in your organization contributes to your recruiting efforts. Then, you’ve stepped up your interviewing to identify those candidates who are poised to make a real impact on your organization. Now what? It’s time to nurture your new hires to create a successful environment:

Review your onboarding process => Take a close look at your onboarding procedures and be critical - the first 10 days are the most important to long-term success. Are you truly setting up new employees to thrive within your organization? Technical and social elements are key - do employees have the tools needed to get started, and are they comfortable reaching out and interacting with your team? Have expectations been accurately conveyed? What is the process for accountability? Think about the information you would need to feel comfortable if you were just starting out in this role - then, be sure you have properly conveyed that information to your new team members (and that the process is documented and repeatable).

Be present => Be the boss who’s looking over your employees’ shoulders for the first few days to primarily offer encouragement and support. When new employees have a question, be the person who’s behind them (figuratively, over course) with the answer. When they’re not sure where to head for lunch, pop in with an invite or recommendation. Go above and beyond to help new employees get settled and feel comfortable in their new role, and the results will pay off.

Focus on development => Employees with career paths and options have more clearly defined goals. Internal leadership programs are a fantastic talent development tool. Besides creating career paths and logical progression for your team, they can also demonstrate firsthand that committed employees will be promoted. Your top employees continue to perform and contribute to your goals, and morale gets a boost from the firsthand look at how their work can pay off. Keep this morale high by always being prompt with your feedback – both positive and negative. People have a right to know where they stand at all times.

Be willing to say goodbye => Letting people go can be painful, but it is a necessary part of assembling and nurturing a successful team. Keeping staff that underperforms or isn’t a part of the “big picture” can mean hiring in desperation mode. Plus, morale can take a hit when employees see coworkers who underperform continually without ramifications. Don’t put your organization in that position - remove people who aren’t right for your company as soon as possible. If you are saying goodbye and following these rules, there should not be any surprises.

4. Are you inspecting what you expect?

The three steps mentioned above require commitment and discipline. If you’re not monitoring your progress on a regular basis now, you could be missing great talent that will set you up for long-term success.

Great salespeople and recruiters are waiting for an incredible organization like yours to advance their careers. Follow Tom’s advice, and you’ll be on the right path toward attracting and nurturing them.

Beyond Gridlock: Agency Policymaking and the Coming Disruption to the H-1B Ecosystem

To read the headlines and listen to the pundits, one can be forgiven for thinking that Congressional gridlock will leave the immigration landscape unchanged for the foreseeable future.  Even President Obama’s recent executive actions face serious roadblocks in the court system.

But, recent activity in Washington suggests we may be looking at some significant changes in business immigration policy within the foreseeable future.  While Congress may be bogged down and unlikely to move any immigration reform – whether comprehensive or incremental – the Administration and federal agencies are moving on several fronts.  Some of the actions by the Administration could prove disruptive to the H-1B ecosystem and likely to produce some winners and some losers.

The good news is that the groundwork that TechServe has laid over the years –including through our annual lobby day which brings dozens of members to Washington, DC to meet with key policymakers—has positioned us well to weigh in on behalf of industry interests.  In short, our advocacy – your advocacy— can help shape the business environment you operate in for the years ahead.

How do we do that?  Several ways: TechServe staff builds long-term relationships with key policymakers and staff; TechServe staff and members serve as a reliable resource to policymakers on business immigration issues; TechServe engages in thoughtful advocacy that advances members’ interests and helps create a positive impression of our industry.

As we set the agenda for our annual lobby day in June, we are working in a dynamic environment.  The Administration has recently moved to ease approval of L-1B specialized knowledge visas and will be looking to grant work permits to H-4 spousal visa holders.  USCIS will be looking to provide greater clarity on adjustment portability, including removing “unnecessary restrictions on natural career progression and general job mobility to provide relief to workers facing lengthy adjustment delays.”  In other words, many TechServe members may have greater access to IT talent in the Green Card queue.  On the Congressional front, Senator Hatch (R-UT) has reintroduced his bi-partisan “I-Squared” bill that would expand the H-1B program, while opponents including Judiciary Committee Chair Grassley (R-IA) are highlighting abuses in an attempt to thwart those efforts.

