How We Provide Project Management Value

As the project management practice grows at TSP we are often asked what it is and what makes it different versus a PM posting at a typical staffing agency.  These questions come from both the candidate and client perspective.  We have found that these themes make our offering unique in the project management space.

We are not a contract shop first.  Over 80% of our project management placements are permanent.  Of the remaining 20% the majority are contract or consultative roles with a client who needs a specific project or program handled by an experienced professional.  These are not typically stop gap or short term positions but are tied to the scope and schedule of the client initiative.  Within the project management practice those engagements last an average of over a year.

We work with PMs who are looking to accomplish specific objectives in their career.

  • Continue growth as a PM or PgM
  • PMs are often looking to increase scope of responsibility with projects and programs
  • Trying to make a move into new technologies or verticals
  • Ability to work remotely, closer to home or to get off the road.

Whatever the career goal we appreciate the needs of each PM individually.  That doesn’t mean we won’t share a variety of options but it does mean we know an option we present may not be “perfect” when we make the call to someone for a discussion.

It has taken years for this practice to grow – and that growth has come largely organically.  We don’t spend all day every day reaching out to PMs to add them to our database.  We started by offering project managers a partner they could leverage who understands their skillset and uses that knowledge to develop stronger client relationships.  While we still actively recruit project managers as necessary we meet more via referral than we do via recruiting.

Experienced and flexible candidates.  We also work with a group of highly experienced professionals who can truly call themselves consultants.  They often have several clients of their own and are looking for smaller engagements to fill their available capacity.  We are able to provide a potential pipeline of work to these senior level professionals and they provide us with a level of expertise that helps us better service our clients as well.

We are a long term partner.  A great illustration of this is when we do recruit a candidate for a specific opening.  If it turns out not to be “the job for you” our intent is to form a partnership with each PM keeping an eye toward future opportunities.  We check in regularly depending on each PMs circumstances to strengthen our relationship, to understand any changes to their experience and skills and to have an understanding of what might be of interest to them in a new engagement.  We also are happy to leverage our network to help candidates make connections in the region.  One way or another we believe we can be of assistance to everyone at some point in their career.

To be clear – if we say we are not a contract shop it does not mean we don’t work with contract project managers.  It means we don’t tend to plug short term gaps with PMs.  We find full time staff PMs and  work with clients looking to staff specific projects or statements of work.

Improve Your Interview With These Questions

I have told candidates for years that you are sometimes judged by the questions you ask and not the answers you give.  With the improved IT job market candidates that have been dormant for the last ten years have decided to look around and see what’s available.  What they often discover when a company calls to schedule an interview is that ten years is a long time not be on the hot seat.

Whether you are looking for your first job after graduation or a seasoned vet who hasn’t interviewed in a long time,  asking the right questions plays a big role in having a successful interview.   Here is a list of questions specifically designed to further the discussion in your favor!

What challenges will I encounter in this role?

Is the challenge doable? Is it consistent with other discussions you had within the company?  Give specific examples on how you handled these challenges in the past.

What are the technical and non technical criteria are you using to hire for the role?

The hiring manager is telling you what skills and experiences they need.  This is a great opportunity for you to address any points you missed or reinforce topics that align with their hiring criteria.  No sense in talking oranges when the interviewer wants to talk apples.

What will my first 60 days look like and how will you know if I am successful?

Know what they want and how you will graded – it does get any more basic than this.

What is the reason for the opening?

Have they turned over this role 3 times this year? Is it due to growth or internal promotion or acquisition?

What keeps you from getting sleep at night?

This is your chance to share in the dilemma of the Interviewer and provide an answer that goes directly to their pain point.

Do you think I am a viable candidate for the role?

The best question you can ask at the end of the interview. It’s the chance to see where you stand. It also gives you the opportunity to immediately address any perceived deficiencies the interviewer has in your candidacy.

Potential employers will appreciate that you have thoughtful questions to ask about their company and the role which is something many candidates forget.  I have heard from many clients over the years that they often lead a candidate by asking if they have any questions as a specific measure – not just because they heard it is a good thing to ask.  If you have been waiting to follow up on a few specifics based on the conversation – great.  If not then reviewing this list ahead of time will be to your advantage.

