Got your pink slip? Go party!

When Sharon Luciw was laid off last year from her high-level IT job, she figured she’d have no trouble finding new work, despite the tighter job market.

After all, Luciw had been director of IT at the Mountain View, Calif., office of InfoSpace Inc. and had more than 15 years of experience in systems administration, customer support and operations. And with six years of experience as a manager, Luciw felt she would be a candidate in high demand.

But she quickly realized last summer that interviews were slower in coming than she had anticipated. The employment market was worse than she had realized, and getting another job would likely take longer than she had originally presumed.

In addition to using traditional methods to find a new job – newspapers, online job postings, peer contacts – Luciw decided that attending a pink slip party organized by the Silicon Valley chapter of the Commonwealth Club of California seemed like a worthwhile bet.

“I realized that I was a senior IT manager and the party would probably not produce any direct leads at my level,” says Luciw. “But this event offered coaching and had some panellists in industries I had thought about exploring.”

Chaired by Marty Nemko, a veteran career counsellor in Oakland, Calif., the Commonwealth Club Pink Slip Party in Palo Alto, Calif., was a gathering place for some 500 IT workers in search of new employment opportunities, hopefully within the Silicon Valley high-tech Mecca they had just exited.

Unlike Luciw, many pink slip partygoers say they show up hoping to find specific leads to new jobs. Luciw took advantage of the event to feel out the job climate what employers were looking for, what technology and business skills were in high demand and where employment might be most secure. The input helped her eventually land a new post at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, Calif., in October.

Realistic Expectations

The event Luciw attended provides a perfect example of why job seekers shouldn’t expect that attending a pink slip party will lead to an immediate invitation to a new job. Only one contract agency, several authors and no employers attended the Commonwealth Club’s gathering, in sharp contrast to typical employer-supported job fairs.

The event’s agenda included realistic advice and practice sessions regarding each job seeker’s campaign to find new work. There was also input regarding IT jobs in non-high-tech industries from panellists John Epperheimer, president of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Workpath Group and a San Jose Mercury News columnist; Betsy Williams, chief operating officer at Stanford Hospitals & Clinics in Stanford, Calif.; and John Shannon, manager of human resources and employer services for the San Jose Unified School District.

“I came hoping to find companies where I could interview,” said one disappointed out-of-work professional, a former manager at a dot-com firm. But he said he still benefited from the evening because he learned how to focus his verbal presentation on a few specific skills and areas of expertise – instead of meandering through his entire r