While there are a lot of immediate issues that TechServe can have a positive influence on, it’s always important to keep in mind the long-term benefits of our lobbying efforts.  The most effective advocates build long-lasting, constructive relationships with policymakers and staff that can pay dividends later.  For example, even though immigration reform stalled in Congress, TechServe’s lobbying helped establish us as a reliable resource and laid the foundation for good working relationships with key staff.  Two of those Congressional staffers are now with the Administration and are involved in directing the relevant department and agency efforts on business immigration policy.  Thanks to our advocacy efforts, we know that our industry’s perspective is considered during the development of new policies.

Important, too, is your role.  However effective a Washington-based lobbyist can be, policymakers want and need to hear from real people – their constituents.  A business person who can explain the real world impact of policy decisions on real people can have tremendous influence on how policymakers perceive an issue.  That’s why TechServe needs your involvement in our advocacy efforts.

Any advocacy program is bound to have wins, losses and partial victories.  But, the reputation TechServe develops and the relationships we build help us influence policy and ensure a positive business environment, including an H-1B ecosystem that serves the interests of our industry, the clients we serve and our nation.

Your role is critical, and I’m looking forward to you joining us in June in Washington, DC if you are able.  If not you, who?

Evolution in the Face of Change

Steven Laine Headshot

Steven Laine, President & CEO of Future State, President of TechServe Alliance Board of Directors

Steven Laine is a guest contributor to the TechServe blog.

To learn more about Steven, visit his Executive Profile.

My first contact with TechServe Alliance was over 25 years ago when I attended my first Northern California chapter meeting as a recruiter. Stepping into the role of President of the Board of Directors for 2015 really got me thinking about this industry and how it has changed since my first days in the late 1980’s. Way back then, recruiting technology consisted of a well-organized series of file cabinets, each with candidate resumes (obtained by consistent & expensive Sunday newspaper classified ads). Drawer 1 was mainframe programmers; drawer 2, mainframe + online; drawer 3, mainframe + database and so on. Most of our billing consultants were in the first half of the alphabet because a recruiter would pull open the drawer containing the skillset required and start calling. The majority of orders were covered before the recruiter reached the second half of the drawer. Creative recruiters would start at the back of the drawer and reach the less-contacted resources.

Even back then, our industry faced constant change – whether it was the steady advance of new technologies and skills we needed to provide our clients, or the transition to a mature, more commoditized market for staffing with the implications on margins and control over rates. I found TSA Chapter meetings and the National content and conference to be the best places to learn what was changing, and how companies across the country were responding and adapting to be able to thrive in the new circumstances. I found that access to conversations with competitors at both the local and national level accelerated my progress along the learning curve faster than doing it solo and overall helped make the industry better over time.

Over the years it has been fascinating to see how TSA members have changed and evolved as the landscape we operate in has changed. My company has changed substantially too. For 25 years, Future State was a staff aug company focused on IT staffing in Silicon Valley, with a specialty in tech writing and training. When the industry and economy changed, we looked at the variety of ways colleagues in TSA were responding and tried many of them; we avoided the largest clients with the most onerous vendor programs (we were good at relationships, not being micro-managed), considered different industry verticals to sell to, and eventually got out of the ultra-competitive, off-shored IT arena. We used the TSA OPR reports to weigh various options to redo our business model for the next 25 years.

Future State, a member of the association for more than 2 decades, eventually chose to evolve from pure IT staff augmentation to professional services focused on helping our clients thrive through change as an Change Management consulting company. My TSA network was extremely helpful in getting ideas to consider, integrate and incorporate in to our way of working through the process.

I just returned from the first TSA Board of Directors meeting of 2015 in Tucson earlier this month and had a great time connecting with the other volunteer board members from TSA companies across the country. The association still focuses on providing information and actionable data, a legislative voice, best practices, contract templates and networking opportunities. The environment we all operate continues to be ever-changing. TSA will continue to find ways to aggressively support members companies in their success, no matter where their focus is in the IT and Engineering services sector.

I’m excited to work with the entire board to continue the legacy of TSA, examining what we do for members today, and looking ahead so the future continues to be bright for our industry and our members.

How has your business evolved in the face of the changing dynamics of the industry? How do you believe the association can help as you and your team confront the challenges and opportunities of the future?

