Pink-slip party etiquette

On a warm summer evening in Manhattan, hundreds of former dot-com workers are huddled inside Hush, a dimly lit bar in the city's Chelsea district. The occasion is a pink-slip party, held here on the last Wednesday of every month for hopeful laid-off workers and recruiters from Silicon Alley.

On a warm summer evening in Manhattan, hundreds of former dot-com workers are huddled inside Hush, a dimly lit bar in the city's Chelsea district. The occasion is a pink-slip party, held here on the last Wednesday of every month for hopeful laid-off workers and recruiters from Silicon Alley.

At first glance, the event resembles any other New York bar scene: mostly single twenty- and thirtysomethings drinking $US3 tequilas and Bud Lights and listening to house music while eyeing prospective dates.

But upon closer inspection, you see that the partygoers, such as Zachary Nelson, who graduated from Columbia Business School last year, wear colour-coded glow-in-the-dark wristbands: pink means you've been laid off, green signifies that you're an employer or recruiter, and blue means you're just here for the ride.

At one end of the room stands a message board, where job hunters like Nelson, who was laid off from his job as an internet strategist at a New York-based consulting firm in April, can peruse job listings and post their résumés. At the other end, some recruiters sit at tables to chat about openings at their companies, while others mingle.

As layoffs at start-ups and corporations alike have escalated, pink-slip parties have gained popularity as a way for jobless workers to not only network but also to find a community of individuals who are facing the same struggles.

"Knowing other people in the same boat makes me feel better," says Nelson. In addition to New York, cities such as San Francisco and Chicago hold pink-slip events, typically once a month.

In recent months, the New York parties have drawn anywhere from 700 to 1000 attendees per event, says Allison Hemming, who runs New York-based consulting firm The Hired Guns. Her company promotes the events both online, at its website, as well as in an electronic newsletter job hunters can subscribe to at the site.

Though the events typically draw recruiters and job seekers hailing from New York's Silicon Alley, anyone can attend even those who are neither job hunting nor offering employment. Most attendees dress business casual women wear a blouse and nice slacks or a skirt, while men wear trousers with a collared shirt. Few don more formal attire, such as jackets and ties, like one might wear to a job fair.

Getting the most out of your first pink-slip party requires a mixture of cocktail etiquette, basic job-hunting skills and New Economy smarts, according to attendees. Arrive early, at around 7pm, when the event starts, advises Hemming, because most recruiters don't stay beyond 9pm.

Derek Brightman, vice president of technical services at Infinity Consulting Group in New York, has attended about a dozen pink-slip parties. He recommends bringing a résumé or at least a business card with your contact information.

Even if you're unemployed, you should carry a business card with your phone number and email address, says Eileen Shulock, who was an e-commerce strategist at New York-based internet consulting firm Knowledge Strategies until May, when she was laid off.

Brightman also advises partygoers to try to stand out and make a connection when talking to a recruiter. After meeting 20 to 30 people in one evening, the conversations "tend to blur together", he says. For example, one jobless worker told Brightman that he looked like actor Lou Gossett Jr. "I'll remember this guy for life," he says with a laugh. Another candidate talked about her interest in music, which allowed Brightman to get to know her better as a person rather than focus on just her professional skills and interests.

Since pink-slip parties are essentially cocktail parties and therefore not as formal as job fairs, it's okay for job hunters to do something unusual to get noticed, says Hemming. "Wear or carry something that visually says what you do, like a sign that says 'No 1 Java Programmer in America,' " she says.

Keren Solomon says that when she attends a networking event like a pink-slip party, she sets a goal of talking to at least three people in the room during the course of the evening. Solomon was laid off in March from her job as a project manager at Event Zero, a Boston-based consulting firm, where she had worked for a year. Like many former start-up employees, the 33-year-old retains a sense of ownership regarding her former employer, often referring to it as "my company".

After attending local networking events such as the New York-based Five O'Clock Club, which provides career counselling, Solomon learned to practice spending one minute talking about herself. "Describe who you are and what you do [succinctly], as opposed to [spending] a half hour to say what you do," she says. "Find a short, pithy way to describe yourself, and let people move on."

"You can't monopolise someone's time," says Shulock, who volunteers her services as director of the New York chapter of WebGrrls International, a networking group for women in technology. "If someone wants to move along, it's not because something didn't connect."

Another pink-slip etiquette tip: wait until a recruiter wraps up a conversation with another candidate before introducing yourself. "You may want to talk to as many people with green bracelets in the room [as possible], but it's important to relax and wait your turn," says Hemming.

And don't talk only to recruiters talk to other job seekers as well. "You never know who you're talking to and who they know," says Steve Eisenberg, who was laid off in February from his job at a large media conglomerate, where he was responsible for project management and business development for online operations.

To prepare for a networking event, Eisenberg says, he calls ahead to see which companies will be in attendance. Nelson says it's also good to look out for any companies at which you may already have contacts.

"It helps if you have a network in place [at the hiring company] if you do come across somebody in human resources," Nelson says. For example, he recognised the name of one company that sent employees to recruit at the May pink-slip party, because he used to work with the firm's founder. As a result, Nelson later sent an email to the founder, which paved the way for further discussions about job openings at the company.

Job hunters say that in addition to finding job leads, they try to help out other pink-slip partygoers. Even if you're unemployed, you still "have a network of people relevant to somebody else," says Nelson.

For example, if Nelson was to meet somebody interested in working for nonprofits, he would offer contacts because he used to work in that field, he says.

Finally, as you try to find leads for yourself, remain optimistic, Nelson advises. "Don't get down on yourself about the fact that you're in a position of needing something from other people. One bad experience doesn't negate all the good decisions" you've made, he says.

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