IT workers buck tough hiring trend

Layoff stories lead the news on a regular basis. Hiring has slowed. But don't think that information technology workers are heading for the bread line

Layoff stories lead the news on a regular basis. Hiring has slowed. But don't think that information technology workers are heading for the bread line.

"If you have skills, you can still get a job," says Brett Walker, vice president of marketing at, one of the Web's largest commercial career sites, which was just acquired by TMP Worldwide, the owner of

But the recent economic downturn has caused some corporate hiring managers to be pickier about who they recruit. Once, employers were so desperate for IT workers that it seemed like anyone who could boot a computer could get a six-figure salary.

"Clients are being more selective on pulling the trigger on dollars, both in hiring and starting projects," says Nat Dodge, chief operating officer at Directfit, an IT hiring company that provides virtual interviews between candidates and companies with job openings.

Mark Mehler, co-author of the CareerXroads 2001 job directory and a long-time human resources consultant and speaker, agrees that since January, recruiters have become more choosy. There are plenty of jobs--but now there are more candidates chasing those jobs, so recruiters have time to find the "perfect" match. "The job seeker has to hone the position they want, and attack the company, not just the job," Mehler says.

So has the dot-com frenzy stopped, and the hiring world returned to normal? To some extent, yes. "Crazy times are still upon us, but there are more candidates and more résumés, and companies are still raising the bar to find the best candidate they can," Mehler says.

In addition, the extravagant perks offered by some of the dot-coms in their heyday--such as cars, on-site massages and letting employees bring their dogs to work--are on the decline, Mehler believes. "That was an attempt by young managers to keep the younger generation working and people happy and motivated to work all those hours," he says. Adds FlipDog's Walker: "It's the return of the adult to the business world."

Dot-com bombs have had another effect, according to Dodge. "In Silicon Valley, more software development folks are cycling out of failed dot-coms than last year, but are quickly getting jobs with major corporations with internal projects"--jobs that often couldn't get filled because of competition with dot-coms, he says.

As companies become more selective in their IT hiring, job listing sites are booming. A study by Alexa Research found other job sites sharing in the upsurge, reporting that during the recent economic slowdown, traffic to the top 20 leading career-related job sites increased more than 47 percent among US users. Russ Curtis, CEO of, says that page views on his site increased 50 percent over the last four months. Job postings are up by 20 percent in the same time period.

Walker says there's a new emphasis on hiring accounting executives, which may reflect the newest trend in the new economy: making a profit. "Most companies grew rapidly the last three or four years, and are now focusing on cost reduction rather than growth," he says.

Hiring for the bottom line
The shift in candidates sought reflects a maturing approach by Internet companies to actually make money. "We see a high demand for sales-experienced salespeople who can really close business," Walker says. "Companies today can't stand the lost opportunities due to unskilled labor in the sales area."

Job movement between industries in the past year has declined, which says a lot about the maturity of certain job markets, Walker says. "Two years ago, people jumped from a secure job in industry A to a dot-com in industry B," he says. "Now, people are staying within their own industry two-thirds of the time. That's a positive sign."

Staying within the IT industry won't be a problem, since job openings for IT professionals still vastly outnumber candidates. According to a survey conducted by the Information Technology Association of America, US companies need to fill 900,000 IT positions in 2001, but they expect almost half of them to go unfilled.

"IT is basically becoming a new basic trade for companies, with corresponding high demand," Walker says. "Even people who are trainable in IT, such as math or music majors, are valuable."

Mehler thinks the job market may never return to a time when employees were grateful just to have work, at least not in the IT sector. "Quality of life is becoming more important as people are getting older. People really want to work at least one day out of the house. Telecommuting will only get bigger."

"There's a new mental shift with the yuppie generation," Mehler adds. "Older workers look at a job differently when they have money in the bank and a retirement account that stays full with a healthy stock market."