Fast Company

If You Don't See It, Ask for It

What some companies will do to nab the best talent.

Still not convinced that it's a seller's market for talent? Then consider the case of Revenue Systems Inc., a business software company outside Atlanta, a city where there are an estimated 10,000 more high-tech jobs than qualified people to fill them. How has Revenue Systems responded to the talent crunch? By leasing a fleet of BMWs and providing all 40 of its full-time employees - from senior project leaders to the receptionist - free use of the cars for as long as they stay with the company.

According to CFO Charles Crumley, 74, "It costs so much to recruit good talent that the BMW program ends up being cheaper. We might have to pay a recruiter $20,000 to find one new person. That's the same as paying $500 per car to lease a BMW for everyone for a month. It helps us attract new people, and keep the ones we've got."

It sounds extreme - but so is the battle for talent facing most companies. And that's extremely good news for people looking to change jobs. "When you have an abundance of jobs and a scarcity of the right candidates, you get active bargaining," says Kevin Wheeler, 51, senior vice president of staffing at Charles Schwab. "Five years ago, I made nearly identical offers to every recent college graduate. Now everyone wants to negotiate: 'My wife and I both work, so I don't need the medical benefits. Can I have the cash instead?' They want a health-club membership, or flexible work schedules."

Based in San Francisco, Schwab has to compete creatively and aggressively with hot Silicon Valley startups for high-tech talent. Last year, the company renovated an old warehouse in San Francisco to create a separate facility for its IT staff. "Our headquarters is in the financial district," says Wheeler. "It has a suit-and-tie culture. It wasn't an attractive atmosphere for technology employees. Now we offer them a special place where they can dress casually and keep less traditional hours."

Some organizations have gone further than Schwab. They're not just changing the company to accommodate the preferences of the talented people who work there. They're moving the company to be closer to the kinds of talent it needs. Five years ago, Andy Hollis, 40, relocated from Baltimore to Austin, Texas to join Origin Systems Inc., a developer of computer games. One of his duties was to recruit more people to the fast-growing company. Naturally, his first thoughts turned to his former home. "Early on, I was able to get a few people from Baltimore to move to Austin," says Hollis, who is now a vice president and executive producer for Origin. "But a number of people had families and weren't willing to move."

For example, Hollis tried to convince producer Greg Kreafle, 33, to join Origin and lead a new design team in Austin. But Kreafle didn't want to leave his native Baltimore. "Andy called about 50 times and asked me to move," Kreafle says. "On the 51st call, he knew better than to ask again." So Hollis offered to bring Origin to Kreafle. Hollis explains his reasoning: "Here I had this key guy who was interested in working for us, but who didn't want to move. I contacted other people in Baltimore, spent a bunch of time interviewing, and put together a team of 15 people. The team set up its own office in a Baltimore suburb, and Greg now runs it."

Hollis says creating a company outpost in Baltimore enabled him to attract the talent he wanted: "Not only did we hire great people, but we also gave them some autonomy and a sense of ownership of their products. And their enthusiasm is helping us recruit new people."

But why stop at work? Dan Boccabella, 29, general manager of MindSolve Technologies Inc., a maker of employee-assessment software based in Gainesville, Florida, offered his home to make the right hire. "We had a part-time student, Jeff Lyons, working for us, and he was just superb," Boccabella says. "He went to Boca Raton and did a summer internship with Pratt & Whitney. He was going to graduate the following spring, and Pratt offered him a job in advance, with a salary that was several thousand dollars more than what we could pay."

Boccabella devised a counteroffer. Although MindSolve couldn't match Pratt's salary, what if it helped Lyons reduce his expenses? Specifically, what if Boccabella provided free housing (in a spare room of his own home) until Lyons completed his studies? Lyons took the deal. "I was getting other offers from big companies for a lot more money than what MindSolve could afford," he says. "But Dan showed me that he was willing to do whatever it took to make me happy. Working with someone you know and trust is more important than money."

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