I would love to hear from you. Email me at

For the Greater Good: Giving Back

As we come to the end of 2014, it seems like a great opportunity to pause and reflect on our collective efforts and accomplishments in supporting and promoting the IT and engineering staffing and solutions industry. 

Every day, I’m honored to interact with an incredible group of professionals—both the individuals affiliated with our member companies as well as the association team members—who demonstrate a remarkable dedication to their mission, ascribe to the highest standards of integrity and are committed to the pursuit of excellence.  From our inaugural Excellence Award winners, our 2014 Account Executive and recruiter certification program graduates, to other members who have distinguished themselves in a myriad of ways, I am extremely proud of the level of achievement demonstrated throughout the association membership. 

Make a Difference in the Year Ahead

As we approach the New Year, I’d like to ask each of you to consider becoming more active and engaged with us and your industry in 2015. Joining the Association is just the first step. While we are certainly grateful for all of our members regardless of their level of participation, the fact is that it takes more than just signing up to make real progress towards fulfilling our dual mission: “to enhance the members' businesses and advance the IT and engineering staffing and solutions industry.” Although the majority of the research, programming, advocacy, and outreach emanates from headquarters, we rely on an active membership to reach ever greater heights. 

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

Contributing to the greater industry good pays individual dividends.  So what are some things you can do in 2015 to give back to our industry? Here are just a few ideas:

1. Shape Public Policy By Attending Lobby Day

Our annual Legislative Conference (Lobby Day) is TechServe Alliance's premier public policy event. While in Washington, D.C., owners and executives receive a comprehensive briefing on industry issues and the legislative process.  The TechServe team arranges in-person meetings with elected officials and their staff.  First-time attendees almost universally come away exhilarated---having exercised one of the fundamental rights of being an American---to petition their elected officials.  Stay tuned for the dates of this Spring 2015 event---we look forward to having you join us.

2. Get in Front of Elected Officials Locally

Even if you can’t make it to Washington next year, please consider meeting with your elected official in your home district or state. We are happy to help prepare you for a visit with a variety of resources including position papers and talking points. As I mentioned in my last blog, legislative outreach is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Constant relationship-building is a time-consuming but essential undertaking.  You need to build relationships with your elected officials before you need to call upon them to help.  

3. Think Globally, Act Locally

Don’t assume someone else is going to keep your industry network active. To make sure your local TechServe chapter and the national organization are delivering ROI that you expect, make suggestions and consider taking the lead on arranging a speaker you think other owners and executives would find valuable.  Please also consider volunteering for a leadership position; it’s a great way to build visibility within your market. Additionally, invite a peer or colleague to join you for every chapter meeting. Just like in the staffing world, referrals are our best source for members. 

In the coming year, we will be creating a number of Board Advisory Taskforces to advise the board on the most pertinent issues facing our industry and our member companies today. These taskforces will provide an invaluable mechanism to express your priorities and make your voice heard. We’re excited to share more information about this soon. 

4. Do Well by Doing Good 

The current talent shortage in IT and engineering has been well documented, and it is reflected in the growing inequality between supply and demand of skilled professionals. Our member companies have taken up the challenge in a number of ways.  Some have established programs to train returning veterans in IT skills---both giving back to those of who have done so much for our country and developing the IT and engineering talent that our firms, their clients and our country so desperately need.  Others have partnered with charitable organizations such as YearUp, Girls Who Code, i.c.stars and that have developed programs to train the programmers, engineers and technologists of tomorrow.  In the short-term, you’re giving people the opportunity to build critical and marketable STEM skills. In the long-term, you’re developing domestic sources of skilled professionals to grow the talent pool.

If not you, then who?

Make it your new year’s resolution to step up and get more involved. The future of the Association and Industry depends on an active and engaged membership. While we recognize the pressures of running a business, the question remains, “If not you, then who?” 

Please take a moment to comment or drop me a line about how you’re planning to give back in 2015. I’d love to hear your tangible ideas on how to address our industry’s challenges or how to avail ourselves of the opportunities that lay ahead.  

Lastly, happy holidays to you and yours, and best wishes for a productive and prosperous New Year.

A Study in Contrasts: Musings on Boca Raton and Washington, D.C.

