Layoff Lessons Learned

A year ago, Farren Ionita's career was soaring. She had moved through the ranks at NBC.com and had been snatched away by an up-and-coming New York start-up, StarMedia Network Inc.

But when she lost her job in May during the flailing company's third round of layoffs, Ionita quickly realized that the glory days were over.

Until then, her achievements in the wireless industry had been catching the attention of headhunters, who called her regularly with job offers.

"They were like vultures," Ionita says. But when she was looking for work, they were nowhere to be found. "There have been a lot of layoffs, even within recruiting firms," she says.

For many young IT professionals, the abrupt downturn in the economy has been a major shock. One day, they were on top of the world. The next, they were victims of the economy's "unprecedented" crash.

But, in fact, the crash wasn't unprecedented. It was just a decade ago when many of the yuppies of the Reagan years found themselves out of work. Jobs were cut, corporate budgets were slashed, the nation was at war and consumer confidence was plummeting. Sound familiar?

That recession offered lots of lessons. In many cases, experienced workers who have been through it before are handling themselves better in the current downturn than the young whiz kids who have taken the IT world by storm, says Allison Hemming, president of The Hired Guns, a New York-based interim workforce agency.

Rolodexes full of business cards have given Farren Ionita a gold mine of contacts that keep her working in any economy.

Young workers entered the business world with a strong sense of entitlement, says Hemming, who created pink slip parties, networking events for laid-off workers that are now common nationwide. More experienced workers know that no one is indispensable.

"Some of the older people who have survived this are sort of hunkering down and are already doing things to protect themselves"-such as cleaning up their resumes and getting their finances and savings in order-even if they haven't been laid off, she says.

"The Gen Xers graduated into a recession, so they're more skeptical than anyone," Hemming says. "They sort of went into the whole dot-com boom thinking, 'OK, when's it going to end?' " Times are certainly tough. Approximately 2.5 million workers were laid off in the U.S. last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But in many ways, job seekers have a lot more going for them today than they did 10 years ago, says Hemming.

For starters, there's the Internet, which offers a variety of resources for the unemployed. There are also more networking opportunities. Unlike a decade ago, most workers today expect to move from company to company, and as the economy has weakened, a strong network of job seekers has evolved. Networking among former co-workers, fellow IT association members or people at events like pink slip parties has become one of the most effective ways to land a new job.

"If you're not alone, you're a lot better off. You can start to see the road back to your future," says Hemming.

Ionita spent her employment hiatus scouting for opportunities. She did some "trivial" Web design work so she could make new connections, she says. She went to pink slip parties, met with job coaches, studied the top industry magazines and sent out resumes, even for job openings that weren't exactly what she was looking for. In some cases, Ionita at least got her foot in the door, which prompted new job leads.

Her persistence paid off. Within two and a half months of her layoff from StarMedia, Ionita landed a job as director of media development at New York-based Iquity Systems Inc.

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