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Industry Standard

A couple of days in the life of an IT headhunter

November 3, 1999
Web posted at: 9:36 a.m. EST (1436 GMT)

by Amy Fried

(IDG) -- If the Internet Economy is all about the talent, then recruiters have the best and worst of jobs. When demand for new hires heats up, so does demand for headhunters. But with that demand comes overheated competition. Amy Fried of Roz Goldfarb Associates in New York hustles for new hires in a market of savvy, very employed job candidates. Here's how her days go.

[Note: Most names of individuals and companies have been changed.]


The phones are ringing as I walk through the door. There are already 12 messages from the weekend. Rita Armstrong, a colleague who focuses on searches for creative positions, mentions she's looking for a creative director for, an e-commerce site for teenagers. It's not that I need more work I'm currently working on more than enough great searches but since Teenco is an "in" company in Silicon Alley, and the people I know there say it's a great place to work, I figure I'll call Rita's contact to see if they need any more marketing or editorial staffers. You can always find room for another client like that.

Teenco's HR rep says she desperately needs a marketing communications director. I tell her I don't have anyone at the moment, but that I'll start researching and making some calls. We talk about Teenco's business model (solid its parent company is a clothing catalog with a reach of 8 million teens) and growth strategy. Then we go over the details of the position salary, reporting structure, responsibilities. Check out the job section of our site, she says, and if you have anyone for any of those positions, send their resumes.

Teenco is a great client because it actually has some business fundamentals in place, besides being a fun company and a cool idea. But cool ideas don't cut it anymore; without big-name funding and a management team with a track record of success, it's virtually impossible to elicit interest from my candidates. They have at least a year of experience at an Internet company and are considered pretty savvy industry veterans.

Teenco's site lists a job for a producer. I call a friend at a high-profile content site: Does she know anyone who might want to get a call from me? She gives me two names; one says she'd be interested in meeting with me. That afternoon, I've got a curly-haired 24-year-old in my office: smart, down-to-earth, good school, black skirt, T-shirt and flip-flop platforms the right uniform. Yep, you're fine, I think. I send her resume to Teenco, knowing she's perfect.


E-mail overload. I see one from Andrea, a candidate I met two years ago when she was at an entertainment site and I was working at an interactive agency, trying to drum up new business through her. Andrea had a marketing position at the entertainment site and is now director of e-commerce at a business-to-business site. Both of those sites were online divisions of big corporations, and she has a very professional air about her. She's a well-spoken businesswoman, a grown-up; she doesn't come across like a new-media whiz kid. Maybe not the hippest person, but very nice.

Andrea has written to say she has just returned from an interview with my client Lester, who runs the e-commerce unit at a financial institution. Andrea's interested in the job with Lester, but he's looking for someone who's had more experience being responsible for the bottom line. He's interested in another candidate, Jennifer, who comes from Harvard Business School and Andersen Consulting.

John, who was set to start as director of promotions at a soon-to-go-public online contest company, calls to let me know he has decided to stay at his current job. This turnaround is particularly easy for me to take, as I never expected the placement to happen in the first place. When he first met with the contest company, John thought the hiring manager was a bit gruff. Eventually, though, John was won over. After we had a few more phone conversations and he met with the hiring manager, John finally became convinced the guy would be a good boss. So three months later, he says yes, and now he says no. Remember the old days, when job seekers were the ones sucking up?

This is all just business as usual. There are so many ups and downs that you can't take it personally. I am nonchalant about candidates and clients when you're a recruiter you have to roll with the punches. Good recruiters do not get emotionally involved. There are so many jobs out there, so much going on all the time. Others might get upset at a setback like this, but it's like having a stock portfolio: It's the overall picture that matters.

Anyway, John's been counteroffered. (First rule of new-media job hunting: The way to a boss' wallet is through the exit door. One of my candidates was offered almost her entire yearly salary to stay for three months.) His company, a direct-marketing firm, is merging with an e-commerce site, and he feels there will be great opportunities for him. Ah, well. He'll be back sooner than he thinks. Counteroffers never last I have yet to see one that has. By the time a deal happens, the relationship has soured; the employer has lost trust and the employee feels he or she has been undervalued all along. I tell him this, knowing it won't make one iota of difference.

Tonight, I'll go to the CDnow party with Joelle, an editor at iVillage, and Nicole, VP of marketing at Sixdegrees. I enjoy going to these parties, and there's at least one almost every night. I feel like I'm back in college because I run into people I know all the time. Not to mention, the parties are frequently the best source of clients and candidates categories that can reverse in an instant a couple of times a day. But I have some reservations about going to the CDnow event because music sites often throw big parties with lots of young kids running around. These are not the people I need to be meeting. But I'll go anyway.