As the IT and Engineering staffing & solutions industry recently came together in Boca Raton, Florida for the TechServe Alliance Annual Conference to network and learn, our nation also headed to the polls for mid-term elections. While these events shared the same timing, the key takeaways could not have been more different in both style and substance.

At the conference, we recognized the 20 inaugural winners of the TechServe Alliance Excellence Awards for:

  • outstanding, measurable performance
  • extraordinary team productivity, and
  • dedication to continuous improvement.

These were recurrent themes throughout many of the over 20 breakout sessions and 4 general sessions.

In contrast, attempting to hold our elected officials or policy-making process to these standards will sorely disappoint. What can we expect post mid-terms?

The Election: Less than Meets the Eye

While the election storyline centered on the change in party control in the Senate, the policy implications are actually less than many people think. While some pundits suggest one of the takeaways from the election is that the American people wanted both parties to work together to get things done, the system is structurally set up to yield little likelihood of progress on the big issues of the day.

Why? First, two of the three central players in the public policy process did not change: we still have a Democrat in the White House and Republican Majority in the U.S. House of Representatives (though the majority was expanded). While Republicans won a new majority in the Senate with 53 or possibly 54 seats (depending upon the outcome of the Louisiana runoff), few things of consequence advance in the Senate without at least 60 votes to defeat the threat of a filibuster. While Mitch McConnell rather than Harry Reid will set the Senate’s agenda in 2015, the new Majority Leader is unlikely to be any more successful in advancing contentious issues than the prior occupant of the office.

TechServe’s Legislative Agenda: Focused on Industry Interests

In the aftermath of the election, I have been asked how this will impact the association’s legislative agenda. While the TechServe Alliance Government Affairs Committee and ultimately our Board of Directors reviews the association’s legislative agenda annually, the election is unlikely to cause a significant shift in our public policy positions.

There are a number of reasons why there is minimal shift in our legislative agenda after each election cycle. As the association representing the IT & Engineering Staffing and Solutions industry, we rarely come out “for” or “against” a broad-based issue like immigration reform. Rather, we take a more granular approach by analyzing legislative proposals and determining if it is likely to have a positive or deleterious effect on our industry. For example, in the context of the Senate immigration reform proposal, we successfully fought back attempts to include language in the Senate bill that would have barred IT & Engineering Staffing firms from accessing the H-1B program. By limiting our public policy positions to issues that directly impact companies in our industry, we minimize the likelihood we will unnecessarily engender opposition among elected officials or within the membership on issues where we have “no dog in the fight.” While we may ramp up or ramp down our lobbying activity depending upon the political and legislative landscape, our public policy positions which seek to defend industry interests remain remarkably consistent through Democrat and Republican Administrations and no matter who holds the majority in Congress.

In it for the Long Haul: If Not Us, Who?

Experienced hands at government affairs understand that legislative outreach is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Constant relationship-building is a time-consuming but essential undertaking. For example, for years we have been meeting with the staff of a leading member of Congress during Lobby Day (our annual legislative event where individuals affiliated with member companies travel to Washington, D.C. to lobby) on our industry-specific concerns related to the H-1B visa program. While legislation never advanced in the House, those individuals are now in the Obama Administration formulating policy on the program. While the ROI of our government affairs efforts is not always immediately discernable through pointing to a direct cause and effect relationship, remaining visible and engaged – even when nothing seems to be moving – sets you up for the future.

While I am confident the next two years will not earn either the Administration or the Congress an “Excellence Award” for outstanding, measurable performance, extraordinary productivity, or evidence of continuous improvement, future threats to your business will emerge. Rest assured, TechServe Alliance will remain vigilant, prepared and ready to protect industry interests wherever and whenever they are threatened. I hope you will stand with us. If not “us”, who?

What are your thoughts? Please reach out to us directly or via our social media channels.

The Future of IT & Engineering Staffing and Solutions: Expect the Unexpected

So what’s next? As we prepare for the TechServe Alliance annual conference in just a few weeks, that’s a question that’s been on my mind. Every year, our community comes together to exchange ideas and learn from one another. While a major part of the formal and informal discussions at conference inevitably focus on achieving excellence in execution through proven tactics, I feel it's incumbent upon us as the industry’s trade association to concurrently drive the conversation toward strategic transformation as well. In other words, what we really need to be thinking about is the future of our industry.

