British Telecom is going into e-headhunting to track down potential recruits on the Internet with special software which seeks out appropriate chat groups.
But the company has already discovered the need to follow up online chats with proper interviews to ensure that candidates' personalities live up to their technical promise.
Some employers "lurk" in discussion groups to find likely candidates but BT is using software to hunt out the right forums to target. It will then contact people by e-mail.
"We are trying to translate what a headhunter does into the virtual world," says Frank Douglas, a BT personnel manager.
"The most likely place to find someone with Java skills is a Java chat room, where people answer technical questions. These groups are a fertile recruiting ground."
BT has learnt from a six-week trial, in which four people were interviewed but were not taken on because they lacked the business skills the company wanted.
"Technical forums may not be the best places to find business candidates, but we've learnt from that and next time we will use the technique to look for software developers," says Douglas.
In particular, BT is looking for Web and mobile phone software developers.
"We and everyone else would love to get more people with these skills but we can't, and that's why we are exploring alternative methods like this," says Douglas.