Hiring Like It’s 1999

The tech boom is fueling a surge in jobs and creative recruiting

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Michael De Frenza scans the crowd of 50 or so well-dressed professionals mingling near a bar at the W Hotel in San Francisco’s South of Market District. De Frenza, a recent transplant to the Bay Area, is here in search not of a date—but of a job. In the five weeks since De Frenza, 34, returned to the area after a two-year stint in Toronto, he has received five offers. “I’m taking my time trying to find the right fit,” he says.

I Love Rewards, which provides companies with services to motivate employees, arranges cocktail parties like this one every other week at the W Hotel to help it recruit 40 people by Sept. 30 for a new West Coast sales outpost. “Just in time for us arriving in San Francisco, the market has gotten extremely hot,” says Razor Suleman, chief executive of the company. “San Francisco is coming back to the days when candidates have two or three job offers,” he says.

Competition for cloud computing engineers, security experts, and mobile developers as well as sales professionals in the technology industry has gotten so fierce in the past six months that companies are going to greater lengths to woo prospective employees. They’re throwing lavish parties, handing out free food at conferences, doling out $50,000 signing bonuses, and offering perks such as free haircuts and medical care at the office.

MORE SIGNING BONUSES

The tech sector is fueling a job boom that stands in stark contrast to the malaise of the general job market. The nationwide unemployment rate ticked up to 9.2 percent in June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the same time, the unemployment rate for tech professionals dropped to 3.3 percent, from 5.3 percent in January. “That’s pretty close to full employment,” says Alice Hill, managing director of technology career website Dice.com (DHX).

“It’s such a thin market, it feels like everybody is employed already,” says Adam Pisoni, co-founder and chief technology officer of Yammer, which sells software and services for social networking in the workplace. The San Francisco company is doubling its engineering staff. “Engineers have 10 recruiters calling them.” The company would like to hire between 50 and 100 engineers this year, Pisoni says.

Companies are employing a variety of strategies to attract talent. Saba Software (SABA) and Digital River (DRIV) recently paid C-level executives $50,000 signing bonuses. “While signing bonuses at tech companies are not uncommon, their use has become more prevalent recently as the economy has improved and competition for talent has heated up,” says Aaron Lapat, managing director of the technology practice at executive recruiting firm J. Robert Scott. Recruiters are also circling Cisco like vultures, anticipating the August layoffs in the hope of finding qualified employees.

BELLS AND MUSIC

Recruiting tactics from the late 1990s are starting to make a comeback, too. Last year, Appirio hired a taco truck and parked it at Dreamforce, an industry conference for cloud computing professionals. Attendees couldn’t help but notice the signs on the truck saying that Appirio was hiring as they waited in line for free tacos.

When Dreamforce happens again later this month, Appirio plans to ply attendees with more food, but the company wouldn’t divulge exactly what it plans to serve. Appirio anticipates that about 25,000 people will attend Dreamforce, the cloud computing trade show organized by Salesforce.com (CRM). “We assume that 10 percent are actively looking for a new job,” says Narinder Singh, Appirio’s chief strategy officer. The company hired 110 workers in the first half of this year and is looking for another 140 by year’s end.