[Here the shortage according to the ITAA is 350,00]
New York Times
November 18, 1999
Need for Computer Experts Is Making Recruiters Frantic
By MATT RICHTEL
SAN FRANCISCO -- The managers at Vivid Studios, a Web site
consulting firm here, are accustomed to calls from employment
recruiters trying to poach their technical staff. But the day a
suitor telephoned looking for Nevil was a new low.
Vivid's receptionist assured the recruiter that it would be
difficult to put Nevil on the line. And with good reason. Nevil is
a black Labrador retriever.
Thanks to the booming technology-based economy, companies'
long-standing scramble for qualified technical workers has taken on
an air of desperation lately. A severe shortage of engineers who
design hardware and software and create Web pages has led companies
and their recruiters to try all sorts of tricks, like the
Nevil-seeking entrepreneur who called each name listed on Vivid
Studio's Web site.
Recruiters are known to send e-mail to all the engineers at a
company, offering to better their existing salaries. At dawn,
recruiters scour Internet job-placement services to plumb the most
recently posted resumes before a competitor makes contact. At
restaurants, they pull business cards from fish bowls where
engineers had placed the cards hoping to get a free lunch, not a
"I was going to a funeral recently, and a friend said, 'Don't
recruit,' and I said, 'Yeah, I won't do it,"' said Noelle Tardieu,
a recruiter who works under contract for Silicon Valley companies.
Weddings are another matter: Ms. Tardieu says she reads the
marriage announcements in the newspaper to find names and titles of
So it follows that the heavily courted engineers and other
technology-savvy employees are cashing in. Salaries in specific,
high-demand areas, like Web site programming and development, have
gone up 18 to 20 percent in the last year, said Eric Campbell, vice
president for human relations at Docent Inc. of Mountain View,
Calif., which makes software for corporate training.
"We wind up, six months after we hire an engineer, having to fight
off offers for that same engineer for more money," he said. "It's
become a very predatory environment."
One big change in recent years is the extent to which stock options
have become part of the package. Fifty percent of junior technical
employees now have stock options, up from 35 percent three years
To seal deals, recruiters offer candidates overseas airline
tickets, ramp up vacation time to four or five weeks from the usual
two weeks for starting employees or toss in 11th-hour signing
bonuses that can range from $5,000 to $20,000. Other perquisites
now seem commonplace: Employees can redesign offices or cubicles,
bring pets to work, work at home and dress casually -- even at
Long-time recruiters and compensation experts say the scramble for
talent is the most intense they have ever experienced. "It's a free
agent market and the folks out there know it," said Mark Edwards,
president of iQuantic, a compensation consulting firm in San
Francisco. "I haven't ever seen companies be more flexible in how
they attract and retain folks."
The fervent demand for technology employees often funnels down to
the recruiters, where it comes out in a spigot of offers, cajoling,
creativity, relationship building and, occasionally, ambulance
chasing. Indeed, when the rare layoffs do occur at a company
involved in a merger or suffering a downturn, recruiters wait in
the parking lot to scoop up the discards.
"I bag 'em and tag 'em," said Sandra C. Chroman, a recruiter in
Silicon Valley who says recruiters are "fighting over junior techs
in the parking lot."
"I joke that I keep engineers bound and gagged in my trunk and just
drive around the high-tech companies and drop them off on the
lawn," she said.
High technology is booming, and some workers can name their price.
If only it was that easy. Ms. Chroman said she had heard all the
tricks of the trade and used a few of them herself. One tactic, she
said, is to walk into high-technology companies, make friends with
the receptionist through small talk, explain she wants to send
everyone in the company a mailer and then "walk out with a company
"Receptionists will give you people's home phone numbers," Ms.
Chroman said. "It's amazing what some people will give you."
But lately Ms. Chroman, like many other recruiters, is looking
outside northern California for talent, notably at companies and
universities in Canada and Mexico, where engineering candidates are
not in such demand as they are here. In addition, thanks to the
North American Free Trade Agreement, their citizens are not
required to obtain visas.
