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Pink-slip parties, a new twist in job networking

Relaxed events where people gather to schmooze for jobs over hors d'oeuvres are multiplying on the social scene. Résumés are welcome.

March 22, 2009|Kavita Daswani

If only pink-slip parties were about lingerie.

But the stylish get-togethers sprouting all over the city are focused, instead, on a much less sexy L-word: layoffs.

The first such gatherings were spotted in November in New York, as Wall Street began cutting loose huge swaths of its workforce, and the events have migrated to Chicago, Boston and San Francisco. No matter the location, the forum is always the same: cocktails and hors d'oeuvres in a relaxed setting where job seekers can network and meet with potential recruiters.

"I think people are realizing that sitting at home looking on Craigslist isn't working anymore," said Allen Artcliff, the director of food and beverage of the Crescent Hotel in Beverly Hills, birthplace of the Los Angeles pink-slip party. "And gone are the days of trying to find a job at some job fair in the basement of the convention center."

The Crescent held its first pink-slip event at its Boe restaurant and lounge in February, attracting about 100 people. At its March event, that number had doubled. By 6 p.m. that Tuesday evening, a line of people -- many clutching their resumes to their chest -- snaked around the block. There, over $5 pink vodka martinis and half-price appetizers, they vied to hook up with representatives from the five recruiting firms on-site, representing industries as varied as entertainment and human resources.

The events take on somewhat different tones. Edwin Duterte, founder of Pink Slip Mixers, hosted a gathering at the high-tech uWink restaurant in Hollywood last month that was attended by about 50 job seekers. But instead of meeting with potential employers, they networked with each other, exchanging tips on how to perk up a flagging resume or make a good impression at a job interview. A large projection screen allowed people to use Twitter to communicate about job needs and leads.

"My biggest priority is to get more community interaction," said Duterte, who himself was laid off from his commercial real estate job in January last year. "I'm adamant about people helping one another out and sharing resources. It should be about paying it forward."

Job seekers and hirers are encouraged to mingle. At the Crescent Hotel event, those looking for jobs were given name tags in one color, while recruiters from different industries wore different colors (although, in the trendy dim lighting, it wasn't always easy to discern who was who). But, unlike some social gatherings where it might be gauche to ask someone what they do, at pink-slip parties everything is clear-cut, everyone is there for the same reason, and there is no awkwardness about handing out your resume and card to anyone you meet.

Rachel Pine, organizer of a Wall Street pink-slip party at a Manhattan bar last November, said that most who showed up at the first one were still employed, there just to socialize.

"By the next one, in December, about 80% of them had been laid off," she said. "By February, almost everyone there was looking for a job and was serious about using it as a resource."

If economic conditions continue to slide, pink-slip parties may well continue to thrive. BCS Staffing, a recruitment firm that specializes in accounting, finance, human resources and administrative services, recently hosted its first pink-slip party at the aptly chosen Pink Taco restaurant in Century City. Another event in April will be at the Staples Center, where the stub from a discounted ticket to an L.A. Clippers game that night will get you into a party in a conference room there.

Beryl Smith, president of BCS Staffing, says she represents many recruiters who mine pink-slip events for candidates; there are always new people to meet, and the relaxed ambience helps do away with nerves. At the Crescent event, she had picked up several resumes from people who would be a good fit for her job openings. "We need to come out and support events like this," she said. "It's about everyone doing their part."

Certainly, there does appear to be a community spirit of altruism at play. In most cases, venues are donated. Liquor firms donate the beverages that are sold for reduced prices, and those who organize the events say they make no profit. Duterte recently moved from Los Angeles to San Jose but says he will commute to host and promote pink-slip parties in both places.

But even the most successful pink-slip parties cannot lead to jobs if there are no jobs to be filled. Smith was at the Crescent Hotel event the other week hoping to meet candidates to fill six jobs she had available. But a year ago, she said, she had 30 jobs to fill.

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