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I was recently laid off and, as such, had to search for my next employment opportunity. While it was not an unexpected departure, it still was, at times, very difficult, and most interestingly, exposed just how broken this country’s hiring process is. It also revealed something about myself personally and the about the value and strength of your network. Here’s what I learned during the process.
After successfully turning around a struggling business unit leading it to 2 years of increased growth and profitability and ultimately acquisition I was asked to leave.
This was no surprise to me as during / after acquisitions the leadership is often asked to leave. The only real surprise is that it took them so long. That said, I had actually never been through a layoff before. Sure, I’d laid off many people (and it always hurts to do so), but in the 19 years of professional work experience I’d never “lost” my job. I’d always transitioned on my terms – never the “company’s.”
So it was new world for me. And even though I was given a healthy severance package and had planned for these sorts of events, there was, at times, great doubt, uncertainty, anguish and frustration (especially at the hiring process in general).
Please note that I don’t mean for this post to be a sob story. It’s not. I was not one of the many people who’ve lost their job and had nothing to fall back on, or no severance, or didn’t see it coming, or was too old to get another job, etc. That wasn’t me nor do I claim any of that. For people going through those kinds of situations (like my dad did once) it’s far more difficult, brutal even, and gut wrenching. This is not about that. This is about exposing how broken the hiring process is and how important a few key things are when managing your career (like a personal network and your reputation) and I do share some personal perspectives.
What I learned during a recent job search
Before I dive into the 7 things I learned during my job search here’s a quick summary:
- Even if you know it’s coming…it sucks.
- Your network is one of the most valuable assets you have (and your reputation)
- The hiring process is completely and totally broken
- You will find out who your real “friends” are during a job transition
- Recruiters are largely useless
- Pre-negotiate your severance (if you can)
- Change is good
Ok, let’s deep dive into each of these topics.
Lesson 1: Even if you know it’s coming…it sucks.
Heavy is the crown and in a senior leadership role your job is always at risk and especially during mergers and acquisitions. This was my first senior leadership role, but I still knew this. And I knew THIS was coming. I thought I was ready. In fact, part of me was even a little hopeful that I could get “laid off,” collect a fat severance while working a new job (the double dip).
However, I put those plans on hold after getting to know my new boss a bit more and we made a pact that when it was time for me to go we’d mutually deal with it together (I wouldn’t leave and he wouldn’t punt me until we gave each other time). Thus, I put my job search on hold (I even turned down a couple of high profile roles (a COO and VP of Sales Role). I wanted to see where this would go.
In the back of mind, I knew it was “still coming” – but I thought that I could see it a bit more clearly. Turns out my boss got the boot too (and he did NOT see it coming). There’s a good lesson there.
So, in a way, I was a caught a little off guard. Sure, they gave me a severance (more on this in a moment) and were more than gracious to me on the way out, but it stung a little.
In fact, it stung a lot. To not be wanted is a painful thing. To be told that you are not needed (even when you know it’s coming) still sucks. And, if you are not careful some depression can set in.
Truth be told, I handled it pretty well – for the most part. But, there were a few days when it really really hit me. The prospect of not having employment to take care of my family is scary as shit. When you get 3 rejections from prospective employers in one day, it hurts. When one of your network connections doesn’t come through for you, you question yourself (and your network).
When your wife has surgery (and we’ve not hit our deductible yet) and also wants to send the kids to a more expensive school, plus you have a previously planned vacation on the books, you can get overwhelmed. I did. Briefly. And I snapped at my wife, unfairly taking out some of my shame and frustration on her. Not good.
I had a few days where I just moped teetering on the edge of depression.
Fortunately, prior planning (financial and network) helped mitigate this. And the response I got from my network of connections strengthened my resolve and belief in myself which brings me to my second lesson.
Lesson 2: Your network is one of the most valuable assets you have (and your reputation)
I had a boss once who told me reputation isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. I’ve since changed that to integrity isn’t everything, it’s the only thing, but I take his point. Managing your reputation IS a critical part of proper career management. Obviously, being a decent human being, a hard working employee and one who can deliver are some of the important things to work on when building a good reputation.
So is networking. Building a strong network of friends, colleagues, acquaintances and more is also critical. This is a skill I learned early in my career and have leaned on multiple times. In fact, the only job I’ve ever gotten that didn’t tap into my network was the job I got right out of the Marine Corps…and he hired me because I was a Marine.
