from the front line: Where Are You?

I recently had the unfortunate experience of trying to hire an EDI programmer. The result of placing a $600 ad in the local Sunday paper was exactly ZERO resumes.

I realize the national unemployment rate is only 3.4 percent, but I certainly thought my cleverly-worded ad would bring at least a couple of responses. Knowing that not every programmer in the country is working on a high-paying Y2K project, there had to be someone out there who would want to work for my firm. So I decided to go to a professional e-commerce recruiter to get a ‘read’ on the current marketplace.

After reviewing several recruiting agencies, I decided on CommerceLink (, headquartered in Tampa, Fla.

Kathy Katz and Dale Gordon – two of CommerceLink’s principals – told me their firm had been founded five years ago with a staff of 12, and that they specialize exclusively in e-commerce placements and contract services in both the United States and Europe. CommerceLink’s Web site offers visitors the ability to peruse the company’s open job database, as well as enter their individual e-commerce skills into an applicant database. Another interesting home page link – ‘Career Links’ – provides a dozen or so external links to sites that describe cities throughout the United States, tips on packing and moving, a comparative salary calculator for most all U.S. cities and a list of the top 100 best places to live.

When we started discussing my current dilemma, Kathy gave me a ‘snapshot’ of the current e-commerce technical marketplace.

  • EDI/SAP skills are hot – companies are in search of full-time professionals to integrate the two technologies.
  • EC programmers in the midrange market are also in great demand – companies are looking for Unix and AS/400 programmers.
  • EC on the Web also offers many opportunities for the rare individual who has in-depth EC skills as well as Web experience.

To take full advantage of recruiting firms, Kathy and Dale recommend choosing one that specializes in the type of field you are looking to enter – not just broad IT, unless you are responding to an ad. Avoid interviews that are not in your space and that will waste time for both you and the hiring company. Ask questions of the recruiter – type of job, scope, pay rates, etc. – to make sure there is the possibility of a match before interviewing with a potential employer.

Dale noted another advantage of working with a specialty recruiting firm is the staff’s background. In the case of CommerceLink, each recruiter has hands-on experience with EC technology. Kathy has more than 10 years of hands-on experience in EDI and Internet technologies, and has held several management and executive positions at IBM, Harbinger, General Electric and Internet start-up ventures. Dale has more than eight years experience implementing EDI and developing translation software while at IBM.

Relative to the national job market, Dale commented, "As with most technology space right now, job openings are much more plentiful than qualified professionals. On a typical day, our recruiters interview approximately 50 potential candidates of which 10 may be interested. Out of the 10, there may be as few as two individuals that would be willing to relocate, etc."

After personally spending the time to do the pre-qualifying – as well as the added expense of $600 for a classified ad and the overall shortage of local applicants – the services of a specialty recruiter seem worthwhile. If you are having the same hiring problems as I am, perhaps the specialized recruiter is the way to go.

Bob Lewis is VP of IT at the FoodService Purchasing Cooperative Inc. (Louisville, Ky.). He can be reached at