IT recruiters exploit layoffs

Corporate layoffs may signal a gloomy economic outlook for most folks, but the recent spate of downsizings has been a boon for IT managers in dire need of skilled technologists.

One of the attendees at a staffing conference in Chicago last week sponsored by the International Quality and Productivity Center was Allstate Insurance Co., which plans to add at least 500 IT professionals to its staff this year. The Northbrook, Ill.-based insurer is eyeing former engineers and architects from companies that have announced layoffs recently, including Montgomery Ward LLC, Motorola Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc.

“We’ve been pretty proactive about contacting companies” that are laying off IT employees, said Lorraine Balun, Allstate’s senior manager of technical recruiting. She said her strategy has been to forge relationships with the human resources departments at companies that are dismissing people to find appropriate candidates for Allstate.

Other companies, such as Deerfield, Ill.-based Baxter Healthcare Corp., are contacting outplacement contractors hired by firms that are downsizing. Jeannie Pflueger, Baxter’s senior staffing representative, said this strategy has had mixed success.

For instance, Pflueger contacted the outplacement agency for a big networking vendor, but it said it doesn’t “give information about client companies,” she said. “I thought that was the point of an [outplacement] firm.”

But in other cases, Pflueger has struck gold. Two weeks ago, she attended a career fair for employers looking to hire former employees of Schaumburg, Ill.-based Motorola. She said she developed a couple of solid leads at that event.

Another way to find laid-off IT workers is to contact area recruiters, said Mark Marheineke, vice president of operations at contract placement firm CDI Corp. in Philadelphia. And once you have established relationships with individual IT workers, hiring managers can tap them for referrals, says Marheineke.

Katherine Manetas, a consultant at New York-based human resources consultancy William M. Mercer Inc., said that amid the corporate bloodletting, many laid-off IT workers can be found networking at major trade shows, such as this month’s Comdex Chicago.

Additionally, “pink-slip parties” have become popular venues for recruiters and IT workers to mingle. Last week, about 600 recruiters and former IT workers from New York’s Silicon Alley crowded inside Hush, a Manhattan bar.

Derek Brightman, vice president of technical services at Infinity Consulting Group in New York, said he has found at least 50 “good candidates” for networking and programming jobs since he started attending such gatherings in October.

Some were less enthusiastic. Brook Streit, recruiter at Objective Solutions International in New York, said he was disappointed there weren’t as many people with Java and C++ experience as he had expected.