Over the course of my career, I’ve weathered economic downturns and corporate restructurings. But my never-laid-off streak was broken this Spring when — two months after moving to Chicago for family reasons — my job was abruptly eliminated. I am unemployed for the first time in my adult life… in a city I barely know, without friends or first-hand professional contacts.
The news wasn’t a complete surprise; my company had been undergoing cost-cutting and reputational difficulties for some time. Call it a hunch… but I spent conservatively during my move, renting a two-bedroom apartment but not investing in guest room furniture right away.
Now I have one furnished bedroom… and one spacious storage room, complete with windows, wall-to-wall carpeting and A.C. (So far, weekend guests have graciously accepted the pullout sofa in the living room, without complaint.)
It’s not been easy, but involuntary unemployment has its advantages. First and foremost, it has allowed me to spend a long weekend each month with my mom, who is recovering from a series of strokes. No matter how my next chapter turns out, I will never regret this time spent closer to her, and my dad.
I’ve notched nearly six months “in the market”, and have picked up a bit of job search wisdom along the way. When it’s all over, I’m sure I’ll have more. Some of these felt like lucky epiphanies. Others are hard lessons I’m still learning.
Keep Calm: The story of my job loss was mine to tell (or not). Friends and colleagues were indignant on my behalf, and it could be tempting to let loose. I have chosen my candid moments with former colleagues carefully, and had them sparingly. My composure and professionalism (or lack of it) in the face of challenge will follow me long after I’ve started my next job.
Layoffs can make survivors wonder if they will be next. That stress can bring out the worst in people, so there will be gossip among those less secure, and less compassionate. It’s best ignored. They are telling THEIR story, not mine/yours.
Carry On: Aspects of temporary joblessness feel like blessings to me: more time with family, freedom to be a Chicago tourist any day of the week, time to explore new professional paths without a full-time job as a distraction. I’ve received my share of pitying looks, and well-meaning friends panicking over the uncertainty I’m facing. I accept their empathy, without losing sight of MY truth… that change can be a gift.
Problem Solved: Luckily, I like solving challenging problems. And while I’d love to have found a job in my first few weeks of looking, I’m comfortable with incremental progress. It often takes six months or more to find the right corporate role. If I didn’t have weekly goals for myself, I’d feel pretty defeated right now. So, if you are an achiever-type who tends to focus mostly on ticking the BIG box as “complete”, you may want to approach your job search a bit differently.
Be Loud and Proud: I’m a private person, so this was a bit outside my comfort zone — but we all need help in challenging circumstances, and you never know where that help will spring from. For example, an acquaintance recently scored an informational interview at a very hot Chicago company he’s targeting, thanks to his wife’s personal trainer who made the introduction.
It may feel awkward, but have your elevator pitch down cold and share it with everyone you can. Tonight your building superintendent may introduce you to a new tenant who works at one of your target companies, who may in turn know of a role that’s perfect for you. (Supers know EVERYONE’S business.)
Psst… About That Elevator Pitch: Perhaps you live in a penthouse, but most of the world does not. I listen to some elaborate introductions chronicling every job the speaker has had for the past 20 years, and wonder, “How many floors are IN your building?” I suspect most of us start with a long-form approach, but don’t put as much effort into developing briefer versions. Don’t do this.
I recently attended a virtual networking event, with a stingy 400-character limit (including spaces) per chat window. Instead of using more than one window for my story, I condensed it. It felt freeing to lose the buzz words and fluff, and settle on… “This is who I am, and this is what I want.”
Recruiters, who were conducting multiple chats simultaneously, seemed to appreciate brevity.
K.I.S.S.: In other words, don’t overthink. Finding employment is critically important – it’s essentially a full-time job. With so much on the line, we tend to overthink and slip into analysis paralysis.
“The recruiter said they’d call on Monday. It’s Wednesday. Should I follow up?” (Answer: Yes)
“I got the hiring manager’s name from a former colleague. Should I reach out?” (Answer: Yes)
“I don’t have every qualification listed. Should I still apply? What if I only get one chance to be considered?” (Answer: Yes, apply. You don’t get just one chance. If you are rejected, a robot probably did it.)
After networking, should I send a thank-you note?” (SMH)
That last one gets me every time. Who doesn’t like to be thanked? Anyone who puts forth effort on your behalf deserves your gratitude. I’m sure your mother taught you that!
What’s more, a thank-you note is a diplomatic way to document next steps for your contact– making further introductions, or researching details of an internal job posting. (Please just avoid the expression, “Thanking you in advance.” A pet peeve, it makes me bristle every time.)
In that vein… THANK YOU for reading! I’m off on my daily virtual pilgrimage to LinkedIn. Today’s goals: two job applications and several InMail responses.
I still have a job to find. Onward!