Why losers are winners

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The dot-com world has been an employment roller coaster for Peter Buscemi.

He's been VP-marketing with three Internet companies, including his current employer, Chapter2.net. He was laid off from online recruiter Personic.com and put in a brief stint at another online business before he joined Chapter2, which provides hosting and management services for companies whose applications are available on the Web.

Has all this nomadic employment, which began just 18 months ago, hurt Mr. Buscemi's employment prospects? He doesn't think so. Companies fail, promises made at hiring go unkept and yet opportunities emerge, he says.

"There's many reasons for people moving," he says. "You can't hold that against someone."


Employment in the Internet age is as fleeting as cocktail party chatter. A growing roster of dot-coms, including Freei Networks and Scour.net, have filed for bankruptcy in recent months, and far more have slashed staff to conserve cash.

Hundreds of workers have been cast adrift. Do they each bear a scarlet letter of their failed or restructuring employer? No, says Patti Keeney Maischoss, a recruiter and managing partner at San Francisco executive search company Lucas Group. "There's absolutely no stigma," Ms. Keeney Maischoss says.

Often companies fail or experience lackluster results simply because the market conditions are not right -- and mid- or senior-level managers not necessarily are to blame, she contends. In turn, new companies need knowledgeable workers -- especially those with ramp-up, roll-out and even downsizing experience. It's especially true in a strong economy with unemployment hovering near 4%.

"Everyone is in that start-up mode to build a company and if [a prospect] has that experience -- if it was successful or not -- it's valuable experience," she says. "The reality is that there is some really good talent out there and companies are out looking for good talent."

In fact, executive search companies use researchers -- both internal and external -- who track failed companies -- and their jettisoned talent, Ms. Keeney Maischoss says.

Recruiters often scope dot-com graveyard Fuckedcompany.com for leads.

When the word hits the street, the result is a hiring frenzy among dot-coms competing for talent amid a finite pool of experienced ex-executives, says headhunter Susan Gold, exec VP with Berardi & Associates, a New York headhunter. Almost any experience is good experience, she says, because "there's still not a lot of people who have dot-com experience."

"Those laid off with solid experience and a good reputation will definitely be marketable," she says.

Dot-coms may prefer hiring from other dot-coms -- even failed ones -- since working at such a business suggests the ability to take risks and operate in a chaotic environment. In other words, failed dot-com experience may be more bankable than no dot-com experience.


Wise former executives play up their positive role in the failed company, advises Miriam Krasno, an independent career counselor in Chicago. Don't trash the former company or its management, and emphasize what the experience taught you, she says.

"As long as the economy stays vibrant, I don't see my clients or others coming out of dot-coms that have failed having that much trouble (finding new jobs)," she says.

Still, being laid off is one thing; opportunistic job hopping remains frowned upon -- even in the frenzied employment world of the dot-com, says Mr. Buscemi, the continually mobile dot-commer. He had a stable history with established tech marketers such as Apple Computer, Hewlett-Packard Co. and Oracle Corp. before joining the dot-com realm.

When hiring, Mr. Buscemi is keen to know a prospect's competency and whether his or her personality will mesh well with the corporate culture and existing employees. Did they excel at their former employer? Did they take on many tasks and learn the ropes? Did they make a difference?

Most importantly, does Mr. Buscemi know job prospects' references to get the straight scoop on their history? "In Silicon Valley, we have the benefit of a really small world out there," he says.


Initiative and vision also come out in the interview process and the questions interviewees ask. They're looking at management, inquiring about the financial backing and prospects, and targeting a company that can take them to the next level, says headhunter Ms. Keeney Maischoss.

Nothing wows Mr. Buscemi more than a prospect who took a job not because the pay, options and IPO prospects were plum, but because top venture capitalists had funded that company first, he says.

"Progressiveness is really hot in this world. If they tried to push the envelope, nail something ahead of its time, I think that's cool," Mr. Buscemi says. "If you went to a Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers company and it went belly up, then you've got points in my book because you did your due diligence. I don't want mediocre."