Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director of Robert Half Technology
This week, Stephen
Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Katherine Spencer
Lee, executive director of Robert Half Technology.
Robert Half Technology is
a leading provider of information technology (IT) professionals on a
project or full-time basis.
A 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 and multiplatform systems
integration to network engineering and technical support.
Robert Half Technology offers online job search services at
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 audience.
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 personal
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 networking
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
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 rebounds.
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.
The following are
examples of everyday, low-cost retention practices that we recommend
to our clients:
Make sure employees take breaks throughout the day and use their
vacation time to avoid burnout.
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
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 work.
Bring in support.
When full-time employees are at capacity, consider bringing in
professionals on a project basis to augment their efforts.
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
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 organizations?
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
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 department.
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 the future?
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
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 strategy.
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
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 desktop systems.
2) OS upgrades -- As
support for older versions of Microsoft begins to expire, many firms
will need to upgrade their operating systems.
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 audit scrutiny.
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:
workshops are typically run by training companies and are held
at a public site, such as a hotel or conference center.
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 self-motivated.
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 particular specialty.
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
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 follow you.
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
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,
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 audience.