IT moves beyond the U-Haul

In today's tight IT labor market, relocation benefits play a larger role in recruitment. Companies are even considering pet relocation packages.


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The Hunt
IT moves beyond the U-Haul
In today's tight IT labor market, relocation benefits play a larger role in recruitment. Companies are even considering pet relocation packages.
By Natalie Engler

December 1998

In this article:
IT people on the move
Bag o'tricks
Relocation, relocation, relocation
"We were stuck in Hawaii and we couldn't get out."

Now, there's a sentence you don't hear every day. The question, posed to John and Sonya Smith (not their real last name), that prompted this response was, "How did you end up working for USWeb?"

Illustration by Daniel Guidera
The Santa Clara-based Internet consulting firm with 38 offices worldwide was the only company that offered to pay for the couple to move to the East Coast last year, they explained.

This was not their first move. About two years ago, the Smiths relocated from England to near Honolulu so that John, a then 24-year-old UNIX engineer and security specialist, could take a position with GTE Government Systems. But all too soon the couple came to hate their new home.

Hawaii may have blue skies and beautiful beaches, but it's also congested, expensive, isolated, and unfriendly to newcomers, according to John. "It's great to vacation in, but it's an absolute horror to live there," he says.

So, within six months of arriving in the island paradise/prison, John posted his resume on the Web. Although he received four or five job offers a day, he says, no one would pay for the couple's flights to the mainland.

IT people on the move

"Over the past three years, the volume of technical people relocating around the U.S. has been up between 10% and 12%," says Jan Nelson, director of strategic intelligence at Mobility Services International, a worldwide employee relocation company based in Newburyport, Mass. A 1998 report by Runzheimer International, a Portsmouth, N.H.-based management consulting firm, confirms Nelson's observations. Of the 65 organizations surveyed, 56% said they transferred "engineers/scientists," compared with only 42% from the year before.

Then, a year ago, he got a call from Luther Garcia, the cofounder of Gray Peak, a company later bought by USWeb. Garcia asked John a few questions and gave him a rudimentary technical evaluation, and then offered to fly him to the company's offices in New York for an interview.

John, who had impressed Garcia on the phone, made an even better impression in person. He was offered a job and a full relocation package on the spot.

USWeb said it would pay the Smiths' airfare, moving costs, and for a room (which turned out to be a suite) in a Manhattan hotel until the couple found a new home (which ended up taking six weeks). The total cost: around $10,000.

Even with all of this John had two additional requests. First, he wanted to have the option of moving closer to Virginia Beach, where he is originally from, in six to 12 months. And second, he asked that the company "pay for not only [moving] me and my wife, but also [moving] our two cats."

The company complied with both requests.

Using relocation as bait

"But what does an upstart Internet firm have to do with my company?" you might ask. For one thing, USWeb and its brethren may be coming after your employees.

At press time, USWeb was scouting the country for Internet developers, UNIX system administrators, network engineers, creative designers, and strategic consultants. In many cases, says Kevin Holt, the company's managing partner of corporate resources, "they are recruited right out of Fortune 100 company IS departments."

Jeff Taylor, executive vice president of Interactive, TMP Worldwide, which owns The Monster Board, an Internet career site based in Maynard, Mass., has spied an alternative approach. Some customers, he says, are creating an entire team of developers located in, say, India. "Instead of relocating a team," he says, "you're relocating a team leader."
Early in its interview process, USWeb asks candidates whether they would consider moving to another city. "Often they'll say, 'I grew up in Atlanta [or another city], and I'd like to move back,'" says Holt. "We say, 'We have 38 offices and we'd be happy to move you,'" to any city in which USWeb has an office.The company has moved people from San Diego to New Jersey; from the Carolinas to Boston; and from Canada to the western United States. "We even moved someone from Seattle to Hong Kong," says Holt.

Mobility may be appealing to young, unencumbered developers--or to people like John and Sonya, who are working their way back to John's hometown. But more important, using relocation as bait is a tactic that may be important to you.

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