I first wrote about my experience navigating a job search following a layoff in 2017. While it became the most popular post in this blog’s history, some people noted that it was focused more on perspective and attitude than on practical tips for finding a new job. They were right, so with gratitude for the feedback I’ve decided to update the post with strategies and tactics I’ve learned during a job search I completed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
First, a bit about my background. From 2006-2015, I worked for Microsoft and Nokia, two of the largest companies in the world. During that time, I survived layoffs exceeding a staggering 50,000 people, enough to fill a large stadium. Having survived all of these cutbacks, I decided to get startup experience in 2015. For the last five years, I’ve been the top marketer at two startups in ad technology and just accepted an offer to join a new company in early 2021.
Here is a summary of the approach I’ve taken to landing the last three jobs I’ve had. At the core of my approach is becoming what I call “un-unemployed.” I hate the word “unemployed.” It suggests a lack of value and idleness, yet the term can be thrown around casually and frequently enough to infect our perception of self-worth. That’s why reversing it is so important. Becoming un-unemployed means putting things in perspective, shedding any sense of stigma that comes with not working, seizing control of the inputs you can manage and letting the outputs fall where they may, and renewing a sense of purpose that extends beyond work.
First things: Negotiating terms of separation
You can negotiate the terms of your separation, so even if you hate the thought of a back-and-forth and even if the potential gains are limited, do it for your family. A successful outcome can give you a win and therefore momentum as you head into the search for something new.
My great-great-great grandfather, James B. Weaver, fought for the Union Army in the Civil War and saw heavy combat in the western theater. Here is an excerpt of a letter he wrote his wife following the battle of Ft. Donalson in February, 1862:
“The morning of the 15th dawned cold and desolate and everything looked as forbidding to us as the grave. Early in the morning of that day, the battle began to rage with great fury on the right wing and lasted until about two o’clock when General Smith rode up to our regiment and informed them that he expected the left wing of our Regiment, including our company, to charge the breastworks of the enemy about four hundred yards distance from us in full view. These works were situated on the brow of a very steep hill. Several other regiments had made the attempt to storm the well planned works of the enemy before and had failed with terrible loss.
“We were ordered not to fire a gun until we had driven them from their works. We were to use the bayonet. The command of “forward march” was given, and at quick time we moved forward to the terrible slaughter and to a more wonderful triumph. Presently we came within short range of the enemy’s trenches when they opened upon us a terrible and deathly cross fire. All around us and amongst us flew the missles [sic] of death and all around and on every side of us men were falling in the agonies of death. Now on my right falls the brave Capt. Cloutman, here on my right Lieut. Harper, before me the gallant Shaymaker waves his sword and shouts, “On for the Union,” and falls to rise no more. Behind me Major. Chipman sinks under a heavy wound, and here and there and everywhere around me fall many of our own Company and a score or more of those belonging to our gallant regiment.
“But on we went without firing a gun or saying a word except those of cheer to our men, until we gained the works and with an awful yell we leaped into the midst of the enemy and here our revenge began. And such a holocaust to the demon of battles! Everywhere could be seen the enemy falling in death while ever and anon some of our own boys would lay down and give up the ghost.”
Going through a job search brings rejection for most of us and dark thoughts that come with discouragement, but all of us have ancestors who braved far worse than unemployment. Know that you’re endowed with a toughness that lives within and will be there when you need it.
Go where you can maximize your value
Each time I’ve looked for work, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many opportunities I’ve found on LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and via search alerts I’ve created, even during the pandemic. All that opportunity can distract a job seeker, however, from prioritizing those that give the best chance to maximize talent and experience. The key takeaway: go where you can create the most value. Hiring companies will size you up based in part by your expertise, seniority, industry experience, and company size. The more you can line these variables up with a new opportunity, the more likely you’ll get noticed, be fulfilled, and get paid what you’re worth.
Hone your skills
During my periods between work, I’ve looked for ways to keep my skills fresh. For me, that means public speaking, writing, and publishing.
My family and I are Roman Catholics, and I’ve attended daily Mass when I’ve found myself between jobs. I’m a lector, which means I read aloud from the Bible during the service. This gives me a chance to keep my public speaking skills sharp.
Moreover, giving voice to my hopes and fears through prayer brings me comfort. Hearing my worries aloud almost always makes them seem smaller than when they careen inside my brain. Being in the presence of the divine helps me calm my anxieties.
