I was laid-off from my job on Thursday October 1, 2009. Little did I know that same day would become one of the happiest days of my life.
Up until that Thursday, I was an Actuarial Consultant for a Big4 accounting firm in Chicago. This was my first job out of college where I stayed for almost two and a half years.
It was late afternoon that day and I was called in for a meeting. Sitting in the conference room with the Partner and the Head of HR, I had no idea what to expect as I thought this was going to be a casual meeting to discuss overall employee morale (during this period morale was low and was effecting the work quality of our entire group). However, out of left field, in the most direct and impersonal manner, the Partner told me I was to be let go. I will spare you the details on officially ‘turning in your badge’, but the hour consisted of signing papers and handing over my laptop. During this hour I was devoid of emotion and still trying to understand why I was the one chosen to be laid-off.
I walked out of the elevator into the main lobby heading for the door. I was in a daze. I heard my name. The person calling my name was a very good friend of mine who worked across the street. That afternoon she had a meeting in my building from which she was just leaving. I didn’t hear her. She called again. I turned my head, noticed her, and without stopping, gave her a half smile as if she were a stranger. In that same moment I also felt like a stranger in the very building I called my second home.
Now at the bus stop, I was still in a state of complete shock and waited for my bus to go home. Somewhere between the fifth or sixth stop the bus made, I snapped out of my haze. I was overcome by a sense of helplessness. I was surrounded by people who had purpose; people who had jobs to go to the next day. Everything I had known for the past two and a half years was taken from me. I defined myself as an Actuary and now a large part of my identity was gone. I felt lost.
Once at my apartment, I made the necessary call home. My mom was regularly concerned with me getting laid-off as she would hear about the economic recession on the nightly news. In the past, I would occasionally call her, and as a joke, tell her I was laid-off. Now I had to do the same, but this time break the unfortunate news to her.
HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING
As I talked to my mom she reassured me that everything would be ok and that what was happening wasn’t the end of the world. As if she was prepared for this very moment, she provided me the name of the website to apply for unemployment benefits and already had ideas on how to get me out of my 12-month lease in order for me to move out of the city and back home. After talking to her, I felt that I was over-blowing the situation, and thus, I recalculated my feelings according to how she was reacting. I, subsequently, made a few more phone calls to friends and family. By the third or fourth phone call, I was joking that this was the best thing to happen to me, as I wasn’t truly happy working there.
Excitement over came me. I saw all the opportunities to which I was now afforded. I entertained myself with thoughts that seemed impossible in the past. I could now travel for a month or two, go to graduate school, start a business, or move out west.
While the company I worked for provided a lot of professional opportunities, I wasn’t passionate about my work. Because I wasn’t personally invested in my work, I was disengaged and did not give the undivided attention certain projects required. I enjoyed the technical, analytical, and consultative nature of the work. However, I did not enjoy the context of the work. Given my lack of commitment in that industry, I knew I would not be able to grow in that career and that I needed a career change. However, passivity took over, and I did nothing as I had a cushy job that was I able to do without much effort. Getting laid-off was the kick in the butt I needed to finally pursue what interested me.
With plenty of savings and unemployment benefits coming in, I had no short-term financial worries. I had no mortgage, no family, no children; I basically had the same responsibilities as a teenager. I enjoyed my time off for the next couple of weeks and enjoyed Chicago. I made new friends and re-connected with old friends.
It was during those jobless weeks in Chicago that I decided to move to San Francisco. Never moving out west after college was a regret I always had. I was interested in a few specific industries and knew that the kinds of jobs that appealed to me were based out of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Planning on couch surfing for a month at two very good friends’ apartments, I flew over to San Francisco on December 2, 2009 and on December 3, 2009 I started my new job. My new job of course was to apply for jobs in a structured and systematic manner like any other job.
LANDING THE ‘PERFECT’ JOB
Changing careers in an economic recession was no easy feat, especially when I was trying to enter industries of which I had zero relevant professional experience. In periods of economic growth and boom, companies are more willing to take risks and hire over-experienced under-qualified candidates. During the state of the economy when I was applying, companies diligently chose candidates that had many years of relevant experience and who were over-qualified.
In an environment where hundreds (thousands for some positions) of candidates were applying for one position, I knew I had to apply an economies-of-scale strategy. Thus, began a numbers game. The more places I applied to, the more places I would interview at, and thus, the more offers I would ultimately get.
