A Pink Slip Party Can Turn Your Layoff Into a Payoff

pink slip partyThe phrase "pink slipped" used to be a dirty word meaning you just got laid off or fired from your job. Until Allison Hemming, founder of The Hired Guns talent agency representing creative professionals, came along. She turned the doom and gloom of the pink slip into a call to action by creating The Pink Slip Party, and these parties are still going strong today. AOL Jobs caught up with Hemming to learn more about the evolution of the pink slip party.

Q. What exactly is a pink slip party? What differentiates it from other networking events or mixers?

A. The pink slip party is a grass-roots networking event for individuals who've been laid off, down-sized or you know... pink slipped. These events bring together people who need jobs with people who have jobs to offer (hiring managers, external and internal recruiters) and other assorted supporters. There have been industry-related pink slip parties (dot-commers, financial services, autoworkers), city-specific pink slip parties (Philadelphia to Chicago to Sydney and Berlin) to company-specific ones where alumni get together to support one another.

The formula is simple: 1) start an e-mail list; 2) find a location that's conducive to networking that you can frequent; and 3) start promoting -- and the pink slipped will find you. There's a lot of people out there longing for a sense of community and water cooler. (Smaller locations where people can actually rub elbows work best early on). And remember: anyone can start a pink slip party. The idea is to get out there and commiserate with others who've been through a similar experience, swap war stories and realize you're not alone in your situation. Finally, by getting comfortable with talking about a layoff, you'll improve at networking, which is the way people find jobs about 80 percent of the time.

Q. How was the idea of the pink slip party hatched? When/where was the first party?

A. It was spring of 2000 and I had just started my digital talent agency, The Hired Guns. Literally, the day I finished writing my business plan and getting my legal documentation in order, the stock market tanked. Shortly thereafter friends who worked in the the dot-com space started to lose their jobs. And then entire departments started to get eliminated. Back then nobody was worried; recruiters would call those same departments that got laid off and hire the entire department back. For the digital creative class, it was an early career lesson in the portability of your thought leadership from company to company. And people quickly realized that being wedded to one organization for 30 years was not going to be their destiny -- by a long shot.

In June 2000, I invited an eclectic mix of friends to the first ever pink slip party in Chelsea. "The Pink Slippers" (aka the dot-com downsized), friends (for solidarity purposes) and recruiters/hiring managers -- because they were the people with the jobs. The ethos of the event? To forever change the negative stigma attached to getting pink slipped. Before the pink slip parties, people would crawl away and hide, embarrassed that they got laid off. Ten years later, as companies drive to outsource any role that's not nailed down, individuals know that getting laid off is often not their fault. That's a good thing. Because it's one thing to lose your paycheck, and quite another to lose your mojo.

That summer we had events every Wednesday night and the event grew organically to 300-plus people a party. By the fall, pink slip parties started to spring up around the country. San Francisco was the second market to launch one! By then we had to start giving out glow bracelets so that people could find each other at the party (pink for pink slippers, blue for the folks there for solidarity purposes (and who were secretly worried about losing their own jobs) and green for the people who had jobs to promote. This was very much an event by and for the people.

Q. Who's invited? Passive and active job seekers? Recruiters? Others?

A. It's for both passive and active job seekers. People concerned that they might lose their jobs. Friends/colleagues of people who lost their jobs (this is an important one because people who get laid off suddenly feel like they are persona non grata with their former co-workers which can be isolating). Take Note: If your pals from work got laid off, make the first move and offer to go with them to a pink slip party in your 'hood.

Q. Any general recommendations for people in job search?

A. Isolation is the enemy after a layoff. It's hard to get out there but once you do you will feel better. Don't mistake applying through websites for jobs and e-mailing friends as active networking. Spend more time on face-to-face meetings, attending industry networking events and getting involved with industry associations (as an organizer, not just as a member -- you have the time now). This may sound a bit cliche, but you should constantly be refining your elevator pitch during this time. It's the one place where almost everyone needs improvement after being pink slipped.

The exception to the rule of networking your brains out is if you're feeling negative or bitter about getting laid off. It's better to put a little time and distance between you and your last employer so that you can gain some perspective and talk about your accomplishments rather than the messy split. When you're out there looking for a new job, you want to be remembered for being smart and polished and that the company was crazy to let someone as talented as you go -- not being angry and desperate. If this is you, start with baby steps. And don't burn through all of your best networking contacts before you've figured out what you want to do next and how you want to position yourself.

Q. What exciting things have happened for you as a result of the pink slip parties?

A. Launching this good karma endeavor was great for my business because I got to meet amazingly talented individuals who were early to the digital game. Many of those early pink slippers are still in The Hired Guns network and are now running successful online enterprises today -- either through building companies from scratch or through elevating organizations that need hustle and moxy.

In the spirit of what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, I have to say that living through the dot-com meltdown definitely helped me get through the worst recession since the depression. It made me realize that no matter how bad an economy is, there is opportunity to be found in it. In the last year, we launched The Hired Guns Academy where we offer one-on-one coaching and classes around career and personal brand management.

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