During this recent job hunt I tapped the network hard and found some interesting things:
- The wider your network the better. And don’t just stay within your industry or you could pigeon-hole yourself.
- But don’t forget to go deep with a few key people. Truly meaningful relationships with a few key contacts can really pay off so invest time in a few key strategic relationships.
- Multiple contacts inside of an org is helpful (you don’t know how a single person in your network is viewed in your company)
- Don’t be afraid to ask your network for intros, contacts, etc (my new job came from my network where a contact I had knew the person at the new company and made the intro. Beforehand it was crickets, but his intro made the difference)
- Don’t forget to return the favor. Your network is a two way street.
One of the other interesting things I learned during this job search is that my reputation (which is good) gained me access to a secondary network. Oddly (and totally unexpectedly) I had several 2nd-level connections in my network (people I knew through someone else or who only knew me by reputation or maybe I just briefly met, but made an impact on) who came to me with leads for jobs.
I didn’t even seek them out…they went WAY out of their way to help me – completely unsolicited and based solely on my reputation. Completely blew me away. Very humbling.
Lesson 3: The hiring process is completely and totally broken
I could talk for days about this but one thing is clear: the pricing of recruiting and hiring employees is totally broken. Here’s a few things I have observed along the way.
- It’s agonizingly slow. Find the job. Apply for the job. Wait 2-3 days to maybe get a phone call. Then schedule a phone interview a week later. Then coordinate an in person interview 2 weeks later. Then wait to hear feedback for 2 weeks. Rinse and repeat. If you get the job, then it’s a background check, a start date in 2 weeks, etc. I get it. People are busy, but that severance starts to go quick when you realize how long it takes to actually go from unemployed to employed. It ain’t fast. And sometimes a slow company can LOSE a good candidate (this almost happened with the company I landed on…they move so slow I almost had to go in a different direction).
- BTW…this made me re-evaluate how much severance I should be giving to employees when I lay them off. Am I actually giving them enough time to get another job??
- HR applications forms are insane. The forms and tests these days are ridiculous. Trying to get your resume from your format into their format only to have them ask you to attach it anyway and/or have it attempt to convert it. JOKE. Why go through all of that work if they are only going to do a quick screen anyway (probably using a tool). I like what LinkedIn’s easy apply does. Just quickly apply and bam. I’d be fine with filling out the longer forms AFTER the pre-screen and if they want you to move to the next round, but going through so much nonsense up front is a waste of everyone’s time.
- You often get no responses…total radio silence. The shocking lack of communication from companies is well…shocking. Apply for a job, get automated response. Hear nothing. I get it, maybe it’s a scale thing (4000 applicants and they can’t let each one get a personalized email), but how about at least an auto-email. Thanks, but no thanks.
- Good candidates get missed. It’s one thing to not hear anything on a job you are partly qualified for, but to hear nothing on a job you ARE qualified for is irritating. I know for a fact I was a strong candidate for several roles. I literally met every single requirement, but total crickets. And because I had no network in place for those roles I had nothing to fall back on to get past the HR lady. Too bad for those companies, I think they missed out on a good candidate.
- Companies still ghost you. I am shocked that this level of un-professionalism still exists. You get a few rounds in w/ a company, then not even the courtesy of a “hey thanks, but no thanks.”
- It’s often a one-way street. The balance is tipped in the favor of the HR / Hiring department. And they know it and act like it. There is a small amount of arrogance in this entire process and sometimes it’s a huge amount. This may just be how it is, but I don’t have to like it. Especially in an economy like we have now.
- Job descriptions are still poorly written, wordy and hard to decipher. There are some companies who totally get this right. They write a simple job description and you can understand it. Other’s get caught somewhere between having to share an internal legal document that’s been converted to a job description of sorts that’s impossible to really understand. I don’t understand why companies don’t use plain English more.
- HR remains a gatekeeper and middleman. I used to tell my HR departments to send me EVERY resume…not just the ones they THINK I need to see. I want to see them all. I’d love to see HR get out of the way more and let candidates connect with the hiring managers directly.
