Spencer Lee, executive director of Robert
Half Technology shares her deep insights
into the job market for IT professionals...
Interview by Stephen
This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an
exclusive interview with Katherine Spencer
Lee, executive director of Robert Half
Robert Half Technology is a leading provider
of information technology (IT) professionals
on a project or full-time basis.
graduate of Northern Arizona University, Ms.
Lee has been with the company since 1995 and
has more than 15 years of experience in
information technology consulting services.
Ms. Lee is a spokesperson, author of
industry articles and frequent public
speaker on IT staffing.
In her role as a nationally recognized
authority on IT careers, Ms. Lee has guest
hosted several live events on web sites such
as Monster.com, Techtarget.com and
CareerPath.com. In addition, she is
currently providing career insight and
advice to Network Computing and
Certification Magazine readers.
With more than 100 locations in North
America and Europe, Robert Half Technology
is a leading provider of IT professionals
for initiatives ranging from web development
systems integration to network
engineering and technical support. Robert
Half Technology offers online job search
services at www.roberthalftechnology.com.
Q: Katherine, considering your very busy
schedule, we are indeed fortunate to have
you in this interview. Thank you for sharing
your deep insights, and experience with our
A: Thank you and I'm honored to have the
opportunity to address your readers.
Q: Please detail the services you provide to
both organizations and professionals?
A: Robert Half Technology is a
leading provider of skilled IT professionals
on a project and full-time basis. Our
combination of online candidate sourcing and
personalized service enables us to identify
and provide the talent our client’s need
-- when they need it most.
To help us
attract and retain the most qualified
professionals in the technology field, we
offer sophisticated online job search
services as well as other career resources.
Our consultants can build their own home
pages, select preferences for job searches,
receive automatic notifications of new
positions meeting their criteria, and update
Robert Half Technology is also
committed to the professional development of
our consultants. In addition to mentoring
opportunities, we provide them with the
resources to continually enhance their
technical skills through our INFINITY
Advanced Technical Training Program. This
includes 24-hour online access to
educational software courses covering
everything from Java and XML to the latest
Robert Half Technology is a leading
resource to our clients and consultants on
hiring and employment trends. Our annual
Robert Half Technology Salary Guide
provides data on average starting salaries
for IT professionals in Canada and the
United States. Our extensive research on
workplace-related topics, teamed with
decades of experience, makes us a frequently
cited career expert in national business and
trade publications worldwide.
Q: Detail the techniques that businesses can
employ to keep valued employees.
A: Firms should be focused on retaining
their best employees in any employment
market. The most successful companies think
about employee morale and retention issues
all the time -- not just in a hot hiring
market. When the economy does pick up and
the job market offers more options, staff
who have been overworked and not recognized
may seek employment elsewhere.
Companies that show consideration to
employees during economically challenging
times create a more loyal and productive
workforce. As a result, they’ll have a
competitive advantage as the economy
Even in down economies when budgets may be
extremely tight, there are a number of low-
or no-cost practices employers can employ to
keep their staffs happy.
following are examples of everyday, low-cost
retention practices that we recommend to our
Encourage balance. Make sure
employees take breaks throughout the day and
use their vacation time to avoid burnout.
Be realistic. Tasks and deadlines
should be achievable. Evaluate whether staff
members have the necessary skills for
upcoming projects; offer training as needed.
Share the vision. When assigning
tasks, explain how they support larger
business objectives. Employees should
organize their activities based on these
Solicit ideas. Ask staff members to
brainstorm creative ways to solve everyday
challenges. Having a say in the outcome of a
project motivates employees to do their best
Bring in support. When full-time
employees are at capacity, consider bringing
in professionals on a project basis to
augment their efforts.
Recognize value. Thank them for their
work, and acknowledge their contributions.
This doesn’t have to cost a lot of money --
recognizing accomplishments at staff
meetings and providing small rewards like
movie tickets or a gift certificate let
staff members know they are valued.
Develop leaders. When people
perceive that there’s room for them to grow
and advance at a company, they’ll stay
longer. Provide challenging assignments and
leadership opportunities so they can broaden
their skills and make meaningful
contributions. Offer a formal mentoring
program to help you identify and groom
workers at all levels.
Q: What are your predictions about
retirements and their impact on
A: As many research studies have reported, a
large percentage of the working population
will reach retirement age in the next 10
years. The immediate concern presented to
employers as this trend takes affect is that
they may loose talent critical to the
management of their internal
Fifty-five percent of workers with mainframe
and enterprise data center skills are over
the age of 50, according to the Association
for Computer Operations Managers. The
retirement of these workers can lead to a
critical loss of knowledge of legacy
platforms. With fewer educational
institutions offering coursework in
mainframe-based systems and applications,
there will be a much smaller talent pool
familiar with these technologies.
That’s why firms need to assess their
situation now to ensure the appropriate
knowledge transfer to junior employees. The
more proactive they are about cross-training
staff, the lesser the impact the Baby Boom
retirement will have on their IT
Q: And IT professionals, what can they do to
stay employed? From their perspective, what
is the hiring environment today and where do
you see it going in the future; what
strategies can they use to obtain meaningful
employment? What qualities are companies
looking for in candidates and how can
candidates effectively prove that these
qualities exist in themselves? Do you see a
change from the past to the present and into
A: Information technology cost-cutting
efforts and widespread staff reductions seem
to be easing, and employers are cautiously
optimistic. As companies execute new
initiatives to remain competitive and
prepare for future business growth, the
long-term hiring outlook appears stronger.
