And companies are selling themselves that way.
"It's pretty much a steady state for us," says SRA's Denison. "We're not going to see the spikes a lot of the dot-coms are."
Like many firms, SRA is targeting its potential workforce more carefully. The company will mail an annual report and a list of job openings to people who have left SRA over the past few years. For the first time, it will offer a $500 bonus to former workers if they recommend a candidate whom SRA later hires.
Mark Mehler, co-author of the online job search book "Career XRoads," says more companies are gearing their pitches to industry associations and other groups of people likely to have the specific qualifications they desire. Mehler says that in these times, it's all the more important for candidates to be certain about what they want to do and to use specific, niche Web sites and personal contacts to help them advance their efforts.
Recruiters at other local firms advise people to visit job fairs, where they can make a solid impression on hiring managers and perhaps even get a first interview out of the way.
It also pays to get a sense of the future. Susan Baker, workforce director at the Northern Virginia Technology Council, says many companies are turning to areas such as bioinformatics, which marries technology with biology. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is opening a center in Ashburn, and Inova Health System will break ground on a new building in January 2002.
"We're fortunate that we have so many diverse types of technology," Baker says.
At the same time, the market will likely remain tough for people entering the field with little paid experience, according to two recent studies. A quarterly review by the job Web site Techies.com indicates that fewer employers are posting entry-level jobs on the site than they did six months ago. And a separate report issued by the Information Technology Association of America notes that demand for tech support workers has dipped in the past year as more people have moved into that arena.
Recruiters predict the market will continue to tread water until summer, as big-name companies announce fresh rounds of layoffs.
"It's going to be bad in the second quarter, but it's going to start to get better," says Villella. "The word to job seekers is, use your personal networks like you never have before."
Send tips, gripes and your impressions on punching the virtual time clock to Carrie Johnson at email@example.com.