Dice.com: Job seekers still in the driver's seat

Communities Editor Brian Sullivan recently spoke about IT career trends with Jeff Dickey-Chasins, vice president of marketing for Dice.com, a job-posting board for IT professionals based in Des Moines. Dickey-Chasins says his company works with more than 8,000 companies and job placement agencies, and sees traffic of more than 1 million users each week. Recently, Dice.com surveyed its users, both companies and IT pros, to check on the state of the job market.

Q: Who is in the driver's seat right now? Job candidates or employers?
Oh, I think absolutely at this point the job candidates are in the driver's seat. There are more positions out there than there are qualified candidates. There is a lot of controversy in the industry about what the number really is in terms of the jobs going unfilled, and I am not sure we would take a stance on that. But there is definitely a gap between workers and jobs to be filled.
Q: To what extent is the candidate in the driver's seat? How far will employers go?
There are all kinds of crazy things people will do. A lot of the crazy stuff is happening in the Silicon Valley. I have heard of sign-on bonuses of $100,000 and [BMW] Z-3s, which is nuts, but it is happening. I think it is not uncommon in markets like Des Moines, which is where we're based, for someone who is skilled to get maybe a $10,000 or $20,000 signing bonus, plus options and all that sort of stuff. I think the big discussion in the industry right now is whether this is a one- or two-year kind of thing, or is this going to be a persistent thing because we're not graduating enough [computer science] types. I think the jury is still out on that.
But for the next 12 to 18 months, things are not really going to change significantly. There has been an explosion in what companies are doing on the IT front, and there has been a recognition up the chain that the IT part of the business is critical. The Web has kind of pounded that into most CEOs' brains. As a consequence, the demand for the right people has skyrocketed, and there are only so many of those people walking around.
Q: Have IT workers become more sophisticated in terms of how they manage their careers?
A lot of them are very active in using the site to determine how they are going to manage their career, in terms of, What are my next skills going to be? What do I need to acquire? It is interesting, and honestly it surprised us a little. People are going into the site literally several times a week to be checking 'the going rate for what I do,' what's out there, what are the typical things that get grouped together in terms of skill sets. As the people we used on one of our radio ads said, 'I go there about every six months and I figure out what I need to learn in the next six months, and I add it on and I make more money.'
That is really different from what the job market looked like for anyone five or 10 years ago. These resources weren't available, but again, IT people are on the cutting edge of this sort of stuff and are not intimidated by the technology, and they understand how to use this stuff to their advantage.
Q: What kind of trends are you seeing in the job market right now?
There seems to be a trend towards more contractors and consultants than full-timers. That portion of the workforce tends to be getting larger. It's hard for us to say with any precision how quickly that is happening, but it is pretty obvious that it is happening.
There are more women in the market. In just the last two years, we have seen an increase in our base population of somewhere between 5% and 7% in women, which is significant. Right now, we're looking at roughly a 70/30 split. So that is just quite a change in 24 months.
But there is still a significant pay differential between women and men in the industry. It is hard to say what that is tied to. I think some of it is probably just straight gender bias, and some of it might be because some of the women in the industry have been in the market for a less lengthy period than men.
Q: How much of a difference is there between what men make and what women make?
You're looking at about a 12% difference across all educational levels. Interestingly enough, the difference is highest at the doctoral and masters level. In our survey, there was a 14% difference for a male and a female holding a four-year degree, with the female making an average of 14% less. And then at the doctoral level, there was a 30% difference, which is kind of odd. But it was a fairly large sample, so I think it is fairly accurate. The difference in pay has been consistent across our rate surveys in the last couple of years.
Q: How big was your sample?
A little bit over 10,000. We're actually continuing to run it. We're probably going to drive that sample up to 30,000 when we're done.
Q: What else are you seeing?
There is a movement into Web-related activities: Web developer, programming that is tied to Web-specific types of languages such as Java and HTML, and then all the related functions out there. But that is probably no big news. It has definitely changed the employment picture for most people from what it was like a couple of years ago.
Q: When you are dealing with companies, do you see a preference for full-time workers over contractors?
I can only respond anecdotally from talking to employers, and I would say that it's really hit and miss. There are some companies that are quite comfortable with working with contractors, and there are some companies that avoid them like the plague. And I think it is really tied to their experience on a previous project.
