While the ranks of unemployed IT workers continue to swell, hiring managers still insist they cannot find the right candidates for their most demanding jobs.
The grim paradox becomes clear in a pair of recent research reports: One estimates that about a half-million tech professionals will lose their paychecks by year-end - roughly the same number as in 2001; the other report shows that employers still are struggling to find people with senior-level skill sets they need to run their IT departments.
Forum: Are hiring managers expecting the impossible?
The jobless say they are having trouble seeing better days ahead.
"It's getting worse. We're still sliding downward, and I think we'll likely keep sliding downward," says Rix Dobbs, an unemployed mainframe systems programmer in the Durham, N.C., area. Dobbs has 25 years experience in the IT industry but has been without a steady job for 16 months. "I hear on the news there are positions available. I'm not seeing any available, especially not in my skills area."
Outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas reports that the 243,200 technology jobs lost from January to June this year represent 33% of all layoffs nationwide.
Another study, by the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), shows that the overall IT workforce lost more than a half-million workers in a 12-month period bridging 2001 and 2002. That same study reports that IT hiring managers questioned in March estimated they would be filling some 1.1 million technology positions within the next 12 months. However, dismal earnings and trouble on Wall Street in the first half of this year have the trade association now doubting that rosy scenario.
"Certainly our report has changed quite a bit over the past couple of months," says Harris Miller, ITAA president. "Although there was every indication the economy was picking up at the turn of the year, IT unemployment remains stubbornly high."
Miller points out that staffing and hiring are lagging indicators, not leading indicators, of an economic turnaround. So even if there is an uptick in IT spending, as some predict, it might not necessarily lead to more jobs in the near term.
In the meantime, the skewed ratio of unemployed IT professionals to available positions has job seekers indiscriminately applying for any opening and hiring managers aimlessly searching for the right candidate.
"If we post for one position, we receive hundreds of resumés, out of which maybe two have some of the skills we're looking for," says Judy Berglund, manager of network services at TruServe, the corporate headquarters in the Chicago area for the True Value hardware store chain. Berglund says she remembers seeing 20 pages of help wanted ads for IT positions several years ago. Now, she says, four or five at most make the papers.
Still, the growing pool of applicants doesn't make Berglund's job any easier.
"It's actually harder to weed through and find the exact fit for the position," she says.
Others in the IT employment arena are experiencing frustrations.
"Companies may have openings, but they move a lot slower in terms of hiring," says Jeremy Schulman, a recruiter specializing in IT positions for Lucas Group in Atlanta. "They're all looking for the perfect fit, and they take a lot more time on background checks now."
Schulman says hiring managers no longer want candidates who might have enjoyed a little job-hopping back in the dot-com heyday. Candidates with a strong educational background, a lot of hands-on experience - not just a list of certifications - and outgoing personalities will get more attention from potential employers.
Some companies go one step further and test applicants on their stated IT knowledge. TruServe's Berglund says a hiring decision that once took one to two interviews can now take four or five meetings and require candidates to prove their skills on network equipment. She also says more resumés seem to be embellished than in the past, making the interview process more about finding out what skills the candidate actually possesses.
"I've worked with Cisco routers, but I don't consider myself an expert and wouldn't apply for a job that required a lot of Cisco router configuration," she says. However, many applicants will say they can do more than they actually can just to get an interview, she adds.
A recent study conducted by consulting company People3 shows employers still are having a hard time filling IT positions such as database administrator and network engineer. While some positions historically have been hard to fill, titles such as security analyst and security manager this year debuted on People3's list of hard-to-fill jobs.
"A few years ago companies were struggling to get people in the door, now the pain is getting the right people that will be there for the long haul," says Diane Berry, vice president of research at People3. She says the latter half of 2001 - after the terrorists attacks of Sept. 11 - significantly upped the demand for security staff.
Despite that demand, IT recruiter Schulman says he passes on companies looking to staff security positions.
"They're nearly impossible to fill. No one looking for a job has the skills employers are looking for in a security expert," Schulman says.
TruServe's Bergman agrees, saying she often sees positions that will go unfilled, and she thinks many companies are looking for something that's "above and beyond" what's available in the pool of candidates. "They want Java developers with 10 years experience. Java hasn't been around for 10 years," she says.
Scott Aldworth, assistant director of IT at the Slone Epidemiology Unit at the Boston University School of Medicine, says he "is constantly looking out for senior-level types," and in the past he has waited up to 10 months to fill a senior database administrator position.
He says he disregards most of the resumés he receives from Web sites such as Monster".com and Hotjobs.com, and looks for potential employees among people he knows and other employed IT workers.
"Hiring managers can get shell shock from all the resumés they receive and then have to pick through. You can only do that for so long before you go numb," Aldworth says. "A referral from someone I know or a face-to-face meeting has more impact than any resumé that's been sprayed across IT departments."
From help-wanted ads to career advice.
It's raining resumes
What do you get when you cross massive job cuts in the IT industry with relatively few job openings? Lots of résumés, and good ones at that.
Network World, 08/20/01.