IT Skills Upgrade HR Resume

Savvy recruiters can spot top-notch tech abilities.

When the founders of peer-to-peer software startup DataSynapse Inc. were finalizing their business plan early last year, they knew the New York companys success would hinge on its ability to recruit top technical talent, a major challenge in a highly competitive market.

So they started looking for an edge: a recruiter who combined deep human resources experience with the kind of hands-on technical experience it would take to not only spot talented IT professionals but also get them to jump to the young company.

Sounds like a tall order, right? After all, you dont run across experienced HR recruiters with hands-on technology experience every day. So when DataSynapses top executives found Francine Gutwilik six months ago, they snatched her away from her vice-president-of-HR spot at New York-based customer relationship management services company LivePerson Inc., where she had built a staff of five into 75 on the way to an initial public stock offering. Gutwilik, who has spent the bulk of her 15-year career becoming the prototypical tech-savvy HR manager, is now helping DataSynapse land a series of standout hires.

"You need someone with credibility to do recruiting now," especially in the tight IT labor market, said DataSynapse CEO Peter Lee, who hired Gutwilik. "She also understands the software development process, which is crucial. We really wanted someone with a deep understanding of our technology for this job."

As competition for top talent remains high—particularly for experts in areas such as P2P—experts say, more e-businesses will do well by trying to find HR professionals, such as Gutwilik, who also know their technology. Today, however, most companies end up relying on generalists to help them recruit high-tech talent because the pool of HR experts with technology backgrounds is still small.

"Its very unusual to find a [vice president] of HR with a technology background, but it would be great if it were more common," said Maria Schafer, an analyst with Meta Group Inc., in Stamford, Conn. "This certainly should be an area that HR professionals look to improve" on their own résumés."

Gutwilik admitted her résumé, with its multiple career changes, is unusual. "You can look at my résumé and figure I either had attention deficit disorder or some grand plan to make all these different skills fit together," Gutwilik said.

Gutwilik, who received a degree in music from the University of Toronto, started her career as a money market and foreign exchange trading support manager at Union Bank of Switzerland, in Toronto. She switched from the trading desk duty to become an HR recruiter, first at Nordstrom Inc., in Edison, N.J., and later at recruiting giant Datacom Technology Group Inc., in New York.

A Different Drummer

While Gutwilik was sharpening her HR recruiting skills, however, she was also taking classes in HTML coding. Then, pursuing her interest in music, she hooked up with Latin music cataloger Descarga Inc., in Brooklyn, N.Y., as a consultant on its first Web site development project. There, she used her HTML development, site design and project management skills. After that, she further honed those skills by consulting on two other Web site projects.

This kind of experience made her ideal to head up the building of DataSynapses employee base, according to Lee. Using her technology experience, Gutwilik is able to tell when the ideal job candidate has stepped into her office.

"Its all in the questions you ask," she said. "I try to find out how hands-on their previous job was, how they managed their time and whether they were able to meet deadlines." In some cases, Gutwilik will even dirty her hands looking at the software a candidate has produced. "With programmers, we look at the code theyve written, and that gives us the answer," she said.

Gutwiliks ability to distinguish the technology hotshots from the pretenders—and to get them to sign on—will soon be tested. The company, which was founded in March of last year to make a P2P software platform for distributed computing, has 28 employees now, with plans to add 22 more by years end. Eighteen of those will be IT hires.

Even in a slowing economy, that wont be easy.

"The competition is tremendous. We have Wall Street and entertainment companies to compete with" for P2P experts, Gutwilik said. In the end, she said, her credibility as a tech-savvy recruiter should help, as will DataSynapses improving financial picture.

"Were close to being profitable, so that makes my recruiting job easier," she said.