Life after layoff

Late last January, Charles Cacioppo, an IT project manager for Prudential Securities, was basking in the fact that just the day before, he and his ad hoc team had completed a four-month project to wind down a medical form software system and switch it over to a service provider.

That morning he got a phone call that he was wanted immediately in his boss's boss's boss's office, and somehow he sensed it wasn't to receive praise for a job well done.

Unfortunately, he was right; Cacioppo's position had been eliminated. "I had just finished this successful project and had some accolades from the internal client," says the Franklin Boro, N.J., resident. "Within an hour, I was gone."

He is far from alone. Thousands of IT experts who have done good work are finding themselves unemployed thanks to the sputtering economy.

That's all the more reason once you've been let go to buckle down right away and start an organized job search, starting with a fresh resum‚. Cacioppo had kept his resum‚ up to date and the day after Prudential let him go, he posted it to Internet job sites and sought leads. "In the first 60 days I got 250 resum‚s out there," he says. Spend lots of time on that resum‚, he recommends.

"That's a piece of art in itself," says Greg Dahl, who specializes in Internet commerce infrastructure. Laid off in May, he spent the first week getting his resum‚ up to snuff. "I've got several versions: the sales version, the technical version, the full-blown version," he says, each tailored for a different type of IT job.

It's amazingly tough to find the right job, says Tristan Nefzger, a former senior Internet systems engineer for the Prio Promotions business unit of InfoSpace that did back-end charge-card processing for online merchants. He lost his job when the unit shut down in December.

"I think the economy is a lot worse than you read in the newspaper," he says. "At least in technology, it's like a depression."

Knowing they have the upper hand, employers are requesting a long list of skills.

Nefzger says one employer wanted a person who knew Solaris, several flavors of Linux, Windows platforms from 95 to 2000 and individual applications, and who could perform hardware repairs - all for US$65,000. A military base had similar requirements, plus wanted top-secret government clearance.

Because of the glut of IT candidates, those who have been seeking work for awhile might need to rethink their definition of what constitutes an acceptable job. "They need to lower their expectations. They could get a job, but it probably won't be a promotion, and it might be a step back," says Craig Rumbers, director of operations for CyberForce, an IT employment specialist. IT directors, for instance, who earned $110,000 to $115,000 might have to settle for a senior network position that pays only $75,000, he says.

Dahl knows how a person's standards can change. Before he was laid off, he had a lead on a job but didn't pursue it. "It was with a company on the other side of Atlanta, and I didn't want to drive that far," he says. "Now I'm willing to relocate."

He says he is prepared to take IT jobs that have more of a business focus than a technical focus, knowing that will improve his chances. Friends of his who lost IT jobs have gone to other fields entirely. One is now a real estate developer and another sells offshore financial services.

Sending out resum‚s is part of the drill, but networking with everyone you know also is key. "I used to hire a lot of people," says Mike Eason, an IT executive at Teradata until he was let go through downsizing last January. So he contacted the IT employment agents he formerly used to find job candidates and told them he was looking for work. A conversation with an agent of IT employment firm Matrix Resources led to his current job as vice president of development for Per-Se, which delivers IT services to healthcare providers.

Cacioppo says he has had four or five acquaintances pass his resum‚ directly along to hiring managers in hopes of circumventing the morass of applications that clog human resources departments.

Personal contact helps in other ways. "The psychological aspects [of being unemployed] are much harder to deal with than the financial ones," Eason says. So he called anyone who possibly might know about job openings - vendors, suppliers, co-workers, recruiters, even a former boss. "Not to talk about jobs, just to talk, and I got a lot of positive feedback," he says.

Facing similar isolation, Cacioppo found a support group for unemployed IT workers called St. Helen's Networking Group, which meets once a week in a church in a nearby town. In addition to commiserating about their plight, members bring in human resources professionals from major corporations, former group members who have found jobs and recruiters. "Now is the time you want to be out among people. The next person you meet could be the person who gets you your next job," Cacioppo says.

In the midst of all this turmoil, unemployed workers urge that others in the same boat take time to relax from the job of looking for a job. They exercise, work in the yard, go to the movies, visit relatives, volunteer in their kids' schools and finish home-improvement projects, all in an effort to keep busy and keep a good attitude.

"If you're down on yourself, a good hiring representative will pick up on it in 30 seconds," Eason says. "If another candidate is a positive, solutions kind of guy - not a problem kind of guy - he'll get the job."

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