That said – in my experience not every member of a hiring team is an experienced interviewer which can result in poor results and feedback.  In those cases you can inject some energy into the discussion by having some open ended yet relevant questions like these in mind.

No matter who you are interviewing with it is always a good practice to review these questions as part of your pre-interview prep!

NH Job Market – Lots to Be Thankful For…ish

TSP Managing Partner Dave Vigliotti shared a story from NHPR earlier this week that contains information that should make us all thankful.  Overall unemployment in New Hampshire is at 2.8%, the lowest in the nation, and that number is even lower in IT.  As a result compensation has gone up as well.  This is great information in that anyone who wants a job can generally find one here and be well paid for it.

While that is fantastic news, the article notes – and we can confirm – that it has a flip side as well.  Companies looking for help are having a hard time filling roles and companies looking to expand into NH are thinking twice due to the shallowness of the resource pool.

The article mentions some of the creative things and ads companies are running as their solution – but it does not cover agency support.  If you are a small to mid-sized business and have not, or typically will not, consider using an agency to fill your open IT role I urge you to add one to your “bucket of tools” this coming year.

Many companies of this size typically think the fee is prohibitive – but we can almost always illustrate a strong ROI on our services.  And when we can’t we are happy to explain why and help push you down the path to success finding someone on your own.  The outright plug here is to give us a call if you are stuck.  We are focused on finding permanent IT staff for our clients and our relationship based business model gives us visibility into potential new hires who are not actively searching in the market.

I also urge you to give the NHPR article a read.  It tells a very interesting story about the challenge NH businesses will face filling open roles over the next few years.

Keeping an Eye on Mean Time to Hire

One report we keep an eye on here in the office is the DHI report on Hiring Indicators – and their “Mean Vacancy to Fill” open roles.  This is a look at how long it takes to fill open jobs in various industries and overall in the US.  You may be surprised to hear that the number has been very high over the past several years with unemployment such an issue and the economy a top story.

While the overall report is interesting – we are an IT company so our focus is on time to hire IT professionals.  In the early 2000s when companies were hiring as quickly as many of us recall the various sign on bonuses, stock grants, burrito carts, you name it that were used to lure talent to many growing companies.  Typically it took 25 – 35 business days to fill an IT role during that time.

Things changed in 2008 as the bottom fell out of the job market.  Time to fill IT roles in 2008 averaged 34.4 working days.  Curiously in 2009 – when things were even worse – the mean time to fill IT roles DROPPED to 23.8 days.  There were fewer jobs out there.  There were more professionals available due to companies closing doors and going through layoffs.  That essentially ended up being the transitional year where supply outpaced demand.

But what we saw in 2010 and over the following few years – and what was so frustrating to job seekers – was that companies who were hiring felt they had to be very careful with their budget.  This carried over into hiring where teams were very worried about hiring the wrong person and in effect wasting that funding.  They were hyper focused on finding people who could walk in and be fully functional and effective on day one.  The mean time to hire in those years hovered at over 40 days.


While that may have been “do-able” there was usually a wrinkle.  Somewhere in the mix companies came to the conclusion that with so many people out of work that the timing was right to reign in the “cost” of many roles.  These companies approved positions to be filled but what may have been a $100K IT job in 2006 was being posted as an $85K job in 2011.  Same skills and experience required.

Some unemployed folks were able to move on and find a job that kept them whole – same or similar salary and benefits.  Others took jobs similar to their last at reduced compensation.  All too many candidates were turned away at the door though when compensation was disclosed.  In the old world a $100K candidate would be passed over for an $85K job.  It was a simple qualifier that had been used for years.  Unfortunately the people reviewing the candidate were often unable to interview people with the right skills for that very reason.  Simultaneously they were not able to interview $85K candidates because they did not have the required amount of experience.  From our seat we observed a lot of spiraling as a result.

During this time our role really migrated toward consulting as we helped clients take a look at their open roles with a realistic eye toward the potential and available candidate pools.  It is no surprise that once the budget was cut we saw many IT Directors forced to look off-shore and to the large H1 shops to fill empty seats.  They were able to justify the missing skills and experience with the lower cost for someone who often was not an FTE.