Q: Where is the best place to get a job if you are an IT professional?
Well, the place where the demand is the highest, the big honey-to-the-bee situation, continues to be the Silicon Valley. It is also where the highest salaries are. Of course it is probably also one of the highest, if not the highest, costs of living if you are an IT worker. We continue to see a lot of strength in places like New York and Chicago, new markets like Atlanta and Dallas. The Atlanta market in particular is really exploding. I would say the New York metro area actually seems to have had significant growth on the IT front.
Q: What are the top titles? The hot jobs?
In terms of top-paying types of positions, IT management -- as a strategist or an architect, or project manager. This is in order of how well it pays: mainframe programmer, which surprised me a bit; business analyst; MIS manager; and then one that has not popped up to the top before, security analyst; and then software engineers. Those are the top titles on permanent positions.
On the contract side, at the top of the list is project manager. Another top title for a contract worker would be telecommunications engineer, and then software engineer and mainframe systems programmer.
In terms of high-paying skills, the top five on our list were PeopleSoft, SAS, SAP, PL/1 and Easytrieve. I looked at [Easytrieve] and said, 'Hmm, I can't believe this one popped to the top.'
PeopleSoft is in such incredible demand, they have been very successful in getting their product out there. That is sort of a never-ending request we hear from recruiters and companies -- 'Are there more PeopleSoft people?'
One of the interesting things when we looked at programming languages on both the contractor and full-time side was J++. It is obviously used out there.
There seems to be an underlying, significantly growing demand for people that understand the back-end parts of running e-commerce sites and sophisticated Web sites. It usually boils down to, 'Do you know Oracle? Do you know SQL? How comfortable are you making the back end work with the front end?' People that can do that command a very high dollar.
It's a pretty fluid market. But if you are a C++ programmer, you will always have a job.
Q: Are there any dogs? Anything that is going away?
Well, people keep predicting Cobol's death, and it keeps not dying. That is probably something I would have pegged a year ago and now I am more cautious. I'm not sure that there is anything that you can say is definitively going away. I think things are getting marginalized. It's not really that they go away, but that they become legacy systems and you just don't see growth. There is always going to be a demand for someone to do Cobol or Foxpro or something, because someone has some legacy system that they are unwilling to move to a new platform.
Q: What's the difference in pay between full-time workers and contractors?
There is a significant difference in the average income for contractors and permanent folks. Typically, contractors are making $100,000 to $115,000 a year, as opposed to $70,000 for a permanent worker on average. So there is a big difference there.
Q: What advice would you give a job seeker right now if he came to you and said, 'Help me out.'
Be clear about what your skill set is and what you want to do. If there are holes in your skills set, if you want to become that applications developer working at that big Web site company and you lack one key skill, go out and fill that skill.
But in the meantime, in terms of finding work, use multiple boards. Most of the people who are using Dice are using other boards. Use your network, work your network. You know lots of people. That is something typically people don't always think of doing. Use traditional print media, classifieds and so on, but don't get fixated on one single avenue or one company. Leave yourself open to the possibility of what I call sideways jobs, jobs that are going to get you where you want to be, they're going to get you in the company you want to be or working with the people that have the skills you need to acquire. Nothing earth-shattering there.
Q: How about from the other side? What should a potential employer do to get the best people?
You need to be active. You need to recognize that when you post a position, it is not just a list of what is involved in the job. It is a selling document. Particularly in this market, you need to sell your company and sell the benefits of the position to a potential candidate.
We also really push them to follow through. If you post your job on a place like Dice, you may get 40, 50, 60 inquiries within a few days. What are you going to do? How quickly do you respond to these people? How do you respond? Who talks to them? Who does the follow-up? Think through the whole process. Some companies are pretty sophisticated about this, but the majority are not. And lot of times, that is where things fall apart.
Are salaries going up too quickly or not fast enough? Is the talk about IT staff shortages overblown, or does it not even begin to describe how tough it is to hire qualified people? Tell us what you think on our new forums. (Note: Anyone can read messages; free registration is required to post. To register on Computerworld's forums, click here).

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