Philadelphia Targeted by Washington's Tech Recruiters

Philadelphia Targeted by Washington's Tech Recruiters

Leslie Taylor
Muhamad Wasiul Islam

By Gail Repsher Emery, Staff Writer

Washington-area information technology companies Oct. 11 stretched their recruiting arms two hours north to Philadelphia, employing a novel strategy to lure fresh faces south.

Rather than pursue solitary recruiting efforts in the City of Brotherly Love, members of the Greater Washington TechMatch coalition organized a job fair at the Crown Plaza Hotel. They not only hoped to snag a few new employees, but also to raise awareness about the Washington area's vast IT opportunities.

"You'd be surprised. Even the people who are very close to this [Washington] area don't know the opportunities that exist," said Irv Towson, director of human resources for systems integrator Electronic Data Systems Corp. of Plano, Texas.

According to TechMatch, 30,000 tech jobs are unfilled in the Washington area.

TechMatch, a 2-year-old division of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, previously had promoted the Washington area at trade shows and career fairs in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York and Chicago. Never before, however, had the 19-member group organized its own event.

The four-hour fair was also a first for, a 2-year-old multimedia company in McLean, Va., that targets tech job seekers. The company regularly organizes job fairs for IT firms, but had never worked with a group like TechMatch, whose members freely refer candidates to one another.

"Some of the people are a better match for our competitors than for us, and some are a better match for us than our competitors," said Leslie Taylor, director of employment for DynCorp of Reston, Va.

Atlanta employers use a similar strategy.

At least 100 Atlanta employers have joined forces to recruit out-of-state workers to their region. The city started to attract high-tech companies in 1996, capitalizing on the miles of fiber-optic cable laid for the Summer Olympics. Now employers find themselves with thousands of positions to fill.

They promote the livability of Atlanta at career fairs and through media campaigns in cities such as Boston. In Atlanta, workers can live less expensively than many cities in the northeast and also play golf year-round.

"People used to move for a job, but now there are so many jobs, people think about where they want to work first," said Laura Kane, spokeswoman for the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.

At the Philadelphia job fair, about 110 potential hires visited six Washington-area firms, including EDS, DynCorp and the Department of Economic Development for Arlington, Va. At least 170 candidates who couldn't attend the event submitted their resumes via e-mail, according to Ginanne Italiano, director of work force programs for the Greater Washington Board of Trade.

"I thought we'd get more [attendees], but the fact that we had so many qualified candidates is what really mattered," Italiano said.

Instead of an us-against-them mentality among members vying for similarly skilled workers, the coalition employs a long-term strategy, Towson said.

"This is a little different," he said. "If someone takes a job, there's an immediate benefit, and it's also an ongoing approach to get interest in this area. The impact it has is probably still to be determined."

The event might have an immediate impact on the ranks at government IT contractor DynCorp. Taylor identified at least four strong candidates before the fair ended, including a potential vice president.

At least two candidates "look like we can use them tomorrow. ... If our technical managers were here, they'd be able to make a decision on the spot," she said.

At least two of every five visitors to the EDS booth were interested in moving to Washington, and many matched the company's skills and experience needs, said Jennifer Ragone, northeast recruiting manager.

For EDS, which has offices worldwide, the fair was an opportunity to promote jobs outside the Washington area as well.

"We promoted the openings we had in greater Washington, but for people who weren't a match, we were able to tell them about local opportunities," Ragone said.

Job-seeker Jennifer Wilson said she'd jump at the chance to move to the capital area.

"It's such a mecca of opportunity. It's the No. 1 location on the East Coast for tech jobs," said Wilson, a self-described "Internet addict" who was looking for a Web content development position, possibly with online service provider America Online Inc. of Dulles, Va.

"I love it down there. You have all the culture and nightlife and history," said Wilson, who lives in Barrington, N.J.

Suchindra Bengan, who's earning a master's degree in computer science at Drexel University in Philadelphia, was also familiar with Washington's allure.

"Washington, D.C., is coming up as an eastern-side Silicon Valley. It's a great place," he said.

Others weren't so knowledgeable about Washington or convinced they wanted to move. Still, attendees were keeping their options open.

Kyungmi Ku was weighing a job offer from Samsung Corp. in her hometown of Seoul, South Korea, against offers in the United States.

"I want to try here first. There's a lot of opportunity," said Ku, who recently earned a master's degree in information science from Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y., and has worked for the city of Philadelphia.

Philadelphia resident Muhamad Wasiul Islam simply hoped his background in information systems, finance and business administration would land him a programming or systems analysis job.

"If there is any match between my qualifications and their expectations, I think they will offer me [a job]," Islam said.

Julia Biddle, a telecommunications engineer for Verizon Communications, Trenton, N.J., wanted to "see what's out there" in project management. She investigated opportunities with AOL, EDS and Chevy Chase Bank F.S.B. of Chevy Chase, Md.

The Maple Shade, N.J., resident has family living in Maryland and Washington. Asked if she would move to the D.C. area, Biddle responded, "Why not? I'm flexible."

Coalition members targeted Philadelphia because the city is just a short car or train ride away.

"People are much more open to moving," from Philadelphia, Italiano said, than from a city such as Chicago, where trade show attendees visiting the coalition's booth questioned whether greater Washington meant Washington state.

And "when we went to New York in June, the people were from the New York area coming to look for a job in New York," she said. "This one, when they come in, they are looking for opportunities in greater Washington."

The coalition is trying to refine its approach to re-cruiting outside the region. "We're trying to ... introduce ourselves to a group that are clearly interested in going outside a region as opposed to looking for a needle in a haystack," Towson said.

The new approach is an experiment, coalition members said. They will gauge its success by the number of hires resulting from the Philadelphia event.

"It may be successful; it may not. We keep testing the waters every time," Italiano said.

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