Carolyn Lane's career tribulations fit the profile of a banker's hard luck-story.

The credit officer lost a job in 1992, when BankAmerica Corp. purchased Security Pacific Bank. She found work with First Interstate, but that came to an end when it merged with Wells Fargo & Co. on April 1.

But rather than panic about her job prospects in a consolidating industry, the middle-aged credit specialist is bullish. "I feel pretty optimistic," Ms. Lane said in a telephone interview from a First Interstate outplacement center in Los Angeles. "I see people getting jobs in my area."

Bankers, recruiters, and outplacement experts say that the 7,200 people who lost jobs from the Wells-First Interstate merger are benefiting from the comeback of the California economy. These bankers are also taking advantage of First Interstate's regional cachet, especially in consumerbanking. What's more, they are the beneficiaries of generous merger severance packages.

"It's a wonderful time to be out there looking, and being with First Interstate was definitely a plus," said former First Interstate executive vice president Daniel R. Eitingon, who lost his job as head of retail banking and technology.

Displaced First Interstate executives are "in a lot of demand," added Michael C. Bruce, a director in Los Angeles with executive recruiter Spencer Stuart.

Southern California thrifts are aggressively trying to grow their retail banking businesses, and are turning to displaced First Interstate employees for help. Indeed, Irwindale, Calif.-based H.F. Ahmanson, the country's largest thrift, in April ran ads specifically aimed at First Interstate bankers. It has hired more than 50 to date, including the former president of First Interstate's California banking unit, Bruce W. Willison.

Another Southern California thrift, Chatsworth-based Great Western Financial Corp., also is going after First Interstate bankers. In recent weeks it hired First Interstate's California retail chief Jaynie M. Studenmund and four of her chief lieutenants.

There is no definitive tally of how many displaced First Interstate bankers have found new jobs. A rough measure is the 300 or so who have asked to stop receiving monthly severance payments for a full payout of the balance they are owed - a requirement when they land another job.

Displaced bankers said the generous severance benefits, in which salaried employees get four weeks of pay and benefits for each year of service, and managers get a minimum of one or two years of pay, is giving them confidence that they can get by until another job comes along.

"With less severance, it would have been much harder," said former real estate appraisal chief Robert J. Wallstrom, who is using his payout to start a real estate consulting company.

But the generosity of the severance package is also causing a problem for Wells. Many managers there are pushing to get dismissed. "It's bizarre," said Wells Fargo human resources director Patricia R. Callahan. "I'm literally getting calls from people saying it's not fair, Wells Fargo offered me job. I don't want a job," she said.

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