They're out there. Everywhere. And they want your IT employees.
Just ask Mark Roachell, technical recruiter at Kaiser Permanente Health Plan Inc.'s Information Technology Division in Pasadena, Calif. He's one of "them," a recruiter who uses sophisticated Internet search methods to scout potential job candidates.
"I don't consider myself very aggressive," Roachell says. "But the information I find on the Web is very interesting."
Apparently so. That information, he says, includes corporate employee directories, personal résumés, staff names and phone numbers.
If a laid-back recruiter can find all that data on the Web, rest assured that those who are out to openly raid your IT staff are finding lots more.
Consider the mind-set involved:
"You have to be a shark, constantly on the prowl," says Dan Harris, CEO and senior trainer at Recruiters Dream Network in Arlington, Texas.
The quarry that aggressive recruiters hunt these days are the so-called passive candidates - those IT employees who aren't looking for a new job but who might be enticed away with the right offer.
"A skilled recruiter's job is to create a problem where one may not exist," says Harris. He says good Internet recruiters can match a potential candidate to a position and present it as a dream job. "If the recruiter doesn't come across like a used-car salesman, a reasonable person will listen to a reasonable offer," he says.
How can an IT organization defend itself against such a reasonable approach to employee poaching?
Some companies are trying technology-based defenses, with only limited success, say Internet recruiters. One recruiter, who asked not to be named, says a company hired him to identify employment-related Web sites. The company then programmed its firewall to block incoming e-mail from those sites - all 36,000 of them.
Many Internet recruiters say such efforts are wasted, because they'll get to your IT staffers at home if they can't reach them at work.
"Technical protection costs you time, money and effort that you could invest in building synergies between your company and employees so that they don't read solicitations from recruiters," says Gerry Crispin, chief navigator at CareerXroads, an international employment consulting firm in Kendall Park, N.J.
Even stashing employee data behind firewalls isn't a sure safeguard. Savvy Internet recruiters find such information in news articles, white papers, industry association member lists and technology groups.
"It's very difficult for a company to regulate individuals' names on the Web in any meaningful way," says Bill Craib, director of training at Advanced Internet Recruitment Strategies (AIRS) in Hanover, N.H.
If You Can't Beat Them ...
Instead of fending off Internet recruiters, IT organizations are increasingly joining them by having their in-house IT recruiters learn Internet recruiting tactics. Craib estimates that approximately 75 percent of his students are from corporate IT recruiting staffs. Scott G.T. Sloan, director of IT recruiting at Citadel Investment Group LLC in Chicago, is a graduate of the AIRS course.
"I love Internet recruiting," says Sloan. His favorite tactic is data mining competitors' and industry conference Web sites for candidates. "It's cost-effective and makes it easy for me to find the résumés of difficult-to-find people in a relatively short time."
Some of the résumés that Sloan and other internal recruiters find belong to their current IT employees. When that happens, they say, the smartest response is to approach the employee to find out whether there's a job or management issue they can address.
"Keep an open door," advises Sloan, who promises confidentiality to IT employees who bring their troubles to him if they aren't comfortable talking to their managers.
Satisfaction Means Staying Power
In fact, aggressive recruiters say job satisfaction is their biggest obstacle to luring away IT employees.
"It is impossible to poach happy employees," says Barbara Ling, president of RISE Internet Recruiting Seminars in Pelham, N.Y. "Companies should be emphasizing retention."
Keeping IT employees happy isn't a simple proposition. Recruiters say paying market-rate salaries is key - a hard lesson learned by Kaiser after approximately half of its networking employees left the company last year. A market salary survey showed that while networking position salaries in general had increased 20 percent to 25 percent in the past two years, Kaiser's had gone up only 6 percent to 8 percent.
Kaiser raised the salaries of the entire networking team by 15 percent to bring them in line with industry norms, says Roachell.
But money is only part of the satisfaction equation. Kaiser also tries to offer reasonable work hours, give people time off with their families, foster a diverse work culture and provide extensive training programs that range from Microsoft and Cisco certifications to a new Web Academy for IT staff who want to learn new skills. All those things, plus good salaries, add up to considerable job satisfaction, says Roachell.
Companies that build strong relationships with their IT employees will do better at fending off Internet recruiting tactics, say recruiters. They also point out that Internet search methods alone can't lead to successfully recruiting a candidate away from another IT organization.
"It's all about relationships and keeping the best interests of the employer and candidate at heart," says Sloan. "If you're a bad recruiter to begin with, the Internet won't help you."
Watson is a freelance writer in Chicago.
Online Tactics Demystified
To identify potential job candidates, Internet recruiters run complex search strings on the same search engines that are available to anyone with Web access: Yahoo, Google, AltaVista and others.
These techniques are often so tedious that many recruiting firms and human resources departments are now employing Internet "sourcers," who do nothing but run such searches to pull up names for further vetting by recruiters.
Many recruiting consultants teach these techniques, often with slight variations. While different firms may apply different labels to them, the following are the most popular basic search types and possible defenses:
Flipping and x-raying
To "flip" a Web site means to find all other Web links attached to the site, especially those that are hidden from view and that aren't behind a firewall. Once recruiters find those sites, they "X-ray" them to find employees' home pages, employee or project directories or other sites listing IT personnel.
Defense: Put employee contact information behind firewalls. Don't let employees link personal Web pages to your corporate site.
Peeling or stripping
Aggressive recruiters "peel" Web addresses that come up on a keyword search, stripping back each hyperlink in an address until they reach a Web page with potential contact data. This technique thwarts companies that hide directories behind nonsense Web addresses.
Defense: Put sensitive links behind firewalls.
Harvesting or mining
Once recruiters find an employee list, they use "harvesting" or mining tools to scour it for prospects. The use of intelligent agent software that can grab e-mail addresses based on certain criteria is increasing.
Defense: Don't put employee e-mail addresses or other contact data on public Web sites.
"If we can find one person, we can find them all," says Bill Craib, director of training at AIRS. Recruiters say that by identifying one person with a specific IT skill set, they can use that information to track down his colleagues, fellow association members and others.
Defense: Difficult. Many recruiters say they first identify a key person from news articles, white papers and industry association member lists.
An "anchor search" is a basic keyword search on a domain, using such words and phrases as biography, résumé and meet our team.
Defense: Difficult, unless the Web site contains absolutely no personal - or professional - data about any employee.
Aggressive recruiters say they avoid sending mass e-mails because it usually aggravates potential candidates. Once they have done their homework, however, recruiters will send personal e-mails to candidates at work or at home.
Defense: Some companies have tried blocking mail from employment-related domains. But recruiters say they will get to your people at home if they can't reach them at work.
Internet recruiters are willing to run increasingly abstract searches in the hopes of gleaning information that will lead to great candidates. Judy West, author of Cyberspace: Jealously Guarded Recruiting Secrets, talks about searching Web sites for Acrobat files and embedded scripts and applets to gain access to employee directories and user groups.
Defense: "Your only defense is not to put this information out there," West says. "If it's in the public domain, we'll find it."
Internet Recruiting Resources:
The following Web sites contain information about Internet recruiting books, tools and seminars: