Tech Rock Stars Increasingly Picky With Job Offers

Rock StarWith the IT unemployment rate running about half that the overall economy’s – the  Bureau of Labor Statistics recently put it at 3.3 percent for IT compared with a wider 7.8 percent nationally – workers with in-demand skills are coming to realize the extent to which they’re in the driver’s seat with employers.

In some quarters, they’re said to be quite picky about the offers they’ll entertain. In others, the holdover uncertainty from the recession makes staying put feel like a better option.

To get some insight, we talked to recruiters across the country.

It’s Harder to Poach

Robert Byron, principal consultant for the IT division at WinterWyman Search in Boston, says candidates are hesitant to make a move. “If they’re the last ones into a company, if there’s layoffs, a downturn in the business, they’re the first ones out of there,” he observes.

For those who are looking around, candidates with in-demand skills tend to be more selective in offers they’ll consider. They’ll look carefully at a prospective employer’s line of business, industry and technology. “If there’s something about [their existing] job they don’t like, they’ll consider a move,” says Byron. “But they’re going to vet that company much more carefully.”

Sheila Robinson, technical recruiter for Atlanta staffing firm Agile, sees another dynamic at work: candidates being overwhelmed with multiple offers, especially .NET developers (who are in particular demand in her area), Java developers and experts in other technologies now seen as hot.

“Sometimes what makes [a candidate] decide to take one offer over another is the technology they’re using,” she says. “If they’re not on .NET 4.0 framework or MVC architecture, or the company has older legacy systems, candidates will turn up their nose.”

Candidates also might be looking for perks like flexible schedules or the option to work at home a couple of days a week.

Increasing Clout

David Chie, chief operating officer at Palo Alto Staffing Services, sees candidates becoming more aware of their clout. He says some contractors are paid so handsomely — especially those working with technologies such as Dynamic AX and GWT, for instance — that they’re unwilling to take permanent positions.

“In general, there’s so much opportunity, so many options,” Chie says. “When you put a lot of choice in front of someone, it can be very difficult for them to make decisions. People are unsure which is the better opportunity.” And because many offers are close when it comes to pay and benefits, things like equity and company culture are often keys to the candidate’s decision. “That’s more important than it’s ever been,” says Chie. “Decisions are being made on other factors than pay and such.”

In the past 30 to 45 days, Chie’s his company has had a huge influx of Java requirements, he says, and difficulty filling contract positions with Ruby on Rails.


Make Me a Better Offer

Stephen Van Vreede, a Rochester, N.Y.-based resume writer and career strategist at, sees IT pros less willing to jump ship unless they receive a really strong offer. And, he sees increased concern about how secure the potential employer is.

“Sometimes people are at a certain stage in their career where they’re thinking more about quality-of-life issues,” he says. “Sometimes they’re looking at going from a 24/7 environment to not being on call around the clock, or to remote work or flexible schedules. But the offer in totality has to be good enough to make them go outside their comfort zone and make the jump.”

When it comes to hiring the best candidates, many companies make it the process more difficult than it needs to be. For example, some get their searches off on the wrong foot: Because they still see the economy as in rough shape, they think they don’t need to make particularly generous offers. Says Van Vreede: “They mistakenly pursue candidates with the idea, ‘Hey, we don’t have to pay you what we would have had to in 2006.'”

For other employers, the challenge is a longer hiring process. Jim Thompson, general manager of the IT division at executive staffing firm Lucas Group, says companies are so cautious about hiring – “contemplative,” as he put it – that they lose candidates, then are surprised when it happens.

“We’re not seeing hesitance among candidates to move to solid opportunities,” Thompson says. “They don’t seem to be concerned that the economy’s bad, but they get bogged down in all the things surrounding an offer, such as relocation. [Candidates are] demanding higher numbers, and companies are having trouble bellying up to the bar to pay to get the skill sets they’re looking for.”

