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Out-of-Work Techies Turn to Places Where Profits Aren't the Point

By Carrie Johnson
Sunday, June 3, 2001; Page L01

Sinking prospects at consulting firms and high-tech start-ups have plenty of job seekers feeling low.

But career experts say veterans of the shifting job market needn't hide below decks until the storm passes. Their advice? Tap into a rich Washington resource: professional associations.

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"There's a lot of opportunity out there," says Frank Doyle, vice president for professional development at the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), based in the District.

It's a conclusion that tech wizards, marketing types and others who once populated the region's start-ups are reaching, albeit slowly. Take Adam Trowbridge, who left the financial site Capital.com after it closed late last year to start a consulting firm. Three weeks ago, Trowbridge started work as an information architect at the Nature Conservancy, an Arlington-based group that buys land to protect endangered plants and animals.

The advantages of life at a nonprofit are clear. Employees are rarely subject to layoffs or upheaval because of out-of-whack business cycles. The hours are predictable. People use their vacation time instead of endlessly accruing it. Health insurance, retirement savings plans, job training and other benefits are readily available.

"There's no free soda, but that's fine," Trowbridge says of his new gig. "I feel a lot more stability. . . . It's still very fast-paced, but it's a lot more human."

He also doesn't miss the stock options -- which, in his case, as with many others, proved to be essentially worthless.

At the same time, associations generally pay less than for-profit businesses. Computer and information-systems types earned a median salary of $68,000 last year, according to a survey of 224 associations. The median annual salary for finance professionals was $68,500. For marketing folks, it was $73,400.

Will Weems, a freelance designer whose clients in previous jobs included associations, says working with thrifty groups can have a downside.

"More often than not, they tend to be underbudgeted," Weems says. "You're always trying to stay within budget and control expectations. The key is being very clear about what your client is getting for the money so there are no mislaid expectations there."

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