The upside?  The past few years have been a learning experience for companies making IT hires.  While there is more funding available out there and the economy has improved we still see companies being cautious when it comes to pulling the trigger – they want to be sure they have the right person.  These companies, though, are coming into the process from a better position from a comp and benefits perspective.  We see fewer and fewer roles posted well under market compensation-wise.  We have not had a conversation with a hiring team about finding someone willing to take less because of the market in at least a year.

Here in 2016 we are seeing numbers I would call closer to normalized in the IT world.  From January through June the mean time to hire is 31 days.  When you look back to the .com era in the early 2000s where mean time to hire was around 25 days – and contrast it with the peak of 40 days during the downturn – a month seems about right on average.

Don’t forget – the average includes everything from an entry level analyst through your most senior and diverse technical architect.  We see junior level one support roles filled in 10 business days and we see specialized security roles take months to fill.  What we see that is much more encouraging – and what we hear from the people we work with – is that more often than not the hiring process is not bogging down in the manner we have seen in the recent past.

While finding the right IT person for an opening can still be challenging it really is great to be having conversations about how we can be flexible and partner with our clients along the way.  And it doesn’t hurt to have candidates interviewing for roles that give them the opportunity for career growth either!

Finding IT Staff – A Barrier to Success?

I recently attended an event with an audience full of senior IT managers and staff.  The agenda largely included vendors and technologists discussing evolving technologies and challenges covering a broad spectrum of solutions.  At one point a speaker presented a Gartner slide to make a point about rapid changes in technology being a major barrier facing US based CIOs.  Being a staffing guy a different bullet on the slide jumped out at me so I took a picture with my phone for later reference.

Turns out I did not need the picture as a reminder since the first question at the end of that presentation had to do with the line item that had jumped out at me.  The person asked, based on the earlier slide, what the speaker saw as the answer to the bullet that had jumped out to me on the Gartner slide.  Based on the reaction of the room it was clear this question was on nearly everyone else’s mind as well.

And what was on this slide that had caught the attention of IT leaders from around the region?  Gartners annual survey of 910 US based CIOs indicated that they felt finding resources was the top barrier to their success.  In fact – 28% of them listed that as the top challenge.  To put it in perspective – the second highest challenge was budget and it came in at 15%.


In terms of breakdown – the areas that have the most resource need for these CIOs are led by Business Intelligence (BI) at 39% followed by Infrastructure/Data Center at 28% and Security is close behind at 25%.  The skills in those spaces very closely match the roles we see the most competition for in the market today.

Gartner reported that 71% of the US based CIOs believe the scarcity of talent is reaching crisis levels.  Here in our office this is a topic of conversation we have in some form on a daily basis.  When meeting with our clients we have a similar conversation – albeit from a “how do we solve this at our company” perspective.  If you look around a bit you will see many related issues and stories running in parallel.

H1 Visas

The H1B program needs a significant overhaul.  It is stopping companies from being able to make these hires – and many have given up trying.  Some companies end up partnering with the H1B clearing houses to try and find a match which often leads to a bad experience or a series of one contract resource after another trying to do a job.  This is frustrating for the company and the candidates.

The question of how many H1B Visas should be granted each year is at the forefront of this election cycle.  Many, possibly most, Americans do not understand this issue.  Being in the staffing business and hearing politicians discuss the topic (which we believe is an issue) makes it clear that very few of them understand it either.  While we agree that the program as designed could be very helpful for companies that need to add a skill not available in their market – however what we observe on a daily basis is a system that is poorly executed and managed.  A system that is being gamed by several large companies.

Late last year the NY Times ran a great article that featured a small US company in need of a specific IT skillset.  They identified a candidate from France and filed the paperwork to sponsor him for an H1 Visa.  The way the system is set up they had to compete with large consultancies submitting thousands of Visa applications into a lottery and hope his number got drawn.  It didn’t.

Rather than adding more H1 Visas – which many of our politicians support – we should require them to be for a real company with a specific job opening.  These visas should not go to consultancies that bring people over and then find work.  That is how people lose their jobs to a contractor with an H1 Visa.  The program was not intended to do that.

