With skilled IT unemployment rates expected to hover around two percent, and with IT demands more complex than ever, many companies are compelled to seek outside staffing assistance. Engaging IT staffing vendors usually entails choosing from two standard staffing models, one focused on quick placement of readily available talent and the other concentrated on seeking out best-in-class IT professionals for specific or critical assignments. Each model serves a unique purpose and should be applied in specific scenarios that optimize its strategic value. Companies preparing to launch business-driven IT projects are well served to carefully consider each model’s merits and apply the strategy most likely to propel project success.

The more traditional talent acquisition model examines the readily available talent pool and quickly fills positions with generally qualified candidates. This approach is particularly beneficial when cost and speed, rather than complex project requirements, are the driving factors. Because of its focus on cost and time savings, the readily available talent model is sometimes tied in with vendor management services (VMS), an automated purchasing control and vendor tracking tool. VMS systems were created to help companies manage multiple vendors, ultimately reducing administrative costs by standardizing contracting and management processes.

The very name of the readily available talent model implies its limitations. While using immediate availability as the primary candidate qualification can be sufficient for simple projects, or when an experienced hiring manager and a well-defined scope of work are in place, the model will likely fail when used for complex projects. In many cases, projects stretch management resources, require specialized technical expertise or are driven by exceptional business conditions. These types of assignments are better served by a talent acquisition strategy that delves deep into the IT talent market to secure best-in-class candidates. In these scenarios, business drivers are equally important, if not more important, than speed and price, so only uniquely qualified professionals will suffice.

As in most other industries, finding best-in-class talent can take time, but the investment is well worth the potential wait. Identifying such resources for a particular project requires a deliberate, specialized process that even the most evolved readily available talent models cannot match. This is especially true for IT positions requiring core competencies in specific functional knowledge areas that are difficult to define and evaluate. For example, when a company needs business analysis or project management support, the staffing firm must select candidates with leadership, decision-making and intuition capabilities, qualities that are difficult, if not impossible, to capture through automated readily available talent models.

Consider a best-in-class talent acquisition example from a major credit reporting agency. The company’s culture and agile processes require candidates to possess a mix of hard technological skills, as well as problem-solving abilities. In order to capture this unique mix, the agency uses a unique interviewing process that includes presenting the candidate not with questions about skills and experience, but with a series of problems to solve on a white board. This approach captures a candidate’s reasoning and critical thinking abilities, rather than base technology and conversational skills.

This is not to say that operational efficiencies and cost reduction should not be part of the overall approach. As always, they are significant considerations. Best-in-class talent models can even work within the confines of a VMS system, as long as the system is flexible enough to allow for price exceptions. While the initial cost of best-in-class talent acquisition is likely to be higher than with a readily available talent strategy, companies that actively seek to match the talent strategy with overall project and business goals are likely to see both long- and short-term positive operational and financial impacts.

In addition, because advanced talent acquisition models can use the demand and resource management techniques of the PMO, the managing vendor can begin sourcing best-in-class candidates using strategic criteria, rather than simply availability. At this point, the managing vendor essentially becomes the resource fulfillment arm of the PMO. This approach not only increases the likelihood of retaining best-in-class talent, but it can also mitigate scalability issues that can hinder many of IT’s most important projects.

At a time when the readily available talent model is driving down prices, some companies have given up on the notion that the right talent can make the difference. They have focused solely on cost, a trend that can actually have an adverse long-term effect on their bottom lines. However, many of today’s leading companies are evaluating and engaging vendors a bit differently, analyzing their unique corporate needs and partnering with vendors that offer the specific staffing models most likely to help achieve IT project and overall corporate success.