Another place increasingly visited by recruiters is cyberspace. A
technology-savvy lot, engineers looking for better offers post
their resumes on a growing number of Internet job services, like
monster.com, where recruiters in turn look for the latest talent
that may be willing to switch employers. "I check it every morning
at 6," said Mara Flores, a contract recruiter for Fujitsu Software,
who said she also used a program called a "Web crawler" to search
the Internet for newly posted resumes from engineers.
But if demand for engineers has been tough on companies, it has
been good for the recruiting business. Well over 1,000 recruiters
operate in Silicon Valley, Ms. Tardieu estimated, a number that
includes freelance recruiters, recruiters who work for agencies and
contractors who sign on with specific companies. Ms. Flores said it
was not uncommon for an aggressive recruiter, even with only a few
years of experience, to earn $100,000 to $200,000 a year.
The leeway given to recruiters by their client companies varies.
Some companies conduct the financial discussions themselves; in
other cases, they provide some flexibility, or recruiters insist
upon it -- in working out signing bonuses, for instance.
And despite some seeming cutthroat tactics, the recruiters appear
to treat one another cordially, even with a sense of brotherhood.
There are few stories of back-stabbing. Recruiters say they rarely
hear of competitors bad mouthing one another or using dirty tricks
to steal a candidate. More often, the battle simply comes down to
who can best marry a willing candidate with a job opening and
enticing benefit package.
The phenomenon is not confined to Silicon Valley, with at least
350,000 openings nationwide for programmers, systems analysts and
computer scientists and engineers, according to a 1998 study by
Virginia Tech University and the Information Technology Association
of America, a trade group. Today, the association reports, one of
every 10 information technology jobs remains unfilled.
"We have the same trouble in Boston, New York, Dallas and Chicago,"
said Campbell of Docent Inc.
At a recent job fair in Mountain View, in the heart of Silicon
Valley, Hewlett Packard said it had hundreds of jobs available in
the Bay Area and thousands worldwide. The story echoed at booth
after booth of prospective employers; easels and binders full of
jobs, from administrative assistant to patent attorney, but mostly
engineers. A sign at the booth of Kaiser Electronics, a military
contractor, sought to lure candidates with the promise of "Every
Other Friday Off."
For the candidates, the experience can be both flattering and
overwhelming. Samir A. Batla, 29, worked as an engineer at Ernst &
Young in San Francisco until he decided four months ago that he
wanted a new job. He posted his resume on monster.com and within
days had heard from 11 recruiters.
Various sales pitches ensued, and the price tag escalated. Batla
expected to earn a salary in the range of $70,000 to $80,000, but
he found his sticker price soon soared to $85,000 to $100,000. He
said he was offered stock option packages that could have made him
a millionaire if the company went public and its stock continued to
The recruiters sought to sell him on intangibles, too. Some tried
to sell him on the value of working at a smaller company, others at
a larger, more established office. They talked to him about the
culture of the prospective workplace, and this turned out to be an
important hook for Batla, who said money was only one criterion.
Another was attire.
"I decided I wouldn't work at any company if I had to dress up for
the interview," Batla said. Ultimately, he settled on Vivid
Studios, the Web design company. "To the interview, I wore blue
jeans and a collared shirt -- what do you call those, polo shirts?"
he said. The people interviewing him, he said, "were wearing
shorts, T-shirts and sandals -- I felt overdressed." He took the
job with the title of senior engineer.
Vivid Studios, onetime home of Nevil, the Labrador retriever, also
knows what it is like to lose employees. The dog's owner, Dan
Lederer, 40, quit Vivid recently to pursue a quieter life with his
family in Plainfield, Mass., population 550.
Lederer, a Web site designer who said he was hounded by recruiters
while working at Vivid, is now free-lancing and says he seems to
have found a recruiter-free zone in the Berkshires. "If you don't
want to be called, it's nice to be out here," he said. Still,
Lederer said he wouldn't mind hearing from a recruiter who could
offer him a job with money, benefits and one other perquisite:
permission to work remotely from his home on 13 secluded acres.
"With the pay, and the whole scenario working out, yeah, sure," he
would entertain offers, he said. These days, it might not seem too
much to demand; he and Nevil may be getting more offers than they
Matt Richtel at email@example.com welcomes your comments and