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Wall Street's Newest Party: Resumes With Cocktails

Party has a whole new meaning on Wall Street these days.

Throngs of unemployed bankers, traders and other workers from Wall Street gathered at the Public House bar Wednesday night in Manhattan for the latest Wall Street Pink Slip Party, following similar events in November and December.

But this event reflected a very different reality for Wall Street.

“At the first Pink Slip Party in November, people treated it much more casually,” said Rachel Pine, a co-organizer of the event. “Now, it’s much more serious.”

An estimated 400 people attended this event and for every recruiter, organizers estimated that there were nine unemployed Wall Streeters, from equity analysts to portfolio managers, financial-services technology experts and middle-office managers.

This was the second Pink Slip Party for Sue Downes, a single mother of two, who lost her job as a technology executive at a hedge fund in the fall of 2007.

“I was the canary in the coal mine,” said Downes, who has done some consulting since she was laid off, but said the work really started to dry up after “Black Monday,” that Monday at the end of September when the Dow plunged 777 points.

Now she does freelance consulting work about once a week and has been forced to cash in some of her 401(k) and the college funds of her kids, who are 14 and 17.

“It’s hard for my children,” Downes said. “They’re worried about college. They’re worried about the house.”

Downes is still hopeful that she’ll land a full-time job in technology but she’s also mulling other options.

“I’m trying to reinvent myself now,” she said, adding that she’s currently working on a book about her job-hunting experience.

In the coat-check line, an employed investment banker, who declined to give his name, asked two women what they were looking for.

Pink slip party attendees.
Photo: Cindy Perman
Pink slip party attendees.

“Law. We’re both lawyers,” one woman replied.

“What type of law?” the investment banker asked. “I have a friend who’s hiring over at the Federal Reserve.”

One man nervously held up a scribbled sign that said REAL ESTATE/PRIVATE EQUITY, but didn't seem to be getting any bites.

"I guess there aren't a lot of people in real estate here tonight," the man said.

Of course, it was hard to find the recruiters, who were identified by glow-in-the-dark green bracelets. Each recruiter was surrounded by a snaking line of people wearing pink bracelets, identifying them as job seekers.

Many of the traders and bankers seemed embarrassed to be there but they needed the networking opportunity nonetheless.

For sure, it’s going to take time for Wall Street’s alpha dogs to adapt to this brave, new world.

“People have to do a big reorganization of their careers,” Pine said. “The banking industry will exist but it has to go through changes.”

“Trading is a pyramid model. So many start trading, fewer move up, fewer can head a desk and fewer can be in management,” said Matthew Samelson, who attended the party as a recruiter for his start-up capital-markets research and consulting firm, Woodbine Associates.

"I tell people: Forget about what you used to do. Think about what you like to do — and what you can do,” Samelson said.

And, when potential candidates asked him how much they could expect to be paid at his firm, Samelson would reply: "It's not going to be the same pay as you had before. But what are you making now?"

Pine said some of the areas of opportunity right now are: technology (building structures for banks, settling trades, etc.), risk management and measurement (RMM), and proprietary trading at smaller banks not involved in the TARP.

Job seekers who attended the party said they didn’t get job offers directly from the party but they made a lot of contacts. And, it helped them realize how many people were in the same boat.

“It makes me feel good — like I’m not alone,” Downes said.

For the lucky few recruiters, these parties are a gold mine.

“I have access to people that can add a lot of value to my firm — people I wouldn’t have had access to in any other environment,” Samelson said.

But a word to job seekers: With all this competition, you’re going to have to step up your game.

"There's a lot of talent out there," Pine said. "Recruiters want a guy who can structure derivatives and juggle chainsaws.”

Send comments to cindy.perman@nbcuni.com.

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