Image: Wikimedia

21 Responses to “Tech Rock Stars Increasingly Picky With Job Offers”

  1. Yup! I’m seeing that many of the offers are coming in rather low, even though the economy is improving and in the interview they tell me how they’re growing like crazy…sorry but I’m not gonna take a $40K pay cut to work for you unless you can give me some other incredible benefit (like working 1/2 time from home.)

  2. But being currently unemployed (or “between contracts”) I wonder if they’re lowballing me to see if I bite. But since it’s a big beaurocracy, I suspect there’s not much they can do.

  3. TopCoder

    As a TopCoder, in high demand, I can tell you this… I will not leave my fortune 100 job for your joke start-up. I get paid very well and have job security. If I work at a start-up I will be running it. Also, your statistical analysis is weak; as posters have commented before, you need to compare white collar unemployment to white collar unemployment. Take a stats course miss, before you continue.

    THE TopCoder.

    • Feel free to live your fantasy. My fortune 500 job went from dream to nightmare overnight when they hired a hired a new VP. Even though I was pleasing the customers and exceeding my goals, I only lasted a year after his arrival.

      Most companies and all of the fortune xxx are run by MBA’s and your job is only secure until the herd changes direction.

      • Software Veteran

        Exactly. The dumbest thing for a “top coder” to do is to be loyal to a company. Believe me, I’m a free market guy but the expression “dog eat dog” applies and no company is going to bestow “king” on you. Management changes occur frequently and companies get split up, merged, split up, merged again. There are a lot of office politics in these companies too. In many cases, including my own, no matter how great you are technically, there will be yes men and yes women who don’t know anything useful that get promoted above you. This is what led me to consulting and out of a Fortune 500 company. I have been far better off as a high tech nomad than a direct hire. I’m loyal to myself and the contracts I sign. Nothing more.

  4. James Green1

    Who is this article for? How does it help anyone currently looking for a job? I hate to burst dice’s bubble but the majority of people who read this blog are looking for ideals to help them find employment in the IT field. I have no sympathy for companies wanting to poach other companies employer, I’m glad to see the employees are seeing that the grass is not always greener of on the other side. Once we the people put enough pressure on politicians to make H1b and L1 visas laws so non-profitable that companies would have to hire local talent.

    Oh I forgot, also slap huge tariffs on companies that manufacture items overseas to help local manufacturing.

  5. guns4liberty

    I was once in the drivers seat as some of these top developers are. But a word of caution, your employer hates you and is doing everything he can to ruin your day. You can count on it. So make your money now and stash it away. When the time comes and your clients turn you out you can just laugh and go to Tahiti. Remember that your employer is not your friend and that he will exploit you to the max given half the chance. This sounds ugly I know, but it is the truth.

    • Software Veteran

      Agreed. I have well over 8 years into contract engineering (a significant higher number but I want to avoid revealing too much) and nearly 30 years in my field alone. Stash the cash is how I’ve done it. Right now I’m barely able to increase my savings and I am saving more these days in cash than stocks. In the great years when I had a higher hourly rate and OT I would regularly buy gold coins, and that was well below $1,000 per ounce. I take nothing for granted and take everything seriously. No my employer is not my friend. I’ll take Tahiti, maybe Singapore, maybe Latin America.

  6. Software Veteran

    I consult and the client does not pay overtime to directs or consultants. But everyone expects you to work extra. I do but I hate it. I only do it because in my area of embedded software everything is depressed. Ultimate client is the government and upcoming spending cuts are on the mind. All the directs that have not gone commercial are jumping through the hoop that the management holds in the air. So far. The new talk is that our field will escape the budget cuts in the next few years. At some point the table will turn and they will have to reinstitute overtime. This is my third time back to the client. In previous times I had liberal overtime and a higher hourly rate. I know what my job shop is charging the client, found out 6 month into the current gig. My shop is making tens of thousands of bucks off me. For now I tolerate it because I have over $24,000 unrealized gains on my shop’s ESPP for shares I bought this year alone. It makes up for the hourly rate cut.

    • Track your hours. When you’re done with the client, present a bill. It’s illegal for them to require overtime (especially when you’re paid hourly) and not pay you for the hours.

