FRAMINGHAM (07/03/2000) - "It's good to be king," could easily be the mantra of information technology job seekers these days.

Job opportunities still easily outstrip available manpower.

To compete for talent, hiring managers and recruiters are responding to work/life trade-offs and offering increasingly flexible work situations.

But we've been in the midst of this skills crunch for three years now. Surely, something must be easing. Right?

To find out, Computerworld recently asked some IT managers, recruiters and job seekers what life on the labor front is like these days.

Hiring-Manager Hell

"It's been the week from hell," laughs Eileen Cassini, vice president of IT services at Harrah's Entertainment Inc. in Memphis, as she pumps a stress ball.

Twenty-four open positions in an IT organization of 260 is nothing to sneeze at. And attrition isn't the problem here; Computerworld ranks Harrah's as one of the top places to work.

But "you can only live on [being a] healthy workplace for so long," says Cassini. She's got work to do: Recruiting should consume no more than 10% of her time, but it's taking up 30%.

Cassini doesn't think that the hiring situation is getting worse; it's just a continuation of conditions of the past two years. She sees the same shortages at consulting firms, contract agencies and software and hardware vendors.

But these days, being a hiring manager requires even more creativity and tenacity than it used to - and a willingness to forego sleep on occasion.

The good news: Cassini says she considers consulting firms to be prime for picking because they haven't maintained the best work environments. Last December, she pursued a consultant who eventually turned down Harrah's offer because the job, at the time, wasn't fully formed. He chose to accept a more concrete offer.

A Harrah's recruiter called Cassini, who was vacationing in England over New Year's, to tell her the news. Cassini says she told the recruiter not to worry - the candidate would be working at Harrah's within three months. "When I find someone who fits our culture, then I don't consider that I have competitors," she says.

Cassini says she knew this candidate and surmised that he wouldn't like his new job. She didn't give up. "It's all about winning that person over," she explains. And now he works at Harrah's.

Cassini tells another story about finding a talented consultant with a young family: "I knew she couldn't be happy with all the traveling, with her family situation."

Cassini found a way to work around the person's many constraints and offer her a job. Because of her day care situation, the woman couldn't take the job. "But I know she will some day work for us," says Cassini, firm in the belief that persistence and patience win out in the end.

Mike Walsh sure hopes so. The vice president of global human resources at State Street Corp. in Boston has 130 IT positions open - and more than 1,000 in all departments. When asked if this makes him lose sleep, he jokes, "I haven't slept in months." Walsh says this is the toughest market for IT talent that he has seen in his 24 years in human resources.

These days, recruiting requires publicity. Walsh explains, "We have to do everything we can to market our opportunities and benefits." State Street bills itself as an attractive alternative to dot-coms because it provides a stable work environment and invests heavily in advanced IT systems. Local hipster radio stations in the Boston area broadcast ads for State Street's frequent open houses.

Walsh thinks job seekers are now looking harder for a mix of work and home/life options that suit their personal needs. And State Street is trying to satisfy those demands by offering everything from on-site day care to flexible work schedules and on-site dry cleaners.

Walsh believes these options are permanent necessities and not temporary perks that will disappear when skilled job candidates more closely match the job opportunities.

Contractor Contradictions

Two years ago, contracting and consulting was the market to be in. But Jim Schipelliti, a Web team leader and recruiter at Eliassen Group in Wakefield, Massachusetts, says he thinks the blistering pace of activity in IT may be easing as interest rates slow economic growth.

Schipelliti says his workload has gone from complete insanity to manageable chaos since January. "After the new year, I had 40 to 50 [contract] openings staring me in the face," especially in server-side Java skills, says Schipelliti. Now he's filling 10 to 15 openings per week.

The pace at which Schipelliti must find and place people is what has changed the most during his 10-year tenure at Eliassen. Being a recruiter for contract positions these days means being able to find people fast and to get clients to act even faster in making an offer. "Someone who comes available and has Java experience can expect three to five offers in one week," Schipelliti explains.

Kirk Sears, co-owner of the Wilmington Group, a Wilmington, North Carolina-based franchise of Management Recruiters International Inc., says he hasn't seen the same slowdown in recruiting full-time employees. If anything, he has seen recruiting - and his clients' fastidiousness - increase. They submit what Sears calls an "eight-headed monster" - a laundry list of traits that a candidate must possess.

"Five years ago, the rule was you could meet 60% of those traits - from personality to education to how they part their hair. These days, its more like 90%," explains Sears.

Sears has been recruiting IT candidates and biostatisticians for the manufacturing and pharmaceutical industries for the past five years. "We talk a lot of velocity of inventory," he says, drawing on the 10 years he spent as a general manager at a capital manufacturing company. "You almost have to have a just-in-time mentality" when it comes to finding people, he says.

That's a far cry from the old industry standard of "prime time," when recruiters worked banker's hours. These days, Sears starts making calls around 6:30 or 7 a.m. because that's when the movers and shakers are in the office.

His days end approximately 12 hours later.

Job Seekers' Tales

Finding a job may not be difficult; but being laid off and forced to look for one isn't exactly fun. As more and more small software and dot-com companies fold, a small number of IT workers are finding themselves in the government's low-unemployment statistics.

If you do find yourself among them, should you be worried? Probably not. But when looking for the next job, the vital considerations for many job seekers aren't the odd perks, like bringing dogs to work. More often, it's just some flexibility, say staffing experts.

Rob Iannuzzi, 26, had a few hours' notice that the Boston-based dot-com retailer where he had been a site producer would be shutting its doors. He says a few colleagues were upset, but he'd been there more than two years and was ready to move on anyway.

Iannuzzi has been laid off from two e-commerce start-ups since entering the workforce four years ago. After he lost his first job, he posted his résumé on the and career sites, which generated perhaps a dozen leads. It took him a month to find another position.

In May, he used the same strategy. "I posted the résumé on a Tuesday at 5:30 and left the house to join friends for dinner. My phone began ringing on the walk to the restaurant," Iannuzzi says. He eventually stopped answering his phone because four or five recruiters were calling daily. Hundreds of e-mails flooded his in-box.

Iannuzzi sought two key factors in his next employer: short-term project-based work and access to public transportation. Two weeks after beginning his search, he accepted a job as an information architect at a consulting firm within a short train ride from his home.

Shand is a freelance writer in Arlington, Massachusetts.

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