In fact, technology investments initiated
during the Internet boom of the late
nineties are nearing, or have reached the
end of their product life cycles and will
require updates soon. A number of firms are
moving forward with systems upgrades that
were previously on hold, particularly those
designed to enhance customer service or
achieve greater operational efficiencies.
Technology spending -- and subsequently
hiring -- is currently focused on
initiatives that provide an immediate return
on investment. Network security concerns
also continue to be a priority for
businesses of all sizes. There is strong
demand for IT professionals who can manage
everything from assessing potential network
vulnerabilities to integrating virus
protection, intrusion detection and other
components into an enterprise-wide security
Firms currently hiring technology staff are
taking a very thorough approach to
evaluating candidates, requiring prospective
candidates to meet all job specifications
before arranging an interview. Managers are
carefully reviewing their hiring profiles to
ensure new staff members will be able to
make immediate contributions. To provide
needed flexibility in managing human
resources, businesses are also bringing in
specialists on a project basis who can
assist with expanded workloads.
While technical certifications can also
influence the hiring decision, managers are
applying even more weight to a chronicled
history of successes. Firms want to see how
candidates have contributed to previous
organizations and how they can transfer
these achievements and add value in a new
environment. Hiring managers seek those
individuals who are able to tie a firm’s
technical capabilities to its business
Q: Since you have a reputation for staying
attuned to market trends, what are the hot
job areas today, in two and five years?
A: There are a number of issues that are
currently driving hiring across the
country. Based on requests we're receiving
from our clients, firms are tackling issues
including the following:
1) Hardware upgrades -- spending on the
hardware side continues to increase as
companies must replace older/non-functioning
2) OS upgrades -- As support for older
versions of Microsoft begins to expire, many
firms will need to upgrade their operating
3) Viruses and worms -- The continuing
epidemic of high-profile, destructive
viruses is driving demand for network
security professionals who can protect a
company's information systems, e-mail
specialists to assist in the restoration of
Exchange Servers, and help desk and tech
support professionals to handle increased
call volume and assist with the installation
of patches and upgrades.
4) .NET development -- Companies looking to
speed up development time and unify systems
are transitioning to .NET.
5) Sarbanes-Oxley -- While Sarbanes-Oxley is
financial legislation; at its heart it's
about ensuring that internal controls are in
place to govern the creation and
documentation of information in financial
statements. Since IT systems are used to
generate, house and transport that data,
companies are starting to build the controls
that ensure the information stands up to
6) Additional legislation -- We continue to
hear from our clients about the burden being
placed on their systems from government
legislation such as CFR 21, HIPAA, Patriot
Act and Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.
Q: Please provide an assessment of training,
what are the types of training programs, and
pros and cons of each?
A: There are a wide range of training
programs that can help an IT department
remain agile with technology. Here are a few
of the most popular:
Topic-specific workshops are
typically run by training companies and are
held at a public site, such as a hotel or
Off-the-shelf non-classroom training
programs -- such as CD-ROMs or videos –
are very inexpensive when compared to other
options. They provide an opportunity for
individualized learning, but they may not be
effective for those who aren’t
Interactive distance learning is
administered to groups of employees who are
receiving the training through a high-tech
delivery system, such as the Internet,
company intranet or teleconferencing. These
programs offer a great deal of flexibility.
Q: There are so many sources of information
to both organizations and job seekers. What
are your top recommended resources for both
of these groups?
A: We always recommend that our consultants
and account executives participate in local
industry associations and user groups. In
addition to being great forums for
professional networking, they're also an
excellent source for the trend information
required to keep pace with developments in a
In addition, there are a number of online
resources for IT professionals, including
Techtarget.com and Techrepublic.com. Both
feature a wealth of targeted editorial
content, valuable downloads and links to
additional useful sites.
Q: As the executive director, what are your
top ten qualities and processes that make
for great leadership?
A: Most of the great leaders with which I've
worked possessed several of the following
key traits and I try to keep them top of
mind in my role at Robert Half Technology.
1) Integrity -- via commitment and example
rather than by directive.
2) Having the right people is
paramount -- you cannot be a great leader
without a great team. You must be able to
recruit, hire, train and retain individuals
with the integrity, judgment, energy and
drive to get the job done.
3) Trust -- your team must have the
confidence that you, as their leader, will
act in the best interests of those who
4) Listen -- true leaders make themselves
accessible and available.
5) Driven to produce results -- zero
tolerance for mediocrity or just being "good
6) All the great projects, ideas and
strategies are worthless if they cannot be
7) Clearly articulate your purpose, goals
and objectives. Keep It Simple Stupid - the
KISS principle - keep it simple but keep
saying it - be consistent in your message
8) Be positive and passionate - people need
to know that you believe that they can
achieve anything, that they can be "great"
and that the company can be great. A team
will draw strength from this.
9) Praise publicly, criticize privately.
10) Have fun!
Q: What drives you to do what you do?
A: To be a part of building an organization
that lives beyond me -- to create something
so enduring that when myself, and others,
look back we can say with pride, "we were a
part of building something truly special."
Q: Thank you again for sharing your years of
successful leadership and wealth of
knowledge and experiences with our audience.
A: I thank you, again, for the opportunity
to share some of my thoughts with your