      There are lawyers who specialize in those sorts of lawsuits. The more employees your employer has cheated, the bigger your lever. You can go to them and say, “Look – pay me what you owe me and that will be the end of it. Or don’t pay me what you owe me and you’ll be looking at paying EVERYONE what you owe them.”

      If the choice is between paying you an extra $10,000 (that they tried to cheat you out of) and paying 50 contractors EACH another $10K, the decision is easy.

      Alternatively, you may discover you’re not putting in as much extra time as you thought and decide it’s not really an issue.

      • Software Veteran

        Thanks for the advice. And this is 8 months into a ten month contract, but anyway. It’s a very volatile situation for the client and everyone working for the client. Things are changing very rapidly and I might not even be working for that client in a matter of days, same thing for some of its employees. I estimate about $5,000 worth of extra work I put in for them. In response I get linkedIn recommendations and endorsements and gratitude from the management (which is what I’m told through my recruiter). At the peak six years ago the client had 20 to 30 consultants in software. Now it’s down to me and another consultant who has worked for the client nearly as long as me. That speaks a lot of the battles we went through.

  7. I’ve had offers cover the gamut from low to high. I’m a .Net developer and it’s true we have not bothered to look at shops with older technology simply because we ourselves can be easily labeled as irrelevant rather quickly.

    I’ve been VERY picky to the recruiters I talk to, and most of them still think they are playing the game as if it were 2002 and jobs were scarce. They’re not. And many recruiters have approached me from a “screw you, if you don’t talk to me at my convenience, you’re the one the missing out” kind of attitude. I’ve had to start to screen recruiters and companies the same way they screen us candidates and they do not like it one bit. The ones who were willing to put up with the screening, I generally ended up going on the interview for and getting the job, but I didn’t *accept* a job until I found one that had nearly everything I wanted… except it was perm instead of contract.

    What I don’t get is why all the employers offering “perm-only”….. that’s a mystery to me.

    • No. Not at all. They just go to congress and tell them to jack up the H1-B quotas so they can import more outsourcing.

      Right now we could add about a quarter million jobs a year to the American economy for the next 4+ years if we just let current H1-B visas expire and adhered to the rate established in the H1-B legislation.

  8. The market in Silicon Valley is ON FIRE!

    Most of the billable is now in the high $80s and even +$100 for DevOps and Linux SysAdmin. We’re in a bubble and it’s awesome.

    The FTE salaries are finally starting to reflect not only a hot market, but more in line with the ridiculous cost of living in San Francisco and the Bay Area. There is a housing shortage here in SF that makes it not only hard to find affordable housing, it has driven rent up dramatically.

    The downside to interviewing at startups is that most are so coder-centric that they don’t understand what it takes to run the infrastructure and operations. Coders want you to know everything, all the time, all off the top of your head, and remember it all, all the time. Most coders don’t realize the breadth of operations and how many different moving parts are in play and how much the typical system administrator is expected to know. This is changing even more as the cloud is coming into play. Back in the day most of operations relied on a team to make operations work, today, thanks to Google pushing its SRE program, it has created the DevOps dilemma, where most people still can’t define what a DevOps is, but they want you to know everything all the time, instantly. It’s very unrealistic, but welcome to Silicon Valley. Startups develop a revolving door of constantly interviewing, afraid to hire somebody who doesn’t have everything, always hoping that their DevOps dude is out there. It’s a reflection that some startups are better at defining their teams than others. The startup that can build teams with realistic roles is the one to gravitate towards, and stay away from the ones that are clueless.

    This can be very frustrating for people coming from companies where there are more narrowly refined roles. A lot of startups want a network engineer, system administrator and coder all rolled into one guy. So they dream of this purple squirrel, the appaloosa unicorn with the diamond-studded horn, then get disappointed when this person is nowhere in the market. Recruiters have a tough time finding this guy too, so if your skills in networking, coding, and system administration are strong, go west young man/woman, SV wants you really bad! And you better know Python and Ruby too!

