Many solid executives in Seattle need to re-tool.

In the past 15 years living in Seattle, I have had the privilege of meeting many executives and entrepreneurs. About two or three times a year, somebody would call or email me and say, “Hey I am thinking of making a change. How about coffee to talk about what the companies are worth looking into these days.” Those were always fun conversations.

Since December 2008, at least once a week I am getting a call or email that sounds more like, “Hey I need a job. Do you know anybody hiring?”

A VC buddy of mine refers to this as nuclear winter. Yes, it’s cold. But it isn’t all doom and gloom.

While it may be the case that Microsoft, Google, Real, Amazon and just about every “large” company (with > 1000 employees) is laying off and/or curtailing new hires, hope is not lost. For example, Microsoft and others are actually hiring in areas where they are growing, in spite of the layoffs in areas where they were overstaffed.

Many smaller companies (with < 100 employees) are hunkering down as well, but only in the FTE count. Smaller companies that are still growing need executive talent more now than ever before. They just cannot afford full time execs.

This brings me to re-tooling. Of the dozen or so “out of work” execs I have seen in the past few months, only two have returned to work in a full time capacity. In both cases, it’s because they had EXACTLY the experience and specific industry and functional expertise required. 

Ironically, in a down market, professionals with transferrable skills–accounting, project management, software developers–find it harder to move from one industry to the next. They have the functional chops but not the specific industry credibility.

One path to pursue in the event you are faced with this dilemma: re-tool. The many smaller companies that need senior executive talent but are unable/unwilling to pay for it may be thrilled to have you apply for a part-time gig as CxO or SVP. It might take 2 or 3 gigs like that to make ends meet, but in the process you will find that you are valued for your expertise, valued for your experience, and find that start-ups aren’t as risky or scary as they once seemed to be. Yet every time I suggest this to a newly out of work exec, they wrinkle their nose and say “gosh that sounds really on edge.”

Not so much on edge in my opinion as having a mortgage with no income.  Come on in. The water is warm enough.  Start swimming with those who are building the next generation of companies that will thrive after this economic hell is over.

© 2009 all rights reserved.  Michael Schutzler.

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