Former dot-com workers find slow start in new year

Many say job hunting is tough despite high demand for IT help

As dot-coms shed more staff to slash costs, many in the industry last week said the search for new jobs is getting tougher.

Internet firms announced 10,459 job cuts last month, an increase of almost 20% from November, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., a Chicago-based outplacement firm.

Both Challenger and technology magazine The Industry Standard, which tracks dot-com layoffs, have reported that the majority of dot-com downsizings have occurred at e-commerce sites—particularly online retail sites—as well as at services firms, such as consulting businesses.

For example, eToys last week announced 700 layoffs and Engage.com announced 550.

Overall, demand for IT workers remains high. According to Computerworld's Annual Hiring Forecast survey conducted this past fall, IT staffs will increase by an average of 4% nationwide in the first quarter and 13% during the year. And the nation's unemployment rate is still hovering around 4%.

But analysts and anecdotal evidence show that getting a new job isn't always so easy.

"A lot of companies are starting to question whether they need [to fill] all the open positions," said Marguerite Payne, 51, who was laid off in September from her job as a project manager at License Online Inc. in Bellevue, Wash. Payne said she has made it to third- and fourth-round interviews at several companies only to have employers say they decided not to fill the position or they decided to merge several positions into one.

Allison Hemming, who runs The Hired Guns, a New York-based consulting firm, said she sees IT workers attending her "pink-slip parties," at which former dot-com employees from New York's Silicon Alley mingle with recruiters and employers. Hemming's event has taken off in other areas as well, such as San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Patty Beron, founder of San Francisco-based online community sfGirl.com, launched her first pink-slip party last month. Beron said she expected 50 people to attend; more than 300 showed up. "I was surprised. I have more of a party mentality, but the minute people got there, they were exchanging resumes and talking about jobs," she said.

According to recruiters, January is typically a strong hiring month. But Lynsay Matthews, a project manager who was dismissed from Chicago-based Internet consulting firm Xpedior Inc. last month, said she hasn't had much luck since she sent resumes to more than a dozen firms. Matthews, a 15-year IT veteran, said that in some cases, she doesn't have the skills employers want, such as Java programming experience.

But experience counts, too. Jim Baillie, who was laid off as a Web programmer from an Internet portal last month, said his eight months' experience in Web development isn't enough for potential employers, who typically tell him they want a minimum of two years of experience. One hiring manager "blew me off like [I'm] nobody because I didn't have exactly what he was looking for," said Baillie, who lives in the Tampa, Fla., area. Baillie had previously worked with mainframes.

Payne said she remains "cautiously optimistic" about her job prospects. Hopefully, she said, start-up firms "will start realizing that they need [workers] with experience."

Searching for New Jobs

A sampling of some recent dot-com layoffs:

Company

Type of Company

Number Laid Off

When

Engage Inc.

Online advertising

550

Jan.

Covad Communications

Telecommunications

400

400

Dec.

Nov.

Scient Corp.

Consulting/services

460

Dec.

iXL Inc.

Consulting/services

850

Nov.

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Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

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