Wall Street's Pink Slip Party

The recently laid off gather to drink, network and maybe find a job.

NEW YORK, Feb. 6, 2009— -- A hint of desperation hung in the air. Men and women grasped their drinks and mingled around the bar, hoping to catch the eye of that someone special.

No, it wasn't a singles event but a Wall Street Pink Slip Party where unemployed bankers, traders and hedge fund managers network and meet with recruiters.

"It slightly reminds me of speed dating but with careers, so 'speer' dating, if that's a phrase? It's pretty interesting," said Johanna Watkins-Green, an investment bank analyst who still has a job.

An incident at the office that day brought her to the event Wednesday night, she said.

"Three people were tapped -- so to speak --- and they were told never to come back. So that's what brought me here basically," Watkins-Green said. "Nothing's really secure."

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She and nearly 400 other people crammed into a New York bar hoping to find that next paycheck. Those seeking jobs wore pink glow bracelets. Recruiters and others hiring wore green ones. Everybody was asked to donate $20 to the Ronald McDonald House.

Similar events were held in November and December, both drawing nearly 500 people, according to organizer Rachel Pine of Fastbook. The event was sponsored by some liquor companies and Dealbreaker.com, a Wall Street gossip site and blog.

At first glance, you would hardly know that the room was full of laid-off people.

"Everybody just seems to be making the most of the situation," Watkins-Green said.

Jonathan Sroka was laid off from his software sales job in January. He was meeting new people but said the progress was "slow going."

"I wasn't expecting a miracle," Sroka said. "It really seems in this economy that it's about making friends, working your network and finding the right connections to an opportunity."

Sroka attended one similar event in 2000 in Boston when the tech bubble burst. He said it was the same type of mood then.

"People get together, they try to put a good spin on it," Sroka said. "I think everybody wants to help everybody; there just aren't enough opportunities out there for people out of work."

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Simon Curtis, 40, was holding a sign asking people: Have you worked in equity capital markets, corporate finance or private equity?

"Could I Speak With You?" it said.

Curtis has been in the business 17 years and seen enough rounds of layoffs.

"This time around," he said, "there were a lot more senior people."

He said it was nice to see other senior people at the event also looking for jobs.

Early in the night, he wasn't having much success but was hopeful that "once the beer starts flowing" more people would be open to conversations.

Barry Grama, of Livingston Securities, was one of the most cheerful people in the room.

He had reason to be giddy: He works for a new investment bank and is looking for hires.

Grama said that most people were "optimistic" and then quickly added: "I think I have that effect on people."

"I'm not really very negative about everything," he said. "I think everything is going to be good, life will be fine and we'll keep moving forward. It's America."