In 405-Land, Lots of Company - and Companies

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It wasn't long ago that laid-off bankers drew the lion's share of public attention and sympathy going to the newly and not-so-newly jobless. (Sympathy for bankers? Yes. Incredible as it sounds, most news stories about bankers were sympathetic as recently as last summer.)

Since then, however, layoffs have multiplied so rapidly that it's now almost fashionable to be in transition. So it's no surprise to see an array of support groups and businesses springing up to cater to them.

One entry into this increasingly crowded field held its coming-out party recently. The 405 Club - a career networking group named for the maximum weekly unemployment check in New York State - drew roughly 150 people to a midtown Manhattan pub. Many were seeking jobs, while a small number were recruiters with jobs to fill.

One job-seeker I spoke with is a former international law firm partner turned capital markets banker. She rose to director level at the bulge-bracket bank where she spent most of this decade. Now she hopes to leverage her experience in infrastructure and energy project finance, which includes advising Middle East governments and multilateral agencies.

When she recently applied to a major multinational's project finance opening based in Abu Dhabi, she told her career coach, "It's my dream job." The coach replied, "You're weird."

The Unemployed as a Promising Market

Interestingly, many party-goers view joblessness as not just an unwanted condition to be escaped as quickly as possible, but as a market to be served.

"It's the great American entrepreneurial spirit," observed guest Mark Guralnick, a marketing research professional currently working freelance. "Wherever there's a need, somebody will find a way to fill it."

That aptly describes Garrett Dale. Just weeks after being laid off from his music company marketing job last December, Dale and two partners founded the 405 Club. Its Web site offers up job-search anecdotes, money-saving shopping and entertainment tips, and merchandise including T-shirts bearing edgy, thematic slogans like "My company just wasn't that into me," and, "Friend without benefits."

"We want people to join the club so we can help them get out of the club," says Dale, a 2003 Tufts University economics graduate. But 405 Club's principals also aim to do well by doing good: It's building out a business model pegged to the still-hot "social media" niche.

'The Upside of the Downturn'

Quite a few guests are thinking along similar lines. Publishing industry victims Lynn Parramore, Laura Rich and Sara Clemence co-founded RecessionWire, an urbane and lively commercial Web site whose tag line is, "The upside of the downturn." They even trademarked the phrase "pop-up site," to capture RecessionWire's cyclical nature. Like the recession itself, the site is destined to evolve as conditions change. "My partner had some foresight and bought (the domain name) Depressionwire.com," Parramore tells eFinancialCareers News. She adds: "We hope that won't be necessary. We'd rather morph into Recovery.com."

Another 405 Club guest, Norm Elrod, runs a more personal kind of site. His Jobless and Less is a typical blog - a one-man operation chronicling Elrod's job search and networking efforts plus musings about various topical issues. "I am a marketing professional with an MBA," he describes himself on his blog. "But after four layoffs in eight years, I know all about unemployment and this whole job search thing too."

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