Laid-off tech managers mull pay cuts, demotions

Sporting gray hair and a preppy sweater at a recent pink-slip party in Manhattan, 37-year-old Nicholas Hart looked distinguished in the crowd of black-clad twentysomethings.

But even with his 15 years of IT experience, including two management jobs, Hart said he's ready to take a hefty pay cut and demotion in order to find work.

That's a good move, according to recruiters and economists, who warn that as in the early 1990s, much of the downsizing in the near future will come from the middle management ranks.

"They may never have those kinds of jobs again, if companies can make do with fewer people," said Alec Levenson, an economist at the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Milken Institute.

A recent study by the Information Technology Association of America in Arlington, Va., revealed that IT hiring plans have been slashed by almost 44 percent compared with last year's. Companies will hire a total of 900,000 IT workers this year vs. 1.6 million last year, according to the study's findings, which were culled from phone interviews with nearly 700 IT managers.

"I do not see the market changing for the next six months," said Tammy Anderson, a managing partner at Cumming, Ga.-based Lysen Anderson Executive Search Inc. IT job-seekers shouldn't be surprised if they see their salaries drop by 15 percent to 20 percent, she added.

"Many companies are scaling back and doing so at the manager and director level," said Anderson. "The hard-core techies are the people who are still in high demand."

Workers can "build tangible goals to get back to the [salary] levels" they once earned, she said, by asking their new employers to offer salary reviews after one year.

Hart said he plans to rephrase the three years of IT management experience on his résumé to "network engineer," a title he believes will convey his hands-on technical experience rather than his management skills. He has been job hunting since he was laid off in January from a firm that sells wholesale licensed handbags to New York retailer Tommy Hilfiger Corp.

Hart also expects to take a 25 percent pay cut. "I can't just sit here forever without a job. If I knew next month I'll get [a comparable job], I'd probably wait it out," he said.

Similarly, 37-year-old Rob Camp (not his real name), who was laid off several weeks ago from a New York-based Internet consulting firm, expects that his next job title will be less prestigious than his previous title, vice president of partnerships and content.

"I'm not necessarily interested in retaining the title. I felt the title was overblown to begin with," he said.

Instead, Camp is looking for work as a product manager, a position that could eventually land him in the executive ranks, he said. But he noted that his once-six-figure salary will likely be slashed by $20,000.

But Michael Berch, who is 45 years old, has been holding out for a job in middle or even senior management. Berch was let go as an IT director at Oak Ridge, Tenn.-based Internet Pictures Corp., which features online virtual tours of real estate properties. He said he probably wouldn't take a job, say, in systems administration, because it wouldn't be a good career move. But he acknowledged that he may not recoup his former six-figure salary.

About six weeks ago, Berch was ready to begin a consulting assignment at a start-up, but the position was offered to a less-costly temporary worker.

Job seekers who don't have management experience, such as 25-year-old Dan Levine (not his real name), still remain optimistic. Levine, who lost his job as an Internet strategist at an entertainment firm last December, said he will continue job hunting in hopes of finding something with a comparable title and salary.

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