SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) — Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer was asked at an all-staff meeting several weeks ago whether her rigorous hiring practices had caused the company to miss out on top engineering talent in Silicon Valley's hyper-competitive job market.
Mayer dismissed the complaint that she had refused good candidates because they did not have degrees from prestigious universities, and instead she challenged her staff to get better at recruiting, according to an employee who was at the meeting.
"Why can't we just be good at hiring?" Mayer said, playing off a line from what she called one of her favorite movies, 1989's Say Anything, according to the employee. He did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to discuss Yahoo's internal matters.
The question, according to Yahoo insiders, reflects wider concerns among hiring managers and rank-and-file employees over the way Mayer has tightened hiring practices since becoming CEO last July, as part of an effort to transform Yahoo's workforce and culture.
Mayer insists on personally reviewing every new recruit, a practice that supporters say brings needed discipline to the company. Critics, however, say her high standards are hampering Yahoo's already challenged ability to fill vacancies.
Even before Mayer's now-famous ban on working from home drew controversy last month, Yahoo was struggling with the perception that its best days are behind it, according to recruiting consultants. The company also faces fierce competition for talent in Silicon Valley, where Google Inc and Facebook Inc hold more prestige, while startups offer the lure of shares in an eventual IPO.
Rick Girard at Stride Professional Search, who specializes in placing engineers with start-ups, said a Yahoo job offer was still viewed as a "back-up" option by many of his clients.
"We only had one person who ended up taking the job at Yahoo. I think it was because she wanted to be at a larger company," he said.
Yahoo declined to comment for this story or to make Mayer available for an interview. The CEO told investors in January that Yahoo was seeing a marked increased in the volume and quality of job applicants, and that attrition among "highest-performing talent" was significantly lower than in the past.
Still, Yahoo has almost 900 jobs open, representing nearly eight per cent of its workforce of 11,500, according to its website. Some of the openings are months-old. In comparison, Google has almost 1,000 open jobs, but that is just two per cent of a workforce that is more than four times the size of Yahoo's.
Mayer is taking a hard look at staffing levels in some of Yahoo's outposts, said two people with direct knowledge of the matter, particularly its more than 2,000-person operation in Bangalore, India. It is Yahoo's largest engineering center outside its Sunnyvale, Calif. headquarters.
Mayer is weighing bringing certain jobs in India back to Sunnyvale to unite more of Yahoo's product development at the home base, said one of the sources.
Several recruiters said Yahoo's vast audience of 700 million unique visitors is appealing to engineers. But with so many attractive opportunities at startups and successful Internet companies, the lure of Yahoo is not as strong as it could be.
Mayer has brought some buzz back to the company, said one former Yahoo engineer. But working at a "hot" start-up such as Dropbox or AirBnB "looks much stronger on your resume than being an employee at Yahoo," said the engineer, who turned down an offer to return to Yahoo.
"We don't typically run into Yahoo," said Alan Shapiro, the owner of San Jose-based Technology Search International which specializes in finding jobs for software engineers. "When we represent a candidate, we'll ask who else they're talking to. Yahoo is not a name that's frequently mentioned."
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