Tech Industry

Southwest's new recruiting tactic

Responding to the tight labor market for information technology workers, Southwest Airlines is looking to make headhunters out of its customers.

Responding to the tight labor market for information technology workers, Southwest Airlines is looking to make headhunters out of its customers.

It also is offering more than extra peanuts as prizes for referrals.

Round-trip tickets, a Las Vegas vacation package, and a computer system are just some of the rewards given to customers who complete a Southwest form requesting resume information on prospective job candidates. The completed forms are then entered into a drawing, from which winners are selected.

Recruiting firms say that while companies using their employees as headhunters is nothing new, the use of customers in that role is "unusual" and speaks to the difficulty of finding qualified and available technology candidates.

"We have had a real challenge in finding systems information people for the past six months to a year," said Beth Harbin, a Southwest spokeswoman. "In addition to the tight market for the right people with the right skill set, we're also looking for a certain kind of personality that fits in with our overall way of operating here. They have to have a customer focus, even though they think this position will [involve only] a person and computer. Our systems folks support people in 52 different airports, and our employees are also our customers."

The recruiting program, which started at the beginning of this month, will run through the end of January.

Recruiting firm executives say they are skeptical of the practice. "Hopefully, they have done their market research and know that some percentage of their customers have some knowledge of the technology space," said David Mather, a managing director of the Christian Timbers executive search firm. "If you think of the direct marketing space, they think they've made a great hit if they get a ten percent response."

Felicia Geiger, an information systems placement consultant for Mitchell/Martin in New York, had a different take on Southwest's new tactics.

"It's sleazy," she said. "It's like a pyramid scheme, where you write down the names of everyone you know."

She added, however, that if the candidate is aware that his or her name is being submitted and is open to it, then the practice is more aboveboard than it seems on first blush.

"I wonder if the candidates will ask the people who forward on their resumes to share the prize with them if they win," she mused.