Survivors of failed dot-coms encounter hot job market

SAN FRANCISCO - The day shut down, Joanna Nissen was talking on her cellphone about being laid off as she rode the bus to the office to clear out her desk.

Overhearing Nissen, another rider approached.

Learning she was a computer systems administrator, the stranger asked if she'd be interested in Kinecta Corp., a privately held online content-management services company.

Nissen gave the man her information.

By the time she got to her old desk at Productopia 15 minutes later, Nissen already had an e-mail lining up an interview. Three days later, she had a new job, earning more than she had at Productopia.

''It was pretty darn quick,'' said the 31-year-old Nissen.

Despite all the layoffs and dot-com closures, survivors like Nissen don't have to do much looking.

Most of the 60 Productopians got jobs within weeks after the company's dissolution. Others remain unemployed by choice - fending off recruiters, refraining from posting their resumes online, enjoying the respite from the 14-hour days that define life at a startup.

Still others are doing free-lance or contract work to buy a little time before making a more permanent decision.

''I got a lot of calls from recruiters - I had to tell a couple of them to chill,'' said Scott Love, former director of product management at Productopia.

Public relations manager Melissa Sheridan was getting up to 10 calls a day from headhunters starting Oct. 2, the day Productopia brass told the staff that funding had been cut off.

Sheridan weighed five offers and was back to work within a month - this time at public relations firm OutCast Communications, which works with many dot-coms but isn't one.

''I was focused on finding a job where it wasn't reliant on just one technology that may or may not work,'' she said. ''I wanted to minimize the risk.''

Anne Gates, Productopia's former design director, turned down an offer from a company that admitted it had only enough money to last through January. The company told her it would have more funding by then; she told them to call back when the cash was in the bank.

''The companies are just as desperate to get people, but employees are more critical,'' said Howard Lee of Silver and Lee Associates, a recruitment firm. ''They're picking and choosing better, getting smarter and going with companies that have a better chance to succeed.''

That doesn't mean all dot-coms have lost their appeal. The excitement of technology startup work is what encouraged Dee Dee Anderson to abandon years of advocacy work at the National Organization for Women.

Anderson, 29, moved in August 1998 from Washington D.C. to San Francisco with $700 in her pocket and got a job - complete with stock options - with an Internet start-up, Flycast Communications.

She struggled initially with her conscience, feeling she had moved from a career with a good cause to one rooted in making someone ''at the top, rich.''

''Then I started paying down my bills,'' she said. ''And then I started empowering employees with how to get the most bang for their buck when dealing with their stock options.''

Flycast was later acquired. Anderson did well with her stock options and started working at Productopia in July.

Productopia's closure left a bitter aftertaste with some of her former co-workers, but Anderson said the high-energy, high-risk thrill and lofty this-technology-is-going-to-change-the-world goal will lead her to ''roll the dice'' with another Internet company once she decides to go back to work.

''The Dot-Com movement is like the youth movement of the 60s - that time was an extraordinary time of energy and hope,'' said John Challenger, president of the job placement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas, Inc. ''People are going to fight to hold onto that.''

End Adv for release Monday, Dec. 4 and thereafter


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