Life after redundancy

Nowhere
has the recession hit harder than in the US IT sector, in particular San
Francisco’s Silicon Valley. Stephen Phillips profiles one such casualty of the
downturn, former software startup employee Brian Frank, in his bid to get back
on the payroll  

Brian
Frank recalls finding himself on US national television the day he was laid off
last March. The 25-year-old was interviewed for a US-wide news broadcast
attending one of Silicon Valley’s "pink slip" parties for laid-off
tech workers.

Just
hours earlier he’d been fired from his job as a product marketing manager at
Eazel along with 75 others as the California-based software startup pared costs
to buy more time to seek further funding.

Pink
slip parties – named after the colour of US redundancy notices – were all the
rage earlier this year, reflecting the ease with which people thought they
could jump to a new job. Six months later, such expectations are a distant
memory and Frank is still looking for work.

Although
it was a wrenching disappointment, his redundancy was not exactly a bolt from
the blue. "It was kind of expected," says Frank. "The executives
had been on the hunt for money for months in a tight market – people were
getting nervous."

He
still laments the ultimate demise of Eazel just months after he was shown the
door. "It needed more time to gestate," Frank says, pointing out that
it took Microsoft years to perfect its Windows operating system, with which the
startup was trying to compete. Eazel’s investors pulled the plug after deciding
there were no immediate prospects for financial returns.

Since
March, Frank has been a model of job-seeking determination. He is a counsellor
for Recession Camp, helping to organise events for his unemployed peers, and is
active in the local chapter of his college’s alumni association as well as the
San Francisco branch of a networking groups for graduates of prestigious US
universities. He is also a tireless attendee of local recruitment events.

As
well as putting himself into social circles, Frank says he regularly cold calls
human resources managers at companies he’d like to work for and religiously
scours websites for news of openings.

On
paper he is a strong candidate. Armed with a computer science degree from US
Ivy League university Cornell, he also claims credit for writing part of
Microsoft’s best selling spreadsheet program, Excel, for which, he says he is
awaiting a patent. His qualifications and achievements are showcased on his
website, brianfrank.com.

But
despite such efforts and credentials, Frank cannot get his foot in the door.
"People aren’t returning calls and the websites where [you can] post
resumes are deluged," he complains. Frank, who wants to work for a mass
market computing company, estimates that a meagre 2 per cent of the firms he
has contacted have responded.

"Because
they are being inundated with applications, companies can be more judicious
about who they are looking for," he adds, noting that many employers have
a very specific profile in mind for recruits.

Frank
is unperturbed, however, remaining relentlessly upbeat in typically Californian
fashion. As well as hunting for a new job, he puts in part-time hours at a
local wine merchant, where he is helping set up an e-commerce operation.

It
is still early days at family-run Wineglobe in San Mateo, California, but Frank
hopes to set up a thriving online business catering to corporate hospitality
events.

If
he can make a go of it, then maybe he could put the job on a full-time footing
and start drawing a salary, he thinks.

Meanwhile,
life without his former generous salary has entailed some financial adjustment.
He has taken a job waiting tables at a local restaurant to make ends. Learning to
cut his cloth according to his means is a new skill for Frank and so many other
young Californians who before this year knew only good times in their short
careers.

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