For four years, Marilyn Byrd’s phone did not ring.
Then, in 2004, a steady stream of phone calls started to come in. Two months ago, the phone was ringing so frequently that the Manhattan-based headhunter specialising in online media did not want to answer it.
“In June, I realised I could not take anything else on,” says Ms Byrd, who has been in the business since the mid-1990s.
Hers is just one of the many anecdotes that illustrate the boom in online jobs, fuelled by the wave of media usage.
Headhunters and companies report that some of the strongest demand for staff is in areas dealing with the current hot topic: social networking and user-generated content.
The world’s biggest media companies are all trying to develop digital strategies, with many acquiring internet start-ups.
News Corp’s decision to buy social networking site MySpace last year – a site that has become one of the top internet destinations – was driven in part by a realisation that it would be difficult to hire experienced people to build its own online operations.
At the time, MySpace had about 180 staff and its co-founders were locked in for three years. Now, MySpace has close to 300 staff.
For the many startups in this sector – some big advertisers say they are getting 10-15 calls per week of new sites dedicated to user-generated content – one of the biggest challenges is hiring people who can turn their dreams into reality.
“The web 2.0 world [second-generation internet services] is evolving so quickly that there is never a perfect candidate with perfect relevant experience,” says Dan Nova, partner at Highland Capital, a venture capital firm with new media investments. “Companies are having a really difficult time finding people who are creative and intelligent and willing to learn a new set of skills.”
Unlike in the dotcom boom of the 1990s, when the premium was on hiring young and cool people – resulting in hundreds of chief executive officers in their 20s – the premium now is on people with experience, preferably in both the online and offline worlds.
Although salaries for online sales staff, and also technical experts in particular, seem to have risen by up to 20 per cent in the last year, companies are attempting to keep a cooler head when they are hiring people.
“It’s no longer just about youth,” says Ms Byrd. “It is important to find someone with a mix of experience,” she says, adding that a lot of executives burnt by their dotcom experiences and moved to other jobs in the past four years or so are getting back into the online world.
Another large area of recruitment on the advertising sales side is from big internet players such as Yahoo. For example, YouTube’s head of advertising recently left Yahoo. “Having someone like that on board does immediately give a start-up some credibility,” says one advertising executive.
With big internet players such as Google, Yahoo, eBay and others being able to offer people large salaries and lots of benefits, such as extensive restaurants on site or drycleaning facilities, start-ups are constantly thinking up new ways to attract staff.
To cope with the staff shortages, Highland Capital set up a special site to help recruitment.
Many smaller companies are also trying to be creative. At one user-generated content site, there is a programme to retrain real estate sales people. At another, awards are being offered for referrals, with up to $10,000 paid out in cash.
For people who have the magic combination of online experience and training in a more traditional media environment with skills including knowing how to develop relationships and how to manage them (many online-only sales people are not good at picking up the phone or writing letters), it is a time for celebration.
One such person, just appointed as head of online marketing at a large media company, said he had three job offers in one week. “For the first time, I can really pick and choose,” he says.
Even Ms Byrd has joined the frenzy, hiring another recruiter to join her company last month.