All of this sort of proves my point though. Because the hiring process is broken you can’t count on it. Instead, you need to count on your network and your reputation. I suggest you simply recuse yourself from all of this madness as much as possible and make sure you have marketable skills, a strong network and don’t do shitty work.
Lesson 4: You will find out who your real “friends” are during a job transition and how good your reputation actually is
When you lose your job and you the process of looking for a new one your network (ad noted above) is critical. What’s also interesting is that it is an opportunity to find out who your real connections / friends are.
I had several connections / friends / colleagues who apparently have been giving me lip service but when it came down to it, they didn’t help at all. On the other hand I had several who not only helped, but went above and beyond. For example, there was one colleague who upon hearing offered to pull himself out of the running for another internal job that we were both qualified for. I was BEYOND shocked and grateful, and turned him down. Those are the kinds of connections / friends you want.
I have some friends (and former bosses and colleague) who owns a small firm. They went out of their way to offer me a role…and really stepped up. They didn’t have to, but they did. And they stepped up in a big way (offering salary commensurate with the cost of living in CA). Ultimately, I passed (and it was a HARD decision) for a different role that offered almost $60k +/- a year more in compensation. But it meant SO MUCH that this company and those friends would COME THROUGH for me. You know who are are and I am grateful. I can only hope I do the same for them.
Use times like this to evaluate the strength (or weakness of your network). File away for safekeeping the kinds of responses and assistance you do or don’t get. Work on the ones you need to, discard the ones you don’t need, thank the ones who did their part and look for ways to pay them back.
Lesson 5: Recruiters are largely useless
This might be a controversial opinion, but it is my opinion so I am gonna share it anyway. Recruiters are largely useless. There I said it.
I maintain a relationship with a few recruiters and tapped into them during this process. They came up with squat and didn’t do much for me in the way of trying as far as I could tell.
And, to add insult to injury I started paying attention to the numerous recruiter emails I get (most of which are literally spam) and I noticed some interesting things. Many (not all) recruiters have literally no idea who they are reaching out to. I got (and still get) many emails for jobs that literally have nothing to do with what I do (or can do or did). It’s clearly just laziness on their part.
I don’t mean to say that all recruiters are bad, but with a few exceptions my experiences (on both sides hiring and getting hired) has been soured.
Lesson 6 Pre-negotiate your severance (if you can)
Easier said than done, but before I took my last gig (the one I was laid off from) I pre-negotiated a guaranteed parachute. Smart move on my part. For higher level positions this is common. Lower level, not as much.
But it can’t hurt to ask. The bigger your severance the longer you can survive a job transition. That coupled with what the experts suggest should be 3 months of salary can create a reasonable enough cushion to ride out a meaningful job gap.
Lesson 7: Change is good
I happen to love change. My default setting is to embrace and even seek out change. During a job transition you have an opportunity to make some radical change. For example, by switching companies I am able to double dip (severance + my new salary). Now I can pay down some debts.
Changes like these can also force or spur you into growth. What skills do you need to learn? What areas of weakness do you have and how can you fix them? Embrace the change and make improvements for the better.
Bonus Tip: Plan for this
I’ve highlighted this a little bit above, but I want to be clear. You should plan for and expect these kinds of things. Whenever possible, save up 3 months of salary (at least) and make sure it’s liquid. Be sure to pay attention to the way the winds are blowing in your company and always assume you are not safe. Prepare yourself emotionally, financially, mentally and professionally for these kinds of changes. It could be the difference between surviving and thriving during them.
Bonus Tip: Don’t take the first job
When facing the prospect of unemployment don’t take the first job (unless you know it’s literally the most amazing offer you will ever get). It can be tempting to lock down something asap and settle for less money or title or whatever, but you could miss out on an even better job if you are patient.
Bonus Tip: LinkedIn is great, but skip the premium service
I’ve had the LinkedIn Premium service and it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. IMO, it’s not worth the extra money (and it’s pricey). Focus on your network, reputation and staying current. The basic LinkedIn features are MORE than adequate.
I’ve since landed a new role, ironically within the same company (and a huge step up) and I am excited to take this next step. It will be yet another travel-job which will give me the opportunity to keep writing about the sometimes inglorious life of the business traveler and I hope you become a regular reader.
Be sure to check out my life changing post Do Something Even If it’s Wrong – the Best Career Advice I’ve Ever Received
Happy job hunting or career building – wherever your are.
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