Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Battle for the Best: What Works Today in Recruiting Top Technical Talent

Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Battle for the Best: What Works Today in Recruiting Top Technical Talent

Article excerpt

When a company in California wanted to hire top engineering talent last spring, it turned to a resource virtually unknown a year earlier: a web-based talent mart that automatically matches employer queries with blind resumes, then exchanges emails between an anonymous applicant and a potential employer until an offer sprouts from common ground.

Maybe this Internet interplay lacked the human touch of an executive recruiter, but that didn't seem to bother John Uhran, vp of operations for the San Jose-based Cytaq. As a one-year-old start-up software engineering firm with only 18 employees, the company would have had a tough time luring away a top-level staff member from a major corporation using traditional head-hunting tactics. But by employing the web-based service, called eProNet, Uhran could fish a large sea from a small boat by posting the requirements of the available position on an electronic form. The data were then matched against information provided anonymously by the members of the 22 alumni organizations that belong to the service.

The result? Cytaq lured its new vp of engineering, complete with a Stanford Ph.D., away from Compaq.

Tracking the Elusive Candidate

The Cytaq story tells in small what is writ large everywhere in technical recruiting: Employers are modifying their recruitment tactics to infiltrate an increasingly competitive market for top candidates. Has the economic downturn lessened the pressure on recruiters by making more talent available? Apparently not. Maybe downsizing restocked the waters, but fat trout are still scarce.

"The challenge for growing employers is that the jobs they need to fill are not necessarily the ones that can be filled by people on the street," says Andy Chan, president of the San Mateo, California-based eProNet. "It's a matter of hiring `the best person available' versus `the best person.' There is a mismatch between talent needs and talent available."

Chan does not expect this situation to change for quite a while. "Demographic trends seem to indicate that over the next 15 years fewer people will be available to do the work available. So employers will need to continue to push to use innovative ways to acquire and retain talent."

Indeed, the softening economy with its much-publicized layoffs can be a double-edged sword in the battle for the best. On the one hand, with an epidemic of wandering eye now infecting traditionally stable top talent, employers have the chance to recruit good performers from the competition.

"Even people who may not be personally affected by a layoff may take a new look at the marketplace," says Frank Brady, chair of the HR Directors Network of the Industrial Research Institute (RTM's publisher), and manager of human resources for HRL Laboratories, a Malibu, California-based R&D laboratory co-owned by Boeing, General Motors and Raytheon. "They would rather make the decision to leave, themselves, than have it forced upon them."

On the other hand, employers need to watch their backs: Their own top talent may seek higher ground if they are not convinced their employer can avoid being overwhelmed by an economic flood.

Additional prospects come from the army of individuals formerly employed by failed dot-coms. Yet some employers are putting these applicants under special scrutiny. "There is talent out there, but many of these individuals lack the fundamental experience one obtains by working at a mature business," says the R&D director at one large Silicon Valley high-tech firm. "Working at a three-year start-up does not buy you business experience. At best, you learn how to operate and succeed (or fail) in a 24/7 emergency mode."

Companies, then, are still battling for the best. "It is indeed tough to find great talent," says Rafik O. Loutfy, director of Xerox's Canadian research center. "There is a lot of competition for people in certain fields such as software, system engineering, and mechanical engineering. …

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