How does a company that isn't a shining star of Silicon Valley or a hot start-up convince sought-after technology professionals to accept a job offer?
Some companies try to get the attention of techies with free food and gifts, while others single them out at tech conferences and other high-profile networking events. The bottom line: Companies want to show potential tech hires that they are a place where opportunities for innovation and creative thinking are ripe.
If a company's name isn't Google, Facebook or Apple, it needs to prove to prospects that it is imaginative, dynamic and offers intellectual rewards, says John Sullivan, management professor at San Francisco State University. "If you just hand someone a brochure at a recruiting event, they know you're a dinosaur," he says.
That's forcing many companies, both small and large, to get creative with their recruitment.
When human-resources executive Amelia Merrill joined Risk Management Solutions Inc., a company that models risks associated with natural catastrophes, she faced a challenge in attracting the technology professionals her new employer needed.
In the heart of Silicon Valley, where the firm is based, no one seemed to know what RMS was. Eager to raise its profile and hire database and software engineers and others, RMS rented San Francisco's popular 'Bacon Bacon' food truck for a day and set up camp at a cloud-computing expo in Santa Clara last November.
Recruiters scouted for candidates in the morning and offered interesting technologists free chocolate-covered bacon and other treats at the food truck later. Once there, the RMS recruiters gathered business cards and promoted their company's high-tech focus.
The goal was to convince prospective job candidates that RMS is a place where innovators and creative thinkers can do high-impact work.
RMS also co-hosted a Meetup, a gathering of strangers based on a common interest, with Vertica, a database developer whose technology is popular with information-technology pacesetters. The event drew 80 Vertica fans who mingled with RMS recruiters.
Such efforts are slowly paying off. A year ago, only one in 20 prospects returned RMS's recruiting calls. Now, one in 15 do, says Ms. Merrill.
Big companies have their own challenges convincing would-be candidates that their firm is a good fit.
Recruiters and executives from Nokia Corp. and General Electric Co., for example, are putting themselves directly in front of IT professionals wherever they gather in large numbers.
"You have to go where the technologists [are]" says Katherine Jones, an analyst at HR consulting firm Bersin & Associates.
GE promoted its tech-friendly image at last month's South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, a tech and culture festival. At the event, the company unveiled its "GE Garages," pop-up labs focused on advanced manufacturing technologies. The Garages will travel to other cities and events this year, including San Francisco Bay area's Maker Faire, a celebration of counterculture ingenuity.
GE hopes the labs will show a young, tech-savvy audience that careers in manufacturing—a field that might sound outmoded but today incorporates high levels of advanced technology—can be exciting and cutting-edge, a company representative said.
Nokia, in its hunt for engineers sent recruiters for the first time to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, hoping to convince techies that the company is the right place for them. At the conferences, Nokia's sales staff and executives handed out QR codes—digital "quick response" bar codes that are scanned with a smartphone—directing potential candidates to a special website that read, "WELCOME. You clearly impressed someone from our team."
Traffic to Nokia's custom site and its general career page increased immediately after the events, says Nokia's global university relations manager Emily Christakis. She wasn't sure if any of the prospects turned into hires at this time.
Another key to winning tech talent, says Mike Cooke, who runs the IT Effectiveness Practice at Booz & Co., is to "go outside the HR department."
Mike Lodato, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Network Hardware Resale, a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based seller of secondhand network equipment, says he bypasses HR "when I fear I'm not winning." He has to convince techies that hardware can still yield cool projects when other local firms are offering jobs in hot fields like cloud computing and nanotechnology.
His tactic: He sends top candidates personalized gifts after mining their social-media profiles.
Lodato sent a radio-controlled toy helicopter, T-shirts and sunglasses to John Osley, a 40-year-old technology marketing executive with small children.
Osley was close to accepting another job offer when the gifts arrived. "All of a sudden, what seemed like a slam-dunk decision was reopened," says the new Network Hardware Resale employee. "That afternoon I accepted the NHR job."
This story first appeared on WSJ.com.