Tech Companies Face a Fresh Crisis: Hiring

Workplaces also keep shifting unpredictably in ways that wreak havoc on the hiring process. A business doesn’t have a vaccine requirement, then it does. Employees are told they can work remotely and then the employer starts floating the idea that everyone will need to come back. Between constantly changing conditions and the number of counteroffers that job candidates receive, Sutton says, around four in five of the deals his recruiters try to seal end up requiring last-minute finessing on some major point; that happened only about 30 percent of the time before the pandemic, he estimates.

By late January, Dyba had been trying for several months, with mounting frustration, to find someone for a senior position for a high-growth start-up whose executive team insisted that the position be filled by someone willing to work at least part time on-site in New York. The calculation, when chief executives still make it, has become an interesting leap of faith. It reflects a belief that having a team on the ground, regularly working together, sharing the air and locking eyes across a conference table, will yield greater success than handpicking the most talented, experienced team a recruiter could possibly source from all 50 states and having them forge some new kind of work environment from their respective remote locales.

All day long, Dyba sent out feelers, and all day she got back messages on LinkedIn, variations on the same thing: “Is there any chance that this position could be 100 percent remote?” one woman asked. “If not, I would not be interested in hearing more about the role.” Dyba visited the start-up’s New York office, which was, predictably, filled with great light and had Kombucha on tap. It was vast, the lease signed during the pandemic. It was also basically empty. Dyba had to wonder in what numbers even current employees would eventually return to on-site work.

At least that other client, the tech employer on the West Coast seeking a data analyst, was willing to let whoever filled that position work entirely remotely. In late January, around 5:30 p.m., Dyba got on a screening call with a potential candidate. By then, she had reached the stage of day when her hair was up in a messy bun held with a pen. She was working in her bedroom, in green thermal pants and a Henley — it was not a big Zoom day — and her ancient Corgi was snoozing by her side. The day had been nonstop, and she hadn’t paused to drink any water, which she was now compensating for by chugging from a bottle while the candidate spoke.

“If you wouldn’t mind kind of talking me through your background, I would love to hear a little bit more about you and what you’ve been doing,” she said. The young man on the other end of the phone was lovely and polite, with a Master of Science degree in business analytics. Dyba was immediately charmed, if only because — unlike so many tech recruits — he didn’t start the conversation by asking, within the first six minutes, what the compensation was. He spoke about his background but also seemed to have researched the business itself. The nature of work has changed so much that sometimes, she knows, the recruits don’t care: Their top priority is remote work; and if they are going to be doing data analytics at home, a basic disconnect from the larger business can easily set in. (Another recruiter said that when she sends out mass blasts, she often gets back emails that say only three words: “Rate? Remote? Client?”)

Dyba recognized that there were details on the young man’s résumé that the employer might consider less than reassuring — like the fact that his last job had the word “intern” in it. “My fear is that they’ll say he doesn’t have the experience,” she said of the tech firm. But still, he impressed her with his obvious intelligence, his sophisticated response to a question about machine learning. She would fight for him and suggest, “If you’re willing to take a chance and help someone start his career, I think it would be a great move.” Maybe they would listen, she thought. Maybe.