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What happened when Wayfair tried to hire in the 'burbs

Posted by Scott Kirsner  February 18, 2013 09:47 AM

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I was chatting with Steve Conine recently, as I worked on my latest Globe column, which explores how older workers are perceived by the local startup community. Conine is the co-founder and chief technology officer of the Boston e-tailer Wayfair, which focuses on home goods, and his company has been hiring like crazy in the past few years. (The company now employs about 1,200 people.)

Conine says that much of Wayfair's recruiting focuses on recent college grads, but that the company has also been trying to attract more senior engineers — people with at least eight or ten years of software development experience.

As an experiment, Wayfair has floated a couple of trial balloons, suggesting in job postings that it was planning to open an office in Marlborough, near Route 495, and in Nashua, New Hampshire. "We wanted to see if we'd get a different kind of person applying — an untapped group of engineers out there that already lives in the suburbs and likes the lifestyle," Conine told me. The company's headquarters are nestled between the Back Bay and South End, in a high rise that is part of Christian Science Plaza.

"We ran the ads for three or four months, and we just didn't see a different profile of candidate than the people we were already getting," Conine said. "Our theory is that maybe those people [in the suburbs and southern New Hampshire] are more interested in the lifestyle of bigger corporate employers, versus the scrappier, hard-charging startup."

"If we got a dozen or so interesting people, we would've set up a Marlborough office," Conine says. "And we already have a few engineers who commute from Nashua, so we tried that, too, as a secondary location. But we got, like, two interesting candidates in both places."

Conine adds that as Wayfair as grown into a mid-sized, adolescent company (it was founded in 2002), it has started receiving more applications from senior engineers at suburban companies like EMC and Raytheon, who don't seem to mind coming in to work in Boston. "We might have gotten to the size where we're in their comfort zone," he says. "But it tends to be the people itching to get back into something exciting — people who see an opportunity in the Internet startup scene."

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About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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