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Tech Workers, Once Fired, Now Rehired

Monday, February 18, 2002; Page E01

Like so many of its rivals in the technology marketplace, Reston's Cysive Inc. slashed its ranks by more than half last year, cutting 150 workers.

Fast forward several months. Now Cysive is at the forefront of another employment trend: making an effort to rehire the same employees it shed during tough economic times.

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Penny Jobin, the software company's recruiting director, said about six workers have rejoined Cysive this year, and more may be on the way, especially those with technology experience in areas such as engineering, information architecture, and Web development.

"These people were hard to recruit the first time around," Jobin said. "If I need another one of those, I'm going to look at the people we let go. They know the business and they've proven themselves."

It's a strategy many cash-strapped technology firms are pursuing, albeit some more gingerly than others. For example, while companies such as Cysive begin to make commitments to rehire full-time workers, a spate of other firms offer former staffers cheaper part-time or consulting jobs -- sometimes without health care and other benefits -- while they wait for demand for their products and services to increase.

"This is about hesitancy," said Paul Villella of the Reston personnel company HireStrategy. "Not only do we see it, we're getting requests for it. This is so reminiscent of coming out of the last recession in 1993."

Back then, Villella recalled, it took companies from six to nine months to feel stable enough to commit to a batch of new permanent workers. In the meantime, they met pressing needs with temps and contractors, staffers who could be cut loose on an hour's notice if things turned sour.

That's what one telecommunications employee faces today. The worker, who has about two years of experience and who was dismissed in a round of job cuts last year, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of his precarious employment situation.

After getting a pink slip last November, the Virginia man sent out 125 résumés -- only to receive two form letters and a lukewarm phone call in response. When a manager at his previous company called a few weeks later, the employee jumped at the chance to return as a contractor, even without long-term guarantees.

"Before the person who called me finished the sentence, 'Will you come back?' I said, 'Sure,' " the man said. "Some people I worked with said they'd never go back. Well, I knew the market."

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