Sneaky tricks hit new lows as IT job queues grow

Australian companies able to hire IT staff in the current technology market climate face new challenges as both candidates and recruitment firms swamp employers who advertise.

While both the number and quality of applicants for positions have increased, so have the various tactics of some commission-starved recruitment consultants desperate to keep their own jobs.

Some of these include the re-advertising of positions (without the permission of the initial employer) to attract candidates; an increase in cold calls from recruitment consultants; and the cyclical promotion of the so-called ‘fear factor’ which claims employers will be crushed under an avalanche of applications akin to a DoS attack.

The myth of the IT applicant deluge is one that Michele Foster, acting CIO for Australia’s Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) is quick to dismiss.

“(In terms of recruitment) we do it ourselves. We very rarely go through agencies. A challenge for any Public Service department is finding ways to be attractive to the candidate market, because we can’t pay market rates. We have to rely on other incentives like certified agreements, training and the sorts of challenges you get on our projects,” Foster told Computerworld.

Tellingly, the DIMIA Web site also suggests prospective IT applicants obtain information on the Canberran lifestyle from both Canberra Tourism and a little-known social group called SnoG (Social Network of Graduates).

“We don’t have any problem finding people,” Foster said.

Eddie Parker, national director of IT services and security group CMG, is similarly undaunted by the prospect of fending off both applicants and headhunters.

“It’s high volume, but we’ve got good people. We do get a number of recruitment consultants (cold calling) when we advertise, but they’ll take a straight answer (of no). We’ve been quite firm and direct and that’s… kept things neat and tidy. Our trusted recruiters know the sort of attributes and people we’re looking for. (In terms of poaching staff) you can stop people from invading your workforce and annoying them. We’ve taken action against certain recruitment firms – I won’t name them,” he says.

Others are less forgiving. One experienced IT hiring source told Computerworld that current practices were comparable to “the Nigerian mail scam.”

“The stupid thing is that you’ll get two sorts of CVs; one from the applicant direct, and the others (of the same applicant) ‘sanitized’ by recruitment consultants. You place a very specific ad, and the next thing you see (is that) it’s all over the job sites (under the guise of agencies). Recruitment consultants are meant to have a code of ethics, but it only seems to apply to not poaching the people that they have just placed,” he said.

The source also claimed that a large number of recruitment service cold calls appeared to be from “backpackers.”

John Loebenstein, CIO of St George Bank, said the IT job market was “soft, but it will come back on again – it’s just cyclical.

“We have a panel of agencies, but that doesn’t stop others from calling… or sending CVs in the e-mail. Fortunately my assistant shields me from all of that crap.”

Loebenstein is not without empathy for recruiters doing it hard at the moment: “I don’t really know if they are making pests of themselves, after all it’s their job. You have to ask whether you would prefer to have (the in-house recruiters you may employ) sitting around doing nothing.”

Tony Cooke, president of the Information Technology Contract and Recruitment Association (ITCRA) says that the recruitment industry is set for consolidation, with specialist firms sticking to their core niches and middle ranking firms being takeover targets for large, cashed-up players. Furthermore, Cooke argues that some employers can sometimes be their own worst enemy.

“It’s good to have a (staffing) layer of 10 to 20 per cent of contractors to mitigate cycles and risks. Some employers forgot to mitigate the risk (of making contractors permanent) at about five years into the (current) cycle which started in 1991 (leading to the current downturn). Managing peaks and troughs is essential. No one recruiter can provide quality across all areas,” he said.