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Laid-off Web workers target traditional firms

By Sara Terry Special Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / April 23, 2001

Ben Miller saw the writing on the dotcom wall last November.

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A database developer, he'd been lured at midcareer into the dotcom job market in June 1999, "by the exciting promise of potential wealth that would come from stock options." He loved his job with NBCi - loved the energy of the young people he worked with, and the excitement of creating something new.

But by last fall, he says, his work environment was becoming "unstable." It was clear that Internet advertising had not worked out as a revenue base, and the company was having a hard time finding a business model that could work. What's more, his stock options were virtually worthless.

So Mr. Miller made a decision that put him on the cutting edge of one of the latest developments in the New Economy - he resigned his dotcom job and took up work in a "bricks and mortar" firm, a biotechnology business called Incyte Genomics.

"This seemed stable, with a strong future," he says of his new employer. "It seems like a very strong company with a very clear growth path. The Internet was always full of promise, but it was as much a dream as it was anything else. Much of what people imagined would happen was based on guesses about how people would act and what the role of the Internet would be over time."

Miller is not alone. Although there are no hard statistics, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence among career advisers, recruitment firms, business school graduates, former dotcom employees and bricks-and-mortar employers that the bursting of the dotcom bubble has created some serious rethinking about the value of a good-old-fashioned job in an established firm - where stock options don't necessarily come with a job offer.

Barbara Reinhold, an online career-coach columnist with and and the author of "Free to Succeed: Designing the Life You Want in the New Free Agent Economy," sees current changes in the job market as "a very creative time to take the best of both worlds.

"It's about a melding of the new enthusiasm with tried and true old business practices," she says.

Traditional employers are welcoming back mid-level workers who left to explore jobs in the dotcom world. At Arthur Andersen, says regional recruiting director Scott Shane, "increasing numbers" of dotcom refugees are seeking to return to their old bricks-and-mortar jobs.

About 25 percent of the 2,000 hires made at Andersen since last September have been individuals returning from dotcoms. Their experience, he says, is "tremendously" valued. But he also warns that in a softening economy, employees who want to return to old jobs must be able to "connect the dots." "We're taking a hard look at what their experience was. We're saying, 'You left for an opportunity, walk me through what that was, tell me in detail what your role was, explain to me the circumstances of why you left, and what you're looking for now. Tell me what's next in your career progress.' "

But even as the dotcom collapse causes some serious rethinking about jobs and careers, observers say one thing is clear: The culture of the American workplace has been changed by the New Economy.