Rikke's Angels

They're young, beautiful corporate headhunters for the high-tech industry. How have they survived the crash of 2001? Simple: By partying like it's 1999.

Christensen is splaying the cards out, fanlike, when the band, knowing its audience, kicks into "I Will Survive."

"TecHunters' theme song," Christensen says. "We used to sing it drunk down Chestnut Street." And then she pauses, scanning the room, apparently considering the evening as a whole. "A party like this costs like $80,000. ... This is what start-ups were doing every day last year.

"Every night used to be like this."

Seeking T&A Engineers

The TecHunters spend their Tuesdays sifting through all the contacts they've acquired and managing their ongoing prospects at Christensen's splendidly situated Sausalito pad, a boxy, dark-stained structure that sits like a treehouse above the intersection of Sunshine Avenue and Sausalito Drive.

Inside the living room, which features wall-size panoramic windows with stunning vistas of both the Golden Gate Bridge and the bay, the TecHunter girls are seated around a Spartan dining room table as the mellow vibes of Duran Duran's greatest hits hum on the stereo.

Each TecHunter sits in front of a laptop rigged to a wireless modem; they're bouncing résumés back and forth and sharing impressions of candidates, not all of which seem terribly businesslike. "So," Dougherty says, "I was talking to this guy Josh, and he's like, "I've got a position for you.'

"And I'm like, "What is it?'

""T and A engineer.'

"And I'm like, "Oh, shut up.'"

It turns out that "T and A engineers" actually exist and have nothing to do with female anatomy; they are, Dougherty explains, responsible for "testing and automation," which gives the other TecHunters a chuckle. A few minutes later, a metallic "ping" emerges from Christensen's laptop, signifying a new e-mail message from a prospective candidate.

"I don't remember meeting him, but he says we met at the party the other night," she says, sounding a touch confused. "I sent him an e-mail with one of those little smiley faces in it, and he wrote back that I have such a cute nose."

"Aaaaaaw," the girls say, swooning.

And this is how the TecHunters work, gossiping and e-mailing and perusing résumés. As silly as it seems, there's a method to it. The TecHunters' clients say the women's intuition about how different personalities will mesh sets them apart from other firms. "They're very technology-savvy, very professional, and very friendly," says Motoko Aoki of Netvein, a client. "They've got this ability to get exactly the kind of person that we want. They can get me past the PC job description stuff and get to the point."

Christensen sees that as the greatest perk of an all-woman team. "I think that women sometimes understand corporate cultures better," she said on an earlier occasion. "You know, how people feelabout a person being there."

More than gossiping, though, the TecHunters are waiting for the phone to ring. As Tuesdays with Christensen go, this is a slow one. By early afternoon, she has broken out a brand-new copy of the You Don't Know Jack video game, and, three hours later, a bottle of chardonnay follows. In between, there are three cigarette breaks and a timeout to clip the fluffy cat's toenails.

As relaxed as the day seems, the girls aren't totally at ease. The week before, a candidate they'd placed in a controller's job at the business infrastructure company Netvein reneged -- without telling the headhunters or the company -- and cost the TecHunters a commission in the neighborhood of $15,000, which is money they sorely need at the moment. As clients go, Netvein is not a company the angels want to upset. TecHunters is looking to fill a series of positions there during the coming months, and having a client flake on his first day without an explanation (or a phone call) does not send the preferred message. Things have subtly started to improve of late -- progress that coincides with an encouraging recent plateau in dot-com deaths -- but these placements remain absolutely crucial.

"A raunchy sex scene suddenly pops up in a cartoon you're watching with a 12-year-old," Christensen says, reading one of Jack's questions aloud. "Do you 1) cover his eyes or 2) play it in slow motion?

"Two!" she quickly answers.

She laughs that look-at-me-I'm-bad laugh until the phone rings, cutting her off. Suddenly, she's all business, and the girls, previously cackling, get a silent but stern shushing gesture from their boss. It's a prospective employer calling to set up an interview with one of her candidates, and Christensen looks tense: her shoeless, black-socked right foot is trembling beneath the table as she gives off urgent verbal nods.

"Anytime this week? Great. I'll set it up. Right now," she says, putting the phone down and turning to her angels. "Well, we've got an interview."

"Fab-u-lous," three angels chant in eerie unison.

Thursday, July 26, was not a good day for the technology industry. Hewlett-Packard, dean of Silicon Valley companies, announced 6,000 layoffs, and the fiber optics giant JDS Uniphase slashed its work force by 7,000. For an industry that had been trying very hard to believe the worst was over, the reports were disastrous: incontrovertible evidence that the slump was far from finished.

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