  9. I still see recruiters acting like turds.

    One told me that because I hadn’t worked in a direct position for the past two years (I’ve been consulting), that they wouldn’t even consider me.

    But they kept calling me back wanting to “interview me” (you know – the kind of interview where they check to see if you have B.O. or a tail.) I finally told them that eventually I would take a local position, most probably as a technology manager and that at that point I would do my very best to see that they never, ever, got a call for candidates again.

    This is an extremely effective tactic that tech workers should be using. Keep track of the good recruiters and the crappy ones. When you go to work at a new company, establish yourself, create a good reputation, then have lunch with the HR folks and let them know about the great recruiters you’ve dealt with – and the scum. Eventually the good recruiters will get a bump, and the bad recruiters will go back to digging ditches.

    • I wonder, has a study of “recruiters” been conducted? Age. Years in the biz. Successful placements. Education. Me thinks some recruiters are fresh from college, with a “liberal arts” degree (not that there is anything wrong with that) and must cold-call many times just to make a buck, or two. Hence, they reach for the low-lying fruit. Sadly, unless they are prospecting completely new possibilities, they are re-working a database with many names that “have never been placed” and the successful recruiters have a list of “easy to place”.

  10. dan coleman

    Why is Dice always publishing these “empowerment” articles, they are such BS.

    I have plenty of RECRUITERS knocking down my door, but when it comes to actual interviews it’s the same old time wasting exercise. I refuse to do 3-4 interviews for any position, this is now common in NYC and I think it’s abusive.

    I am in fact doing some “hot” technologies but no one is making me feel I’m in the driver’s seat. Please.

  11. The Heretic

    The article states, “Robert Byron, principal consultant for the IT division at WinterWyman Search in Boston, says candidates are hesitant to make a move. If they’re the last ones into a company, if there are layoffs, a downturn in the business, they’re the first ones out of there.” The rock stars or pedigrees as I call them are hesitant, but not for the reason stated. Seniority issues are not even a minor problem for pedigrees. They can dip back into the well and have a new position in a couple weeks time. Seniority is generally only a problem for people on the front of the learning curve.

    The real cause for the hesitation is the high cost of job search. Pedigrees get it; time is money! At ranges above $125,000 or more a year it is very very expensive. It doesn’t surprise me that a recruiter would project this self indulgent opinion when it is their activities, in aggregate, that are driving costs into the stratosphere.

    I find it quite amusing that the very next section in this article also dances around a real causation stating that pedigrees don’t want permanent positions as if thousands of idle hours in between jobs is not expensive. Pedigrees generally are forced out of desperation to consult because that is the only way to get the kind of money that justifies the costs of the extreme effort necessary to attain and maintain a pedigree position in the current labor market. Because of the extreme externality of costs associated with a pedigree perm positions generally offer an inadequate salary to justify the effort/costs.

    It is more likely that candates are hesitating because they are contemplating a pay cut to stay busy. Difficulty weighing out the options really insults the pedigree’s intelligence. With attitudes like this, is it any wonder that pedigrees increasingly don’t want to work with recruiters at all.

    There is a lot of false causality in this article being presented by the cause to defend their existence. If you want to know the real causes of hesitation, then ask the pedigrees not the recruiters and employers. At best they are just guessing. At worse, they are purposely avoiding an honest discussion with a mirror.

    Maybe, just maybe, the real cause is that the offers are inadequate to cover the high costs of attaining the pedigree required?

    • Just a quick response from a “pedigree.” I’ve been consulting 12 years. Before that I was a wage slave for corporations for fifteen years. I guess I’m the odd man out. I love consulting still. I cannot see myself going back as a direct hire. I could never understand it when I read about people wanting a permanent position. I keep my bags packed, travel light and keep leases short as possible. I love working all over the country. I feel more freedom by having less (although I squirreled a lot of my discretionary income into various asset classes over the years). People tell me that I should enjoy life but the macro economy looks worse every year and conspicuous consumption looks very foolish these days.