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Pink slip partiers get a virtual reality check

Global Knowledge, an online training company, is touting its "virtual pink slip party" as the first stop for the newly laid off and anyone looking to jump ship to a new employer.

    Are you an unemployed dot-com refugee still toting your resume to pink slip parties? How utterly passé.

    The cutting edge of the technology job market doesn't require job hunters to schmooze in crowded bars or stand in line at impersonal job fairs--or even leave their living room. Global Knowledge, a Cary, N.C.-based classroom and online training company, is touting its "virtual pink slip party" as the first stop for the newly laid off and anyone looking to jump ship to a new employer.

    The company's first online get-together on Thursday morning attracted 34 job hunters and recruiters in the United States who logged into a Web seminar moderated by Patrick von Schlag, director of market strategy for Global Knowledge. About half of the attendants were job hunters, and the other half were recruiters from Big Five consulting firms, large technology companies and others in the Fortune 500.

    Participants clicked through a PowerPoint presentation, asked questions via instant messenger, and listened to experts who discussed differences in salary, culture and responsibilities between Corporate America and dot-coms.

    The session, dubbed "Dot-Com Rebound: Reskilling for the New Economy," aimed to teach displaced workers from technology start-ups and e-commerce companies how to land jobs at bigger, more stable and traditional companies.

    Although the job hunters at Global Knowledge parties didn't get to meet recruiters or employers in person, as they would at the increasingly popular, typically pub-based pink slip parties, they did get an hour's worth of tips on what their prospective employers want to hear when job hunters interview for a position. And they could exchange e-mail and contact information via chat rooms.

    The purpose was not so much a networking event but an interactive, educational lecture in career management, said Paul Ziv, senior recruitment strategist for Atlanta-based ComputerJobs.com.

    "It went very well," said Ziv, one of the featured panelists at the virtual meeting. "These people can find openings on a lot of job boards...but there are a lot of different ways to get into that company. You can do more than just send your resume. We were trying to show how to document your career and tell a story about your career."

    Grabbing the mobile demographic
    Although virtual pink slip parties are far from mainstream, recruiters are applauding Global Knowledge's fledgling effort. Because the Web-based events can theoretically unite recruiters and job hunters from around the world, experts say they are particularly useful for people who are young and mobile--a demographic representative of dot-commers.

    "So many of them are young and renting, and they may have already moved to the Silicon Valley or Austin (Texas) from the East Coast or even India," said Jeff Daniel, CEO and founder of technical recruitment firm CollegeHire. "The virtual pink slip party is by no means the way in which you're going to actually land a job offer; eventually, you have to meet a recruiter face-to-face and do a traditional pattern. But it's a cool idea to start."

    Von Schlag said see special report: Fired!Global Knowledge is planning another virtual pink slip party within the next month. Based on the interest it generated in Thursday's seminar, the theme of the next one will revolve around business technologists--non-technical managers, from marketers to finance gurus, who need to brush up on their engineering and programming skills.

    The company, which collects market data by polling attendants on their perceptions of the job market, will announce a date and provide pre-registration information on its Web site.

    The general thrust of Thursday's presentation was to prepare displaced dot-commers for the interview gauntlet of Corporate America. They also learned how traditional recruiters perceive dot-commers.

    The image was hardly flattering.

    In a slide titled "what employers think of dot-coms," the panelists told attendants that the stereotypical dot-com employee comes with a "build to sell" mentality, as opposed to the "long-term business planning" ethic that established companies desire.

    Brick-and-mortar recruiters also think dot-commers have a "poor understanding of market differentiators"--typified by the rash of dot-com news releases touting how their product has "no competitors." And start-up refugees have little concern for getting a return on investment but instead focus on "leveraged metrics like 'eyeballs,'" a term for the number of viewers attracted to an online site--a statistic that means little to brick-and-mortar companies.

    Even less flattering: Brick-and-mortar recruiters say dot-commers are into their jobs to "get rich quick"; their titles are vastly inflated relative to their job responsibilities; they are short-term workers who have little loyalty to their team or company; and they are grossly overpaid and have unrealistic expectations about how much ownership they will have in their next employer.

    Wake-up call
    The put-downs were not meant as even more slaps in the faces of the laid-off job seekers; rather, panelists said, candidates should keep this in mind and tactfully dispel such notions during the interview process. In particular, the panelists said, dot-com refugees should dramatically scale down their expectations for their title and salary when they enter Corporate America.

    "Some people got paid enormous amounts of money--well above 20 percent premiums for people who were attracted out of existing brick-and-mortar companies," von Schlag said. "They were paid large sums of money for jumping ship and coming to the dot-coms."

    Aside from adjusting to a new compensation reality, former dot-commers may also have to adjust to the cultural norms of a larger corporation, according to the virtual pink slip panelists.

    Although dot-com workplaces run the gamut from outrageous to the downright staid, the stereotype is that they're all youthful dens of caffeine and foosball--places where the CEO skateboards to work with his pet iguana on his shoulder.

    "There are going to be a lot of disappointed iguanas who have to stay home," Ziv said, referring to the dot-commers who defect to more corporate environments and can no longer bring pets to the office.

    The rate of career growth is the other big shock for employees switching from start-up to established company, the panelists agreed.

    "Someone could join a dot-com as an analyst or a second-level developer and could quickly catapult themselves to a product manager or team leader," Ziv said. "Larger corporations have a much more structured career path. Just because you say you want to be a team leader or project manager, they're going to look for you to grow into that career. You can't just talk to the CEO and get the promotion--in fact, the CEO maybe in another building altogether and you'll never meet him."