I’ve also taken to writing and publishing more content about marketing in this blog and my podcast. Writing and podcasting about interesting people has expanded my network, too.
Establish a personal connection with your target employers
Early in my job search, I faced a choice: network with companies that interest me regardless if they had a job that was right for me, or look for the right job first and then find a way to network my way to the company and hiring manager. If you have six months or more to conduct your job search, I recommend the former. Prioritizing companies over roles takes that kind of time but has a big potential payoff. If you need to find something sooner, focus on who’s hiring. Either way, you’re more likely to get noticed if you can find someone who can connect you to the company. Even if that person isn’t the hiring manager, often they can refer you to the right people.
Whenever I asked for a referral, I tried to be as direct as possible. I would write something like “Open to making an intro?” in the subject, include a link to the LinkedIn profile of the person I was trying to meet in the email, and include text that the person could copy and paste in a note to the person I was trying to reach.
If you haven’t been in touch recently with the person you’re asking a favor of, don’t worry. As long as you’re honest and sincere, most people will want to help even if you haven’t spoken or emailed in a while.
Can you find five hours a week to volunteer for something that matters to you? Maybe that means leading a special project at your kid’s school. Perhaps youth coaching is your thing. There could be a charity that needs you. You might have a friend who needs help with a work project that plays to your strengths.
In between jobs, I’ve led a geology project for my daughter’s class, coached basketball, gotten involved in village government, reached out to friends who were going through tough times, advised a couple of companies, and volunteered for tasks at church. In each instance, I emerged feeling useful, a positive feeling I carried into my job interviews.
Ask for help
Don’t keep your job search to yourself. Tell your family and friends. If any of them know of an interesting company or job, they’ll be eager to tell you. If you went to college, also notify the office of career counseling at your alma mater. Many of them offer alumni services at little to no cost, including resume review, access to online learning, and career coaching.
When I notified my network, a former colleague shared job hunting guides she received upon being let go and regularly sent me leads and encouragement. Another former colleague who transitioned to career coaching donated her time. A parent of one of the girls I coached offered me his career coaching services, too. A startup CEO met me on my last day at Ampush and introduced me to at least four new and helpful people. My closest friends became more frequent correspondents, writing, calling, texting, and Marco Polo-ing regularly.
Refresh your resume and LinkedIn profile
Even if you last updated your resume in the last year, you’ll want to give it a refresh to make a strong first impression. I worked with my business school to update my resume’s content, using language thought to be preferred by major tech employers. I then hired TopResume to write a new one for me. It cost less than $200 and took about three weeks to produce four drafts. The first draft needed a lot of rewriting, but by collaborating with my writer and relying on the resume work I did with my MBA alma mater I was able to get something that looked great and accurately captured my value in ways I would not have considered.
My new resume became the basis of a refreshed LinkedIn profile. Make sure your profile has an updated, professional photo. If you don’t have one, resist the urge to crop a photo that was taken at a wedding or reunion. Get a proper headshot instead. If money is tight, explore your local high school’s art program for students who are learning photography. As long as they know lighting and the basics of composition, they’ll be able to turn out something that looks great.
LinkedIn has a designation you can add to your profile called #OpenToWork. If you select this option, LinkedIn automatically adds a graphic to your profile photo. I used this designation for a couple of weeks and found myself fielding opportunities that were completely irrelevant. Instead, I used the setting that notifies only recruiters that someone is looking. This reduced the volume of inbounds that wasted my time. I also have found that I’m more likely to find my next job by establishing personal connections to hiring companies and managers through my network than by broadcasting that I’m open to new opportunities.
At some point, your job search will end. It can be worrying not to know how or when, but it will. Along the way, remind yourself of the good things in your life. When you’ve completed it, try emailing every person you notified or asked for help. You’ll probably find that many of the people you met along the way will be eager to stay in touch with you.
After I landed the job I’ll start in January, 2021, I emailed as many of the people I had contacted during my job search as I could. Several of them want to reconnect to hear how the new job is going. I’m a Gmail user, so I just snoozed those emails for a month or two in the future, making it easier for me to reconnect at the right time.
Paying it forward
If you follow this approach, you will have controlled much of what is controllable. The rest by definition isn’t up to you and isn’t worth worrying about, though in my experience, over time, good inputs lead to more good outcomes.
If you’ve read this far, perhaps you’re ready to embark on a job search of your own. If there’s something I can do to help, connect with me on LinkedIn.