The job crisis strikes top talent

April 6, 2009, 11:00 PM UTC

The job crisis is hitting closer and closer to home. I was struck by this story,  “This Time, Slump Hits Well-Educated Too” in Sunday’s New York Times. It mentions that New York City’s unemployment rate zoomed to 8.1% in February, from 6.9% one month before. And the prime victims are “an uncharacteristically well-educated group.”

I’m seeing the trend all around. Yesterday, my good friend, architect Eric Gartner, whose firm is SPG Architects, told me that he guesses that 25% of Manhattan architects have lost their jobs in the past year. And that’s on top of a slew of architects who left the profession before the downturn arrived.

Then there’s my friend Nicole Russell Didda, whom I visited in Larchmont, NY, this past weekend. Nicole was one of the best crisis PR people I know. (When I met her in 1995, she was defending former Sunbeam chairman “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap, now-imprisoned ex-Cendant chairman Walter Forbes, and former Oxford Health Plans CEO Steve Wiggins all at the same time.) Nicole spent the past decade in San Francisco–heading Edelman’s office there, holding senior positions at Oliver Wyman and Ketchum, marrying, having three kids. Now back east, she’s looking for a job in New York and hitting wall after wall after wall.

“Volunteer!” That’s one of the many pieces of advice that my colleague Jia-Lynn Yang gives in “How to Get a Job,” Fortune‘s current cover story. But Nicole even hit walls trying to offer her communications expertise to non-profits, when she went to websites like Volunteer Center and reached out to the American Red Cross and Planned Parenthood. “It’s one thing to not find a well-paying job in this market,” she says. “It’s another to find you can’t even volunteer!”

My sense is that non-profits are so understaffed now that they aren’t reaching out as they should to grab the high-grade talent out there for the taking. Speaking at a confab for not-for-profits last month, I noted that non-profits have an unprecedented opportunity. Another speaker, an IBM exec named Matt Ganis, talked about how non-profits can use social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn as well as Google to recruit volunteers. “If you’re not using them, shame on you!” he told the group.

Here’s one smart company jumping on the chance to tap unemployed execs: Heidrick & Struggles . The search firm just launched the Chief Advisor Network, which provides executive talent on a temp or part-time basis to companies not yet ready to hire permanent help.

More on that later. It’s my birthday, and I have to go celebrate…briefly…in between juggling my multiple jobs. I’m overworked already, and it’s only Monday!