Take note: disruptive change is coming. Firms that rely on a non-differentiated business model will find themselves struggling to demonstrate value and will be squeezed by ever tighter margins.

What will the new world of IT & engineering staffing and solutions look like?

Hints of the future exist in the past. Twenty years ago, the rise of job boards kept industry executives awake at night. Fear of disintermediation pushed us collectively to up our game by deepening relationships and adopting technology to improve efficiency. As it turned out, rather than ‘taking us out’, job boards actually accelerated the growth of our industry.

Today, online staffing is the perceived menace, represented by firms like eLance/oDesk, TaskRabbit and Are these transactional services just skimming the edges of the project-based talent market, or are they setting the stage for a bigger play?

Idle threat or game changer?

At first glance, the threat seems minimal. After all, can you imagine a Fortune 500 company deploying a major global upgrade of its enterprise software using individual, bid-based contractors? Not likely. But with a combined market presence of $750 million, these services have clearly tapped into a market that has a need for qualified individuals with specialized skills.

The easier it is to search for, engage with, and deploy talent, the faster some clients will migrate to a just-in-time, self-directed resourcing model. There’s a reason online staffing expects double-digit growth in 2014 and beyond. Outside of our industry, just look at the impact of Uber. In short order, it has turned the taxi industry upside down and placed it directly in the hands of the independent service provider and consumer. In other words, it's disintermediating the long-established dominate players.

So where does that leave our industry? I would argue there will always be a place for thoughtful, mindful interactions with clients and candidates. But the tools and technology facilitating that interaction will certainly change. You can be sure we’ll be talking about that at our annual conference November 3-5 in Boca Raton, FL.

If you’re thinking about the future and not just this month’s P&L, here are some sessions you won’t want to miss:

  1. Your Business 3.0: Capitalizing on the Forces that will Determine Success in 2015 and Beyond

    Patrick Meyer, CEO, President, CMO and C-Suite Advisor

    As one of our keynote speakers, Patrick will talk about how to capitalize on transformational forces, including technology, mobile, social and generational shifts, that will remake the industry and determine future success. Hear his vision of the future and what it will take to succeed with change and accelerating disruption of seemingly entrenched business models as the only constant.
  2. Evolution & Innovation in the IT & Engineering Staffing and Solutions Industry

    Moderator: John C. Larson, CEO, CPSI Consulting

    Find out what progressive firms are doing today to stand out as thought leaders and enhance their value to clients. Learn how these innovators are reshaping their businesses to remain relevant and position themselves for success in an evolving marketplace.
  3. IMPACT! Talk: Gene Holtzman, CEO & President, Mitchell Martin

    Modeled after the TED Conference talks, Gene will offer his perspective in a concise talk on the future impact of technology on the industry. As a thought leader on the subject, Gene has launched an incubator to support a few among the literally hundreds of new companies that are seeking to revolutionize the human capital space.

  4. Now, I’d love to hear from you.

    As with everything TechServe does, your input is critical. I’d love to hear your ideas for my new blog. What’s on your mind? What’s keeping you up at night? What’s your big idea that’s going to drive the future of IT & engineering staffing and solutions? How should we be helping you prepare for the future? Share your thoughts on our LinkedIn page or tweet about it!

    I, for one, am looking forward to seeing what comes next.

About the Blog

Disruptive change is coming. What will the new world of IT & engineering staffing and solutions look like? Read about the growth of online staffing and decide whether this resource model is an idle threat to long-established industry players or a game changer.

About the Author

Mark B. Roberts, Chief Executive Officer

Mark Roberts is CEO of TechServe Alliance. Prior to being named CEO in February 2003, Mark served as COO & General Counsel of the organization. He is an authority on both business trends as well as legal and legislative issues impacting the industry. He writes and speaks frequently on industry topics.

Before joining TechServe Alliance, Mark was a partner in the Labor and Employment Group of a large Florida law firm. He also served for four years on the staff of a Member of Congress on Capitol Hill.

Mark currently serves on the Labor Relations Committee of the US Chamber of Commerce. He has been named to the Staffing 100—the list of the 100 most influential people in the staffing industry.


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