Friday, July 08, 2011

Laid Off!

Three months ago I was laid off from the job I had worked at for more than 11 years. It wasn’t a huge surprise that there was to be another round of layoffs, given the company’s finances. I had survived many layoffs, but not this time.

In yet another cost-cutting measure, the company decided to get rid of almost all of its software developers. The two youngest were retained, but one of those soon left for another job. This sounds cruel to the more experienced workers, but it was likely for the best. Longer term workers had built up more leave and severance pay. Had the less seasoned guys been laid off, they could well have been out of money before they had new jobs.

Moreover, I had been blessed to work for an employer that offered a fairly generous severance plan. Along with getting my leave cashed out, I had enough money to last for a couple of months.

I was one of the very few fortunate ones. Even as I sat in my manager’s office, I was offered a temporary four-to-six month position at another of the company’s offices doing exactly what I had been doing. Maybe the position would eventually become permanent; maybe not. But at least I could search for a new job while still being employed.

While this was a tremendous blessing, it was also a bit of a challenge. The moment I arrived home, I initiated my job search. My job searching activities became a second job to which I applied myself with great energy. Some of my former co-workers had been pro-active enough to already have job interviews lined up.

I soon discovered that it wasn’t terribly difficult to get a job interview. The information technology sector is one of the few parts of the economy that has picked up. Many companies are looking to technology to help them cut costs and reduce the need for other types of workers. I had my first interview just two days after being laid off.

But I quickly found that actually getting to the point of receiving a job offer can be quite challenging, especially for a developer with my level of seniority. Many employers are looking for junior level developers, which are much cheaper and often more flexible. The employers that are looking for experienced developers tend to want very specific skills. They tend to want highly skilled, narrowly focused gurus rather than broad-based steady workers.

Prospective employers are also not very keen on hiring into a more junior position someone that has been used to working at a senior level, even if you are willing to work for less pay. They suspect that you will be gone the moment a better paying job comes along.

The whole hiring process is very similar to dating and courting. Interviews are like dates. Both the employer and the applicant are testing the relationship to see if it is something that feels like a good fit.

I walked out of some interviews feeling that it had gone badly. I walked out of others expecting a callback that never came. I walked out of some hoping that they weren’t interested in me because I certainly wasn’t interested in them. Some interviews went well, but ended with the realization that it was not a good fit. Frankly the whole process was challenging and frustrating.

As far as I.T. workers go, I discovered too late that it is likely better to pursue job offers through recruiters. Recruiters make money from successfully placing applicants in jobs. They develop relationships with hiring managers, so they have contacts that are difficult for applicants to develop on their own. They are able to finesse situations and present a better picture of the applicant, even if the applicant isn’t particularly adept at interviewing.

But recruiters are essentially sales people. Some can tend to paint too optimistic of a picture. Many are just looking to bolster their next paycheck. If they can’t immediately place you, they drop you like a hot potato. Some, on the other hand, are very good at what they do.

I found that it can be a mistake to just start applying willy-nilly on positions announced on job websites. Many of those go into some ethereal file that no one cares to ever look at. Another problem is that recruiters usually can’t represent you to a potential employer if you have already applied there on your own.

A good approach would be to develop relationships with several recruiters and to continue to look for jobs on your own. If you find something you’re interested in, you could shop it to your recruiter pool to see if any already have a contact at the firm.

On the other hand, some employers refuse to work with recruiters. By chatting with recruiters you can find out which companies those are, so that you can apply there on your own. Recruiters often know enough about a company to give you a feel for the company’s culture. You can get an idea of how well you might fit into the organization.

A very important avenue that should not be overlooked is to ask everyone you personally know for help in finding a job. You never know when a friend, family member, or acquaintance might have a contact that could lead to a job. Most jobs come through networking with people. In fact, you should pursue your job search from every possible angle, because you never know where your next job might come from.

Following advice of a job coach, I created an email ‘newsletter’ to all of my personal contacts. I then spammed them with an email message that had my resume attached. A few responded: some with opportunities and some with encouragement. I later found that others had prayed for me. Interestingly, this little newsletter eventually led to my new job, although, the process took a while.

Along the way, I worked with a professional job coach that helped me bring my resume into the 21st Century. I found that it is good for someone with multiple skills to keep various resume versions that highlight specific skills. Employers looking for narrow skills often care little about the other skills you have developed. In some cases, having those skills on your resume can hurt you, because it looks like you are not specialized enough for the position they have open.

A couple of months before being laid off, I had obtained a smartphone. Up until then, I had been just fine with a “feature phone” (aka “dumb phone”). But I found that the smartphone offered many features that proved extremely helpful during my job search, including immediate email and Internet connectivity.

After nearly a dozen interviews, I interviewed with a firm that seemed like a natural fit for me. Moreover, the opportunity had come through an old Scouting buddy, who worked in the company’s I.T. department. I was grateful when an H.R. representative called to offer me a position.

Unfortunately, the offer was far below what I felt I could accept. We dickered, but we were still so far apart that we concluded that we couldn’t make it work. I was disappointed, but continued with my search. A couple of weeks later, I was surprised when the H.R. representative called and offered me the lowest amount I said I could accept. My wife and I took a day to consider the offer before accepting it.

I have been at my new job for a month now. It is challenging, but it is also a great job. Frankly, I took a serious pay cut from my former position. Some of the benefits are a far cry from those I used to have. But in many ways, the work is better. And the shorter commute makes up for some of the shortfalls.

It has been common since the start of the recession for workers losing their jobs to be rehired at jobs that don’t pay as well. So I suppose that I’m simply part of the new workplace reality. Still, I’m not complaining. I am very grateful for my job. We have made a few sacrifices to make our budget work, but I am ever so pleased just to be employed.

As I said, I am one of the fortunate ones. Although I was laid off, I was never really unemployed. I got severance pay and a temporary job from my former employer that helped me bridge the gap until I could settle in a new permanent job.

The weeks that I spent in job search activities weren’t very fun for me. As I wrote above, the job search was challenging and frustrating. But I applied myself to it as if it were another job. I worked very hard following up leads, making phone calls, sending emails, interviewing, searching for jobs, etc.

I worked at it so much that it was kind of odd when I accepted my new job. All of that activity abruptly stopped. I suddenly had all of those hours available for other stuff. It was a huge relief, but I strangely found myself missing it for the first few days. I was surprised at how rapidly my stream of incoming emails and phone calls dried up. Life is more peaceful now.

I waited a month to write about this because I wanted to settle into my new job. I now know what it takes to find a job in this job market. It requires a serious approach, a lot of work, flexibility, and some good luck. I am grateful that it all worked out for me.

No comments: