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From Yahoo to layoff in Internet time

Melissa Daniels, 24, San Jose

By Beth Kowitt
Last Updated: February 6, 2009: 7:49 PM ET

(Fortune Magazine) -- At her age, Melissa Daniels can't conceive of life without the Internet. One of her most vivid childhood memories is of agonizing about choosing her AOL screen name, at the age of 8 (she settled on mndkid, using her initials). So when a manager at Yahoo (YHOO, Fortune 500) offered her a position as a community manager in May 2008, Daniels leaped at the chance. Little matter that the company was already in turmoil, having just rejected a takeover bid from Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500). It was the kind of job you don't turn down, the modern-day equivalent of one at 1960s General Electric. "It's always an honor to be asked to work for a company like that," she says. "It definitely sweetened the deal."

Thrilled with her team and her role as a liaison between Yahoo users and its product teams, Daniels didn't focus much on the day-to-day struggles at the company. But when the layoffs came in December only seven months in, she was less shocked than disappointed. "It wasn't something new, like a black cloud of smoke descended," she says. "I was never angry. But I was more sad than I thought I would be, because I loved my job and everyone I worked with. You cry about puppies and family members, not over jobs."

For Daniels, this is an unwanted pause in a life that has been on fast-forward. At 22, she earned a master's degree in communications management from the University of Southern California, writing her thesis on user-generated content and viral media. At 23, when she took the Yahoo job, she bought a condo in San Jose with some help from her mom. By 24, she had already been downsized. "I didn't really know what you do in a layoff," she says. "Logistically I didn't even know how it worked."

Now the self-proclaimed "digital native" is using the tools of her generation to find her next job. She networks through LinkedIn, posts on Twitter, and keeps a blog (new2oldmedia.wordpress.com) where she comments on happenings in her industry. And now she looks at every company with a more skeptical eye. "The big thing for me is stability," she says. "I just don't want to be laid off again." Daniels has had almost a dozen in-person interviews, several with the same potential employer. Nothing has panned out yet. "It's kind of like dating. Do they like me? Do they not?"

Perhaps because of her youth, Daniels remains highly confident. She says she won't take a pay cut unless it's for the perfect job. Daniels also knows instinctively what so many older people have experienced: that being young - and relatively inexpensive - gives her an edge. In the meantime, she lives cheaply. Besides her mortgage, her only bills are her utilities and a manageable student loan. And while she once loved to buy clothes, she's learned to window-shop. "It's okay to hang out at someone's house and watch Lost," she says. The hardest thing, given what she calls her go-go-go personality, is the downtime. "I hate sitting idly by," she says. "I can't stand it. Sometimes weekends were too long for me. So a month and a half with no work is, like, are you kidding?"

It helps, too, that she still feels passionate about her field. "I wanted to do something that really interested me," she says, "because I thought it's always better to do something that you love as opposed to just doing something that pays the bills." It would be nice, though, to have both.

Update

Daniels went back to work at Yahoo on Feb. 5. A community manager position opened up, and she was offered the job. Daniels had kept in touch with her former colleagues at Yahoo after being let go, which was key to getting her back through the door. "It's really important not to burn bridges," she says. Her new boss is someone she had worked with before, so it helped that he was familiar with her capabilities. She says it's taught her to always make a good impression because people are always paying attention to your work. Daniels is not sure yet exactly how her new job will differ from her old position. But she does know it feels good to be back.


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