While these large companies are the sponsors for these thousands of Visas they do not in fact always have work waiting for them when the candidate arrives in the US.  We get calls and emails every day at TSP from these companies looking to match their people to any and all  job openings on our Jobs page.  Again, this is not how the program is supposed to work.

College Graduates

With the current demand for a solution to the cost of a college education – and the number of software developers who are taking alternative paths to learning – the timing is right for companies to come up with creative solutions at the local level.

The cost of college and the lack of employment opportunities for recent graduates receives regular media coverage.  While a variety of sources have shown that prospects have brightened a bit this year – like this Washington Post article from the spring – many graduates remain underemployed in the job market today.


When working with our clients – particularly small and mid-sized businesses – we often ask about how they are finding and developing new talent.  Obviously they have come to us which indicates they find it challenging.  But in the current environment companies need to be more creative and proactive than ever before.  In fact the Gartner recommendation is that businesses treat staff/resources as a technology platform in and of itself.  The approach we recommend and have seen several clients implement successfully is to hire a candidate with potential and train them in the required technologies.  Does it take longer?  Sure.

For mid-sized clients we have also seen some have success with Technology development programs.  While large enterprise companies have had this type of program in place for some time small and mid-sized companies must also consider this strategy.  Bringing someone on board who is willing and ready to learn technology in support of these companies is a very logical next step.  A smart approach to using senior, local consultative resources can make this a success story for professionals at varying stages of their careers as well which seems to me a huge potential win.


Underemployment plagues college students – but it is common up and down the seniority chart.  Waves of layoffs have left senior IT professionals contracting or working small consulting engagements.  Mid-level professionals have found themselves at the top of the salary range in their region and unable to move.  Junior technology candidates can’t find opportunities to move forward in their careers.

Which brings us back to a small or mid-size company hiring a junior candidate for a role.  What do these companies do while bringing someone up to speed?  Great question.  And for that we turn to another group of candidates who are often looking for more work.  In the contract community we find many experienced professionals who lean more consultant than contractor – and the one thing they lack is someone developing a pipeline of good opportunities for them.  We are often able to bring one of these resources on board to handle the heavy lifting and to mentor the more junior resource.  By approaching it as a consultative engagement this candidate is able to maintain their own client base while adding additional revenue to their bottom line.

We regularly monitor open jobs in the region to help our current clients and look for potential opportunities to work with new clients.  It is not uncommon to see tough to fill roles stay open for six to twelve months or more.  With our existing clients we always discuss the option of hiring someone who can grow into the role once it becomes clear the candidate they want is not available in the market.  In the year a role like this sits open they could have hired someone at a lower rate who was ready to grow into the role and had them trained.  By doing so they open that person’s prior role up to someone else who is looking to move forward – hopefully creating a ripple effect down the job chain if you will.


Finding IT resources is a challenge.  Our company would not exist if that were not true.  Gartner’s study is a great visualization of just how big a challenge the CIO community thinks it is.  We work every day with clients trying to solve their problems.  There are resources with great potential out there in the H1 Visa program, college campuses and underemployed professionals.  At the local level we can implement some of these programs today.  College hiring, technology development programs and working with experienced local consultants are all options available to small and mid-sized businesses right now.  By treating staff as an IT platform and looking at these and other options (internal staff development, partnerships, vendor management, etc.) I believe we have the existing resources to solve most of our nation’s IT staffing problems today.  Until the H1 program is run as it was intended it is not viable for small to mid-sized businesses which is a shame.  With some work at the national level we can make progress toward change in that arena as well.  With a properly functioning H1 program our ability to manage resource challenges will only improve.

What do you think?  I’d love to hear in the comments.

Should a Recent Grad Use a Recruiter?

It’s been nearly one year since I graduated and took my first look at the real world. What I remember most is not how sad I was to be leaving the people and place that had become my home, but how scared I was to be leaving without a job offer in hand. Everybody has a few friends that received a full time offer from their internship or knew they’d go right back to school to get ready for the CPA Exam, or whatever it is people that aren’t burnt out after 16 years of school do. While it feels like you’re the only one without a plan just remember that this is never the case.

