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Resumes? Interviews? In the 21st century?

Published Sep. 10, 2005

It wasn't long ago that corporate America couldn't stop fawning over dot-commers. They didn't need resumes or interviewing skills. Recruiters chased anyone with the least bit of Internet experience.

But now that the fairy-tale job market has collapsed, many of these start-up refugees are learning what it takes to find work the Old Economy way. They are studying up on business etiquette, what to wear on an interview and how to describe their skills.

"Many of them don't have a clue how business really operates," said Mary Ann Salas, president of Super Systems Inc., a placement firm based in Atlanta and West Hartford, Conn. "They are in shock when they hear that they even need a resume."

The prospect of so many people baffled by their job searches has attracted some entrepreneurs. The Layoff Lounge, for instance, began in February throwing recruiting and networking parties in Los Angeles. It now has events in 12 U.S. cities, among them New York, Boston and Dallas.

Robert Hill, 38, of Long Beach, Calif., attended a recent Layoff Lounge event in Pasadena, Calif., after realizing that gone are the days when he could post a resume online and hear from potential employers within minutes.

"The job market has done a 180-degree flip from a year ago," he said.

The casual Web culture further complicates the job hunt for former dot-commers, recruiters say.

Instead of suits and ties, many have shown up for interviews in T-shirts and wrinkled slacks. They often don't bring resumes or references, and frown at the idea of regular schedules that oblige them to be at the office around the same time every day. They have bold salary requirements and want to be hired high up the corporate ladder.

Deborah Pleva, 30, formerly of the defunct sportswear e-retailer, showed up at a recent interview in a casual top, skirt and open-toe shoes. As she left, she noticed another candidate in the waiting room dressed in a suit.

Though she doesn't blame her casual attire for failing to land the job, the experience has inspired her to dress more conservatively _ nice slacks and a sweater _ for future interviews.

"It made me think that maybe my presentation was a little too laid-back," said the Portland, Ore., resident.

This spring, received so many questions about basic job-hunting advice from visitors to its career-oriented Web site that it started a job-tip-of-the-day service via e-mail in early June. Don't wear white socks to interviews. Do make good-quality copies of your resume.

At the Los Angeles-based placement firm Korn/Ferry International, recruiting executives increasingly work with jobseekers on what they should expect, a result of many candidates coming in with inflated expectations of job title and salary.

"We have a lot of young CEOs from these (dot-com) companies that could not be an assistant vice president in the real world because there are different skills and different rules," said Charles Wardell, managing director of Korn/Ferry's northeast region.

Salas reminds clients to research the companies prior to interviews, to prepare concise, well-organized resumes and to dress appropriately. But she doesn't always get her message across _ one client recently showed up for an interview at a manufacturing firm in torn-up jeans and flip-flops.

"The manager he was interviewing with said that his dress was disrespectful, and it signaled to him that this person might be hard to work with," Salas said.

Andrea Kay, a Cincinnati-based author and columnist on career issues, coaches people on how to use their dot-com experience to their advantage. She encourages them to cast their time at a Web company in a positive light even if the company later went bust.

"Working at a dot-com isn't a stigma, except the fact that your company, like others, failed," Kay said. "That does not mean that you are a failure."

That's the message Wendy McCulley, a veteran of three dot-coms, including the failed, is trying to convey.

While gaining valuable marketing and advertising experience at her Web jobs, she says she has few concrete results to document on her resume. So she has spent the past few months trying to develop solid examples of what she learned at her previous jobs.

The Layoff Lounge events are geared for people in the technology industries.

At the Pasadena gathering, Hill didn't get a job, but he did meet another attendee who had similar technology experience. Already this new friend has suggested Hill look into streaming media, something he knew little about.

"It is a different world out there when it comes to getting a job," he said. "No one is coming to find you."