It's 3 a.m. -- where's your recruiter?

Summary:In the superfrenzied tech job market, recruiters are working 24/7 to scour the latest resumes on job boards.

Bosses, beware. Someone may steal your best worker tonight.

With many employers monitoring Internet usage and patrolling the big job sites during the day, the Internet after dark is the place to be for job-hunting in the New Economy. Nocturnal Web surfing is now common among recruiters.

Determined headhunters snap up hot techie resumes before dawn, contacting candidates by e-mail and sometimes even by phone.

"The competition for candidates is fierce. As a result, the early bird gets the worm,'' said K.C. Ward, until recently an Oak Brook, Ill., recruiting director for Premier Technical Solutions Inc., a software and systems consulting company.

Recruiters have honed their online techniques down to a science, and their methods work especially well late at night, when traffic on the Web is low and the system moves data faster. Many stay up past 2 a.m., combing job sites, surfing chat rooms, digging out fresh resumes on personal Web pages, posting help-wanted ads and sending e-mails.

Candidates with technical skills that are especially in demand often find themselves bombarded with calls and e-mail within minutes of posting a resume online. Recruiters say the window for making overtures closes quickly. "I hate to think about the number of times I have heard, 'If you would have called 10 minutes ago ... I just accepted an offer,'" Ward said.

Late-night job searching isn't limited to techies. College students now pull famous "all-nighters" not just to cram for exams, but also to hunt for jobs. Of the students using Internet job boards at East Coast colleges serviced by experience Inc., a Boston provider of software for college-career centers, almost 20 percent did so from midnight to 4 a.m., the company says.

Popular career sites such as Monster.com, Hotjobs.com, Headhunter.net and Dice.com, say Monday and Tuesday afternoons are the peak usage periods for viewing resumes and job listings. But they also see a significant spike long after dark on Sundays and weekdays. "There are still over a million pages being viewed between 1 and 2 a.m.,'' said Judy Hackett, senior vice president of marketing for Atlanta-based Headhunter.net. The number is comparable to regular weekday early-morning traffic.

Even off-line aspects of the job hunt are shifting to off-hours. Sue Kim was recruited for her job as communications manager for Blue Martini Software Inc., in San Mateo, Calif., in an interview with a company manager at a dive bar around midnight on a Tuesday. The "clincher" interview, at company headquarters, took place late on a Friday evening. Those hours were arranged to suit both Kim, 28 years old, who had a busy PR job, and the company, which was gearing up for its initial public offering of stock. "I had a really demanding job -- -the kind of job where it was a big deal to step outside for 20 minutes to grab a burrito," she said. Having an interview during the workday or early evening would have been nearly impossible, she added.

Kevin Flash, 43, has been looking for a job for the past three weeks, after his post as a software-development manager was eliminated at Transamerica Intellitech Inc., now a unit of real estate information provider First American Corp., of Anaheim Hills, Calif. Flash often stays up past midnight researching companies and combing listings. When he was employed, he was too busy -- and wary of getting caught by his boss -- to work on a resume or a job search in the office. These days, he spends his mornings following up leads with recruiters. As a single father of four kids ranging from eight to 15 years old, his afternoons and evenings are pretty full. "Once I get them into bed, I have a little window of opportunity," he said.

Access to so many resumes and, in many cases, entire corporate rosters of employee names and phone numbers on the Net has utterly transformed the job of recruiter. "Candidate identification," as the task is known in the business, used to take place primarily during regular business hours, with recruiters making endless rounds of cold telephone calls, explained Onie Hemmingsen, a recruiter for 1st Choice Consulting Inc., of Denver, which specializes in technology. Now, many recruiters don't dare to spend more than a few hours away from their work. "I'm always working,'' said Hemmingsen, who said she usually doesn't go to sleep until after 3 a.m.

In the current job market, recruiters are scheduling interviews at the candidate's convenience. In many cases, that means at night. Shari Miller, a recruiter for Elmhurst Group Inc., a search firm in Granite Bay, Calif., frequently phones East Coast prospects from her home at 3 a.m. her time, so she can catch them at home at 6 a.m. before they head to work.

Recruiters also stay up late wooing workers overseas. "Our research team is looking a little tired of late,'' admits David Perry, managing partner of Perry-Martel International, an Ottawa technology search firm. His team has a multiyear contract to find employees in Asia for a North American telecommunications concern. To reach potential hires in Japan and South Korea, his staff recruiters regularly work until 4 a.m.

Techies tend to be night owls, and they often are impressed when recruiters keep the same odd hours. Elmhurst's Miller recently sent an e-mail at 2 a.m. to a software engineer whose resume she had spotted on the Web. He responded in seconds.

"He was impressed I was working late at night,'' the recruiter said. "He thought, 'Here was synergy.' " (Synergy notwithstanding, the man took another job.)

Of course, some recruiters work late because it's the one time they can escape the usual barrage of calls, meetings and other distractions. Many discover peace, quiet and productivity after midnight. "Between 3 to 6 a.m., I fly,'' said Kelly Dingee, a recruiter for Acterna Corp., a Germantown, Md., communications-equipment company formerly known as TTC Corp. Fellow recruiters tease her about her early morning hours. "But they walk [into work] in the morning with resumes to review,'' Dingee said, but she rarely does.

Many of these night stalkers fill their days meeting with clients and candidates, checking references and managing their own staffs. The ones who stay up late say they don't mind the daytime drowsiness.

"I suppose many successful recruiters are like nocturnal animals that enjoy the harvest, while the diurnal species fight over the leftovers,'' said 29-year-old Mark Alfaro, a recruiter for Blue Martini, the software concern. He often works until 3 or 4 a.m. "I don't have much of a life outside of work, so no one really complains,'' he said.

Topics: IT Employment

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