The Talent War

Bill Godfrey says he's well aware of the need to act fast and sell hard when recruiting a prized IT professional for e-business development.

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Hot jobs for 2001

Technical recruiters and IT hiring managers say this year's top fields for IT job opportunities, ranked according to demand for workers, will include the following:

Systems integration/infrastructure: Requires a strong understanding of the behaviors of multiple systems as well as knowledge of the middleware involved in integration. - Mostofa Mehrabani, vice president and CIO at TRW

Salary range: $70,000 to $140,000

E-business architecture: People in this field need a working knowledge of Web tools and technologies, and more important, the ability to look at the big picture and develop the high-level planning and thinking to frame the problems and the solutions. - John Keast, CEO of Tasavo

Salary range: $75,000 to $175,000

Customer relationship management: Requires people who can capture customer information and build databases. They must have programming and data modeling skills as well as the business knowledge necessary to understand why they are capturing the information. - Frank Giannantionio, vice president of direct marketing systems at Limited Technology Services

Salary range: $75,000 to $130,000

Wireless technology: Offers opportunities for people who can do wireless application development, build wireless networking infrastructure or manage all the wireless personal digital assistants that will one day become part of the corporate network. - Barbara Gomolski, research director at the Gartner Institute

Salaries are high because IT professionals with the required skills are scarce.
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"We hired someone out of a dot-com who had three or four concurrent job offers. He came to our attention on a Monday, and we closed the deal in a week," says Godfrey, who is chief technology officer at Dow Jones & Co. in New York. In the interim, the job candidate "spent time with the chairman of the board, the senior VP of our electronic publishing division and all the people who would be his colleagues, so he could access the vision, the mission and the values of the company."

Finally, the candidate "was attracted by the Dow Jones brand and WSJ.com," Godfrey says. "He wanted to be part of an electronic venture that had a lot of momentum within a brick-and-mortar company."

So, too, do a lot of other IT professionals, who are increasingly jumping back from dot-coms to traditional companies. But they're not looking at just any companies; they prefer those with a strong electronic presence. Call it the best of both worlds.

Back to Bricks and Mortar

In the wake of dot-com tailspins, IT professionals are finding that larger, traditional companies have several positive traits, including the benefits of scale, greater bench strength, more career paths and larger budgets as well as technology challenges.

"Any brick-and-mortar with a significant dot-com presence is a hot commodity," confirms Barbara Gomolski, research director at Gartner Institute in Fallbrook, Calif. "IT professionals are no longer so anxious to jump ship for a dot-com, and dot-coms will be less of a factor in the IT staffing picture this coming year."

That isn't to say that dot-coms haven't had a lasting effect on the job outlook. "They have essentially upped the ante for how IT professionals want to be treated in terms of flexibility, perks and rewards," she says.

Cash Is King

When it comes to compensation, cash is king this year, says Godfrey.

"Stock options mean far less, and candidates want more up front," Godfrey says. "Most candidates are caring more for their first year W-2 than they are about getting equity."

And why not? Technology professionals are no longer thinking about long-term careers with a single company. So the here and now (cash) is much more attractive than the future promise that stock options hold.

When it comes to the amount of cash that managers will be shelling out, top IT wage earners this year will be "those good ol' Oracle DBAs," says Gomolski. Other highly paid fields will include security, IT architecture, project management, Web development and Unix administration, she says.

But looking for qualified IT staff is not about technology alone, says Bill O'Neill, senior vice president of human resources at Getty Images Inc., a Seattle-based visual content provider.

Getty is looking for Oracle database administrators, Unix administrators, Internet developers and e-commerce project leaders. But "it comes down to being able to have the technical skill level and transform that into business reality," says O'Neill. "The ability to prioritize projects, deliver on time and get it out to customers - that is key for us."

Paying More for Less

Hiring managers can also expect to pay signing bonuses to lower-level IT professionals, says Frank Giannantonio, vice president of direct marketing systems at Limited Technology Services, the technology arm of the retail company The Limited Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. These bonuses will be largely project-related rather than based on salary, he says.

Giannantonio says he would pay sign-on bonuses to find qualified candidates at any level but can most easily justify doing so if the candidate has strong experience in various systems disciplines. That, combined with the energy and skills for electronic retailing, would make for a very strong candidate. "We have an online transaction environment that requires cross-checks, stress-testing - disciplines that are inherent in the development process," he says.

Godfrey says he's also noticed that more employers are willing to offer sign-on bonuses - and more candidates are expecting them. The combination of those two trends has resulted in workers often asking for much more than their experience justifies.

And the candidates are getting away with it. Godfrey says he'll hire someone who is a little too "junior" for more pay if the candidate has an attitudinal fit with company values and a promising profile.

"If someone has the values and the competencies but is a little light on skills, that is where you compromise. You take a bet. You have pressure to fill the job, and you think someone fits 80% of the profile and you make a leap of faith," Godfrey says.

The need for a cultural fit works both ways. Godfrey says he sees plenty of IT resumes, but he only hires well-rounded people who fit the company and its values.

Dow Jones has an average of 50 to 70 IT openings at any time and is currently looking for database administrators (DBA), project leaders, application architects with expertise in high-volume Web platforms, network engineers, security engineers and Windows NT systems administrators.

Creative Alternatives

The tight job market is forcing employers to pay more attention to retention programs, training and the culture and environment they offer workers.

That is certainly true at TRW Inc. in Cleveland, where vice president and CIO Mostofa Mehrabani says his philosophy is, "We don't ever want people to leave the company, or choose another company, because of compensation."

TRW also puts priority on job satisfaction and career development. Mehrabani recently took his company's top 50 IT professionals to a customized weeklong program at MIT's Sloan School of Management. "We need IT professionals to be more than technicians. They need to be good process experts, have a passion for business and offer leadership," he says.

The tight job market is also forcing IT employers to rely more heavily on hiring foreign workers and outsourcing. For example, TRW just signed a $200 million, five-year agreement with Satyam Computer Services Ltd. in Hyderabad, India, for systems development and system engineering support.

"We are creating an electronic business community where we provide core and strategic IT capabilities and services in-house and rely on strategic partners to develop other functions," says Mehrabani.

O'Neill says Getty Images is getting more creative in terms of putting together global workgroups.

"We have IT employees all over the globe - Sydney, London, Calgary," he says. "We don't believe they have to be in a central location."

Getting a Life Back

In response to long hours, high stress and mounting responsibilities, IT professionals this year will be demanding more flexible work arrangements, predicts John Keast, co-founder and CEO of business-to-business market development firm Tasavo in Palo Alto, Calif., and former CIO at PG&E Corp. in San Francisco.

"There is this morning-after feeling from what has been going on with the dot-coms, and the balance between work and play is going to become much more important," Keast says. "People have made phenomenal personal and financial sacrifices. They have stretched the work/home balance and are in a net loss situation, and it is going to be payback time for the family."

Keast says he's practicing what he preaches. After earning a solid reputation as always being the first to arrive at work, he's now taking his daughter to school a couple of mornings a week. And he's trying not to schedule intense work sessions at the end of the day, so he and his staff can go home and have dinner with their families.

Leinfuss is a freelance writer in Sarasota, Fla.

Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

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