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Today is a good day! XYZ Group, an interactive consultancy, loves my two candidates Andrea, the one who e-mailed me about Lester, and Brad, an e-commerce marketing manager at a financial institution for its two account director positions. I met Brad when I worked at the interactive agency and had recently called him to check in. He told me then that he didn't know what was happening with his job since his boss might be leaving and things seemed up in the air. And his company was based in the suburbs; he wouldn't mind moving to Manhattan.

I just knew XYZ would like them both: It likes corporate types with solid dot-com experience and brains, and both candidates fit that bill. Even better, Andrea and Brad like XYZ. I love that, a client everyone likes.

It's really good to have a day like this after a hairy evening. The CDnow party ended up being a mob scene, so I cabbed it over to the 24/7 Media party at Chelsea Piers with a small gang. It turned out to be a much better party quieter, with an older crowd and outside space where you could talk.

I also ran into Byron, a former candidate who is now doing strategy at Infonautics. He gave me the name of someone he knows who might be a good candidate for a marketing search I am working on for a site that sells videos.


I just learned that XYZ is making an offer to Brad. I think it will be a great fit, and so does he. He has heard great things about its parent company and likes its strategic approach to e-business. He's going to think about it and get back to me by Monday.

My curly-haired candidate calls me on her cell phone after her second meeting with Teenco; she thought it went well and is curious to hear what they thought. But I'm not convinced. I just don't hear any excitement in her voice. My gut says this was not a perfect fit, after all.


I get a call from Debbie, the CEO of an e-commerce company. We haven't spoken since two months ago, when she wanted to hire one of my candidates as VP of business development. In the middle of his job search, the candidate's company was acquired and he felt an obligation to stay until the deal went through.

I like working with Debbie her company is well funded and it's doing exciting stuff, but I joke with her about what a bad client she is, slapping her wrist in an e-mail. Debbie is disorganized, but people like her. She tried to hire someone as a marketing director, but her approach was confusing. The candidate was not sure what the job would entail and no options package was in place. Debbie just doesn't seem to get it that in the Internet Economy you have to act quickly and efficiently, treating a candidate like a highly valued client. It's a candidate's market, not a client's.

Today, she tells me she's looking for a senior VP of marketing ideally, one who's already launched a huge Internet brand and taken it public. Of course, everyone wants that. So that narrows the playing field to a few dozen people in New York, half of whom are staying put until their three-year vesting schedules are up, the other half of whom spend most of their time fielding calls from recruiters.

Mark, a friend with whom I played ultimate frisbee on Sunday, stops by and collapses into a chair. He's overwhelmed; he has just flown back from D.C., where an online legal information client of mine gave him an offer for a director of business development position. A year ago, he had some trouble transitioning from a legal career, finally landing a business development gig at an online promotions company. Now he has five offers to consider and more on the way and he's frozen by too much opportunity. This is so common it's becoming the Internet Economy's version of shell shock.


Made what people in my office call a "Roz placement" today. Roz being our fearless leader who can sometimes turn around an assignment in a single day. A PR powerhouse in Silicon Alley called me on Friday seeking an online marketing and direct e-mail pro. I had a candidate there two hours later; yesterday, the offer was made, and she accepted today. Insta-placement!

But now the XYZ search has a new twist. Brad's boss surprised him with an opportunity to run e-commerce in Europe, and he's heading to Germany next week to talk about it. He understands he might lose the offer, but asks to delay his decision on XYZ. I don't blame him, and neither does XYZ. They say they'll hold the offer until he returns. I call Andrea to let her know XYZ is making her an offer, too. She sounds excited.


I figured Andrea wrong. She might not take the XYZ job because it would mean she wouldn't get a window office. She also now thinks the title's too junior. She met someone who'd be her peer and she didn't think that person was at the same level she was. I give her the usual talk: Yes, the Internet industry means giving up some corporate perks, but she should think about what's most important to her. If she prefers the corporate hierarchy and big-company bureaucracy, we can start over and I can try to hook her up with an Internet division of a large corporation. But if it's the fast pace and unbelievable merit-based career opportunities of the Net economy she's after, she should give it some thought. I'll have someone from XYZ give her a call to speak about her concerns.


Lunch in Madison Square Park with Nicole from Sixdegrees. On the way, we stop at Tossed, a popular takeout place for new-media people located at 22nd Street and Park.

While waiting to pay, I say hi to someone who used to work at and is now starting his own online advertising firm. Nicole and I talk work, friends, weekend plans. And I realize that all three are so intertwined it is impossible to separate them.


Teenco has found someone with more e-commerce experience for the producer role. I call my candidate to let her know she didn't get the offer, but she doesn't mind too much; she's thinking of moving to San Francisco anyway.

Andrea calls; the general manager at XYZ called her over the weekend, and laid all her fears to rest. He assured her the company is moving to a new space by New Year's, and that there will be plenty of opportunity to quickly climb the company stairs. She accepts the position, and I leave the office with a big smile on my face.

Another week, another round of ups and downs. I can't wait to see what happens tomorrow!

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