When a big financial services firm cut its workforce at the end of last year, the manager of a small department was one of those out of a job.

Eight months later, he is still out of work. Although his company provided counseling on how to find a new position, and though he has obtained dozens of job interviews by working through his network of acquaintances and sending out resumes, he has received no job offers."Most of them just don't have openings," says the Bucks County, Pa., resident, 39, who asked for anonymity because he worries that publicity would scare off a potential employer. "They say they'd love to have someone like me if they had a position."

He hasn't yet lost his faith that there's a job out there for him somewhere. But as his severance pay and unemployment benefits run out - the two payments will keep him on the equivalent of full salary until Sept. 1 - he's beginning to doubt.

He is not alone.

The days when a retiring manager could expect a gold watch for 35 years of service, the golden post-war decades when American industry ruled the world economy and management positions were the most secure and most prestigious in business, are gone.

More than a decade of economic upheaval has left in tatters the old unwritten understanding that if a manager stuck with his company, the company would stick with him.

An estimated 1 million managers have lost their jobs in layoffs since 1979, as American industry has struggled to cope with a world oil crisis, deep recession, competition from Japan and a wave of takeovers.

Most of those managers, of course, eventually found other jobs, many with the help of professional outplacement-counseling services that often are provided for laid-off employees as part of their severance.

Even for those who get counseling, finding a new spot is rarely easy.

Many laid-off managers spend six months or longer searching for new jobs, and frequently wind up in lesser positions than they had, said Anthony P. Carnevale, labor economist with the American Society for Training and Development.

Carnevale estimates that at least one in three laid-off managers takes a job that pays less and has less opportunity for advancement than did the job that was lost.

And despite continued growth in the nation's economy, managers' prospects seem to have worsened slightly this year, according to a survey by Right Associates, a Philadelphia firm that is hired by corporations to help their laid-off managers and executives search for new jobs.

The survey covered Right clients who found jobs this year, even though they may have started looking last year. It found that:

-Among key executives, defined as those who make more than $100,000 a year, the median time for a job search this year is 24 weeks, up from 19 weeks last year. (Median means half the searches are longer than this, and half are shorter.)

-Senior executives, in the $60,000 to $99,999 bracket, have a median search time this year of 22 weeks, up from 19 weeks last year.

-Among middle managers, those earning $40,000 to $59,999, the median search time is 20 weeks, up from 18 weeks last year.

The longer search time may result in part from more generous severance-pay packages, said Virginia M. Lord, senior vice president of Right, who says informal evidence suggests that managers pace their job searches to use up most of their severance pay before starting work again. The Right survey discovered that key executives are getting about eight weeks' more severance pay this year than last, while middle managers are getting about four weeks' more severance.

But Right and other outplacement firms also see signs that management jobs are simply harder to get.

"Companies are making it more difficult to get hired," Lord says. "They are making sure there is strong justification to fill a position, and they are being more selective in who they hire. They know how painful it is to lay people off, and they are trying to make sure they don't have to do it again."

Swain & Swain Inc., a New York outplacement consulting firm, believes full-time jobs are so elusive that it advises displaced managers to become contractors, hiring themselves out as experts to help corporations with special projects. Between 20 percent and 25 percent of those counseled take this advice, says partner Robert Swain.

"There are more good people chasing fewer good situations than there were 10 or 15 years ago," says David R. Hamrick, vice president of Hay Career Consultants in Philadelphia.

While the total number of managers continues to grow, the pattern is for cutbacks in some industries to be offset by jobs added in different fields, Carnevale says. While the oil, steel, automobile, airlines and telecommunications industries were laying off, the fastest growth in management employment was occurring in real estate development, food service and hotels.

"You've got a mix-and-match problem," he says.

"A lot of a manager's expertise is what he's learned on the job, and that's not necessarily transferable to another company or another industry."

"Look what happened on Wall Street (after the Oct. 19 stock-market crash)," Hamrick said. "What line do you get into (when something like that happens)? There is no line to get into."

Although managers and executives have not been hit any harder by layoffs than other workers, Carnevale and others believe the psychological shock has been worse.

"Why this has been so bloody and painful for managers is that the implicit contract was lifetime employment, and that contract has now been broken," Carnevale says.

To be sure, most executives who are laid off eventually find new positions. Outplacement counselors such as Lord and Hamrick say many of their clients even find better jobs - jobs that pay more, have better promotion opportunities or are more satisfying.

Hamrick, former vice president of human resources at Clevepak Corp., is one of those. Eight months after he was laid off in 1983, during a company restructuring, he joined Hay and went into the business of counseling others. Although he doesn't make as much as he did as vice president of human resources at Clevepak Corp., he says the new job is more satisfying.

Another former manager who benefited from a layoff is Susan Schaefer Ingram, who founded a public relations company, Ingram & Picker Inc., after being laid off in 1983 after a merger. Outplacement counseling confirmed her inkling that she might be an effective entrepreneur, she says. Now, with clients that include Bell Atlantic Corp., Browning-Ferris Inc. and her former employer, her salary and benefits are higher than when she was laid off.

Once they are over the pain, and established in a new position - or even in a new career - many dislocated managers are even glad for the experience, Lord says, because it allows them to move in more satisfying directions.

At a recent cocktail party in Medford Lakes, N.J., Lord said, about 18 of the 60 guests told her that being laid off was the best thing that had ever happened to them.

But not all laid-off managers fare so well.

Take the former general manager of a small Philadelphia company who was let go after 37 years of service when new owners bought the company. He is now doing general sales and administration, "the same type of work I did 20 years ago, and I'm making less than half of what I made four or five years ago," he says. At 57, he's in a job that he hopes will be only temporary, and is looking for something better.

Statistics show that increasing numbers of men 45 to 65 years old - historically the pool from which most middle managers were drawn - are not working at all, though in some cases this may be because they have accepted early retirement.

At economic high points in 1974, 1979 and 1988, the overall unemployment rate was similar: 5.3 percent in 1974, 5.6 percent in 1979 and 5.4 percent in 1988. Yet at each successive peak of the business cycle, the unemployment rate among men 45 to 65 has risen, as has the percentage of men 45 to 65 who were neither working nor looking for work, according to Mark Zandi, an economist with the Wefa Group in Bala Cynwyd, Pa.

The unemployment rate among men 45 to 55, for example, was 2 percent in the second quarter of 1974, 2.6 percent in 1979 and 3.2 percent in 1988, Zandi said. For men aged 55 to 65, the jobless rate went from 2.2 percent in 1974, to 2.7 percent in 1979, to 3.5 percent in 1988.

Similarly, as the overall percentage of those over 18 who have jobs or are looking for jobs increased, the percentage for men in the 45-to-65 age group decreased. In 1979, 61.2 percent of all those over 18 were in the labor force; that number rose to 65.8 percent in 1988. But among men 45 to 65, the percentage in the labor force declined from 77 percent in 1974 to 69 percent in 1988.

These figures include all men, not just managers. "But I'd guess that some of that is due to the fact that managers can't find jobs now the way they did in the 70s," Zandi said.

One result of the wave of management layoffs, says outplacement counselor Hamrick, is that more managers are asking for and getting employment contracts - to shield them, at least a little bit, the next time an employer lays them off.