Help Wanted?

 
 
By eweek  |  Posted 2002-08-26
 
 
 

Help Wanted?


After seven months of beating the pavement looking for work, one online ad looked like an open door to the Austin, Texas, C++ programmer, what with its request for mainframe and C++ skills. "I worked on mainframes at IBM for 12 years and then switched to C and C++ programming," said the 43-year-old, who requested anonymity. "I doubt anyone in Austin knows [Multiple Virtual Storage] as well as I do." But after applying three times, what looked like an open door turned out to be a brick wall. The only response has been a cryptic e-mail saying, "Well keep your résumé on file."

Hes luckier than most. IT workers complain that applications to online job boards rarely elicit a response, let alone a job interview. Richard Kuper, a computer consultant in New York, said he hears back from only about 1 percent of the companies he contacts through Monster.com, ComputerJobs.com and others.

Both professionals said they understand that times are tough and that even experienced programmers must work hard to compete for the limited number of openings. But frustration is now turning to suspicion. Increasingly, IT professionals are wondering if many listings are just shams for companies trawling for résumés or mere padding for job boards that want to inflate their size to increase their stature.

One thing thats making IT people suspicious is the lack of phone numbers or contact names listed. A review of listings at major job boards bolsters these complaints. Of jobs posted in the first half of August at Monster.com, dozens failed to provide a contact name or phone number. On Dice.com, a number of technology job listings gave phone numbers with a "999" exchange, an invalid number. Most were listings posted by recruiter Hall Kinion & Associates Inc., of San Jose, Calif. A company spokeswoman said Hall Kinion doesnt list phone numbers because its recruiting system is optimized for collecting and storing information electronically. Dice automatically inserted the invalid numbers, she said. Dice declined to comment.

Hall Kinions is a logical explanation, but it does little to stem the malcontent thats breeding in the IT work force. Peter Bennett, a Danville, Calif., software programmer with 11 years of IT experience, said he believes many listings are attempts to circumvent H-1B rules governing permanent labor certification and temporary visa extensions by "H-1B body shops": employers that rely on supposedly low-wage H-1B workers and use job boards in an insincere attempt to locate U.S. citizens.

Experts said IT companies may indeed post listings that arent associated with immediate openings. "When it begins, We are looking for people with the following skills ... [as opposed to listing a specific job title], you know they probably just want a steady flow of résumés coming in," said Margaret Dikel, co-author of "The Guide to Internet Job Searching."

Nevertheless, Dikel said she believes résumé trawling is rare in todays tight job market because of costs associated with posting ads and maintaining résumé databases. A standard listing on Monster.com costs $305, a company spokesman said.

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Managers of large job boards acknowledge that frustrations exist among IT professionals. Marcel Legrand, vice president of Monster.com, in Maynard, Mass., called the lack of acknowledgements by employers one of the most frequent complaints he hears. Rather than behind-the-scenes trickery, tough economic times are the cause, Legrand said, with cutbacks in human resources staff making it impossible to respond to every applicant. He said employers may not list contact names because hiring staffs are too short-handed to respond to the flood of inquiries that can result.

Whatever the cause of dead-end online postings, experts agreed on one thing: If an IT worker is frustrated by job boards, he or she is probably spending too much time on them. Phyllis Rosen, a New York-based counselor who works with IT professionals, advises candidates to instead spend as much as 50 percent of their job search networking to learn about unadvertised openings and almost as much time researching key companies and sending them introductory letters.

In the meantime, the Austin programmer may be on the verge of leaving the IT industry. "I never thought Id be in this position as a computer programmer," he said. Viruses he can handle. Smacking his head against a brick wall is harder to survive.

Alan Joch, a New England-based technology writer, can be reached at ajoch@monad.net.

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