From December 2009 through February 2010, I spent roughly 4 out of the 7 days of the week in coffee shops, or in my home, actively researching companies, reviewing job postings, and applying to open positions. I would devote roughly 5 hours a day for said activities. If I had to cut a session short, I would make up for it by adding extra hours on another day. Effectively, I created a 20-hour work week for job hunting. Enforcing this policy allowed me to not only increase the number of jobs I applied to, but it also prevented me from feeling guilty when I wasn’t applying for jobs and enjoying my new home, San Francisco. At the end of my 3 month job hunting marathon, I had applied to 161 positions; this translates to roughly 1.8 positions applied to, per day, for three months. Doesn’t sound that daunting now does it?
I utilized numerous online job boards:
Even after applying a few filters (location, salary, years of experience, etc.), each job board will still list hundreds of positions. If you are able to devote a few hours and sift through the entire list in one sitting, then you’ve set yourself up perfectly for your next visit. When returning to the website the following day you can simply sort by ‘posting date’ and only review new items posted within the past 24 hours.
I won’t discuss any resume or cover letter tips and tricks I used because there already are enough websites that provide that information. However, the one piece of advice I will share is one that I think is crucial for success: It is imperative that you tailor each and every outgoing cover letter that supplements your resume. Each company and position you apply to is different from the next. You must understand the nuance of each company and review the qualifications of each position. Then, and only then, edit your existing cover letter to include and exclude items that are pertinent or irrelevant to the specific job. For me, this was possibly the most time consuming and exhausting part of the application process. Adopting this policy will increase your time commitment. I spent an average of 45 minutes to apply to a single position. I can almost guarantee that you will find yourself burnt out after a few weeks, and you will be tempted to attach generic cover letters to job applications. However, doing so renders your application almost useless as the recipient will overlook it for those that are more relevant and that showcase an understanding of the firm and/or position.
During my job hunt I meticulously kept a spreadsheet that contained all pertinent information regarding each position to which I applied. I kept track of:
-date I applied
-user name and password, if applicable
-source of job listing
-screen capture of job posting
-position id number
While many of these items seem obvious, I will elaborate on a few items. Knowing the date on which you applied is useful because it allows you to keep track of how long it’s been since you originally applied. If I applied via email, I would send a follow-up email in exactly two weeks if I hadn’t heard anything. It’s important to keep track of the user name and passwords you used to sign into the careers section of the company website or to access accounts you created on third-party job board websites. How many times have you forgotten your user name and password for a certain website? Now, imagine that you have hundreds of different accounts (an account with every company to which you’ve applied). Lastly, it is good practice to take a screen capture of the job posting as typically the positing will expire or be removed for various reasons. This will ensure that you have a copy of the position’s responsibilities and qualifications when preparing for possible interviews.
Once successful in applying for jobs, you will be bombarded with phone calls from employers. My personal rule was to NEVER answer any phone calls that I did not recognize. I would rather wait and listen to the voicemail. Once I gathered the information from the voicemail, I could review any information (i.e. review the job position if the employer wants to discuss my background or review my schedule if the employer wants to schedule an interview).
From mid-February through mid-March I was interviewing heavily. Of the 161 firms to which I sent applications, I was able to land 16 first-round interviews. This translates to a 10% success rate. Given that I had absolutely no relevant experience for the positions I was applying for, I thought 10% was high for someone in my case. Stemming from the 16 first-round interviews, I was able to secure roughly 40 second, third, and fourth-round interviews. This meant I had roughly 40 interviews scheduled over 30 days. This schedule was a little exhausting but the pressure was curbed by the fact that I never scheduled more than two interviews a day. Each interview required preparation time and focus. Therefore, preparing for three interviews would eat up too much time in a given day and could lead to confusing one position for another during an interview, which has happened to me.
From the original 16 first-round interviews, I was extended 5 offers – a success rate of 31%. On average it took roughly 2 months between me sending an application to the company extending an offer. It’s clearly a long process. Therefore, it wouldn’t be smart to apply to a handful of companies and wait around to see if they develop into interviews. I never stopped applying. Continuously applying allowed for me to have a steady stream of interviews. I kept applying to jobs up until the week I accepted a job offer.
Ultimately, I accepted an offer that leveraged my technical, analytical, and consulting skills combined with my interest in gaming. I accepted a Video Game Research and Consulting position at a small consulting firm in San Francisco. I honestly couldn’t think of a better job for me. Is it really the “perfect” job? I don’t know. I start in two weeks.