If you’re looking to speed things up, consider working with a recruiter. Before you make a face or write them off as overbearing and not able to offer you a ‘good’ job that matches your interests, take note that recruiting is undergoing some change as an industry. With so many companies that focus on a niche field and/or region, getting to know a recruiter now could benefit your career path for years to come, simply because:

  • Recruiters want to find you a job you’ll love and get an offer for
  • The assistance from a recruiter is like having a mentor, networking advisor, and cheerleader wrapped up into one
  • Most of the time, a recruiter will have a contact within companies you may be interested in and can access information that stalking their LinkedIn page won’t yield
    • For example, some companies work very closely with an agency and will share new jobs with them in hopes that good candidates are brought in for the role instead of having every nervous person on the job hunt submit their strangely formatted resume through
  • Recruiters will know if a job is going to be available soon and what the hiring team is searching for (other than a Bachelor’s and long list of skills that make you feel as though you aren’t even qualified enough to be the intern’s part time assistant)
  • Feeling like you’re “in” with a company is a great confidence boost, too
    • Your new friend that helped schedule the interview for you is brimming with tips on how to dress for the office culture, who you will be meeting and what they will most likely want to talk to you about,
  • Recruiters will build your self-assurance much more than generic meetings with your university’s career center could

If these small bits of what a recruiter will do for you isn’t enough of a reason to connect with one, then maybe the bad news of job searching will convince you that it could be a good idea.

Job Application (2)

There are plenty of statistics out there to remind you that no matter how many times you revise your resume, how carefully you craft your emails, what GPA you received, and how many clubs you held a leadership position in, you will apply to more jobs than you care to count and hear back from just a handful – and that’s if you’re lucky. The entry level job market might have a lower unemployment rate compared to five years ago, but the number of new grads fighting for those spots is only going up. If you choose to work with a recruiter it will not magically make these obstacles disappear but it will be able to help you break some down. Recruiters will be honest with you no matter the situation:

  • Really wanted to apply to a certain job? Your recruiter will tell you if you could even bring something to the table at this point in time.
  • Applied and got presented but were not asked to set up an interview? Recruiters will share with you why that choice was made.
  • Did manage to score an interview but are not advancing in the process? Any feedback from the person who interviewed you will now be made for sharing with you.

While it’s not always comfortable to have somebody tell you that you weren’t impressive or skilled enough, at least you know how to improve next time and are not left wondering what happened. Feeling passionate about a role that just didn’t play out as you anticipated? Your recruiter will understand that and begin working harder to find something even more exciting and help you get back on track. These are situations that nobody wants to go through, but wouldn’t going through them with some guidance be preferable to by yourself and feeling even more lost or confused? If you think yes, then it is definitely a good idea to consider a new search for recruiters near you or the city that you want to work in.


I know what you’re thinking by this point, “she is insisting on working with a recruiter because it’s her job,” to which I would say not exactly. Back to where I was a year ago I wish that I had been more open to the idea of reaching out to somebody.  I thought that I could do it all on my own, as independence throughout my undergrad years was something I had become proud of. Not to mention that I was pretty sure I wanted to find a job that matched my degree. But even going off of that I had no idea where to start or what skills of mine to focus on. Particularly for students in IT, finance, and other business concentrations, recruiters are constantly looking for the best new jobs and for somebody talented to place there for the most money possible. Somebody that actually considers your skills, what you want to do, AND wants to make sure you are paid well? Crazy, I know. But like I mentioned before, times have changed and recruiting methods have as well. With a quality recruiter, long gone are the spam emails that incorrectly add your name to the message that has been seen by half of your graduating class. Instead, a person that makes you feel as smart as you should after earning that ridiculously priced piece of paper is just trying to form a relationship that could turn out to be mutually beneficial for years to come.

So, think that at least testing the waters with a recruiter might be a decent option? Go for it! Remember that they’re people too and they’re in the business of helping people. Meaning it is more likely than not that they would love to hear from you! Even if you want to continue seeing what is out there on your own or the firm that you reach out to doesn’t have anything that matches your background right now, you never know what the future holds. If like many new grads you wind up in a 9-5 cubicle job just for the dreaded paycheck-to-loan-payment security, your new recruiter friend could give you a buzz at any time with a great new opportunity that is actually enjoyable. You made it through at least four years of college and that itself is arguably some of the most unpredictable times of your life. Don’t let your professional life be unpredictable as well.