Hard wired

John McVicker, founder of IT recruitment firm IT Best International Group, is this week’s Entrepreneur Online. He is happy to share his knowledge and expertise, so if you have questions for John, email them through to us at [email protected]

John McVicker (right), founder of IT recruitment firm IT Best International Group, is this week’s Entrepreneur Online.

He is happy to share his knowledge and expertise, so if you have questions for John, email them through to us at [email protected] and we’ll post his responses on this page (below).

John worked for 20 years in the recruitment industry before he went out on his own in 2002. In five years he has built the business to rank 54 in the BRW fast starter’s list with $1.9 million revenue in 2005-06.

He tells SmartCompany.com.au about his growth story and what you need to know to recruit well and retain IT staff in the middle of a skill shortage.


Jacqui Walker: How have you achieved such fast growth?

John McVicker: Best International Group has been extraordinarily successful in its delivery of solutions to clients. As a result, we’ve had some superb referrals and have gone on to deliver excellent value and benefits to our ever broadening client base.

One of the unique aspects of Best is that we always have a project plan that we commit to delivering to our clients. It’s one of the core planks of our organisation and sets us apart from other groups in the industry. Undoubtedly this has also enabled us to achieve the ongoing success that we’re experiencing.

What was the biggest challenge in your growth so far and how did you handle it? What did it teach you?

The biggest challenge to our growth is finding people. Not just good people but the right people. Realistically, people are the only asset of a successful service-based business and I learnt that investing in human capital, motivating and encouraging my team to reach their full potential, was essential to achieve overall business and personal success.

How would you describe your management style and why does it work? What is your worst flaw as founder and CEO?

My style is very much about creating a vision that like-minded people can share. At Best International Group we invest time to collectively create a vision about where we – as a team – want the organisation to go. This approach has been very successful as not only is the vision shared by the people working at the company, but everyone at Best owns a part of the business.

My worst flaw as CEO is probably being too trusting. I’ve essentially always believed that most people want to do a good job, however that’s not always the case and we’ve had our share of selecting the wrong people.

Yet even with the best tools in the world it’s only possible to achieve an 85% success rate when looking for the most talented individuals. In my experience, being too trusting has also led me to, at times, not recognise sooner those people who aren’t going to fit in with the organisation in the long term and making compromises.

Best International Group is the only organisation which tracks and analyses IT industry labour movements on a monthly basis. The Best International Group IT Talent Index provides ongoing, accurate and detailed information about demand for ICT labour in Australia, what’s happening in your industry at the moment. How is your industry changing?

The industry is going through a time of expansion after the booms of 2000 and the subsequent bust. The market has grown by 32% in the past nine months and shows no real signs of slowing. This is greater than the average growth across the Australian market according to recent employment data. The increase in demand means ever changing and more sophisticated solutions and a real question around the relevance of recruitment companies and the value they deliver.

You’re an expert in IT recruitment. What strategies have you used to deal with the skills shortage in IT at the moment? What worked?

There are a number of core recruitment and retention strategies that employers can consider to overcome the challenges of the current skills shortage market. When recruiting for talented individuals, employers can utilise the following key steps to guarantee success.

In a skills shortage market, it’s vital to conduct a skills audit for any new hires – make sure that the skills that you want to hire for are absolutely essential, this enables employers to identify in minute detail the minimum skill required to perform a task and then select individuals based on this brief.

Once skill levels have been determined, identify whether opportunities exist in the active, passive active or overseas markets.

Sophisticated employers will recognise that potential candidates exist internally, externally and from other markets, not just those available within the country. Working with a recruitment partner, employers can conduct a market audit to determine which area would yield the best result.

Hire for attitude, not just aptitude. Talented individuals who are the right fit for your organisation can always be trained on specific technical skills for particular roles.

In a skills short market, retention is just as vital as recruitment to ensure key staff remain on board.

Give employees more opportunity to develop personally and professionally. Cross train existing people in the organisation to enable them to increase their skill level and explore other areas of interest.

Listen to your employees – employee satisfaction surveys are a great way to identify any underlying issues in the workplace before they arise as well as recognising any unmet needs or employee requirements.

Explore flexible workforce arrangements – from a retention perspective, this appeals to younger and more mature workforce demographics who are seeking a work-life balance, yet from a recruitment site it also enables employers to tap into skilled candidates returning to the workforce, such as working mothers.

What hasn’t worked? What are the big mistakes you have made or you have seen others make in IT recruitment?

The biggest mistakes I have made and see others make is to compromise on the calibre of the person they hire. While the pressure to find someone for a role can be intense, compromising on staff is never a solution. In fact, hiring the wrong person can cost up to 100% of that person’s salary – so more significant and costly than most employers realise.

Always hire the right or best person for the job, not just the first person who turns up.

What are your best tips for SMEs on recruitment and retaining staff?

The biggest reason someone accepts a job is because of the opportunity offered by the position. Employers need to think long and hard about creating ‘real’ opportunity. If they can’t prove it in one line in a job advert, then it doesn’t exist.

To retain people you also need to consider a number of factors such as job satisfaction and career and personal development. However, in my experience, the biggest reason people quit their job is because they have a reason to leave and, more often than not, that reason is usually their boss! My advice simply is don’t give your employees a reason to leave and they will stay.

What’s your best tip as a founder of a start-up? What have you done that you would do differently, if you had your time over?

I would have spent longer savouring the energy and simplicity of a start-up. As you get larger you become more complex and some of the energy dissipates until you refocus and drive for the next level of growth. It happens in almost every business and is a natural part of the cycle, but recognise it for what it is and enjoy it.

How far ahead are you planning? What’s the plan for your business over the next five years?

We plan about 24 months ahead, and while that may sounds short sighted, unless you set the briefest of goals, for a business like ours you can become too removed from the present. Significantly, in an industry and a market that moves at a rapid pace, that approach can be disastrous.


If you would like John’s help and advice, email your own questions for Entrepreneur Online to [email protected].


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