To Find a Job, To Find Myself
My quest to find a job I wanted when I didn’t know what I wanted.
In early spring of this year I lost my job. In fact, everyone in my business unit lost their job. We had steady sales but a weak pipeline and threats to our little upstart from incumbents loomed. We had reached a point where our parent company needed to double-down on our product roadmap or cut bait and invest elsewhere in the company; the latter option was chosen.
During the two weeks after I laid everyone off and closed down the office, I went from being stoic in the face of a rational business decision to deeply hurt and frustrated. I had been at this company for seven years, transitioning from a senior engineer at a startup in a heater-less garage to general manager of a business unit of a 60-year-old multinational with a door on my office. As I walked through the building tagging assets, throwing away prototypes and putting hundreds of design documents into the shred box, I had visual reminders of everything we had accomplished over that time. We had put so much energy into this work, running up until the last minute, and now it was only worth the price of our test equipment in the resale market. I practically ran from the office on my last day, not yet realizing there was no map to get me from where I was to where I needed to go.
I had not really had to look for a job in a decade, thanks to a mix of being recruited and dumb luck. But I am no longer an entry-level engineer looking for something vaguely to do with cars or bikes anywhere in the world. I am a mid-level executive with a passion for battery product development and firm roots in my community. After probing the scant local offerings, I begrudgingly began to realize I had a lot of work to do.
For me, it all started with a LinkedIn update. I found a really helpful guide to making updates when unemployed (many of the tips apply even if you are employed but looking for a change.) Even with this guide, it still took me about three hours to update LinkedIn. Distilling my career and personality into keywords and meaningful highlights felt both braggadocious and inauthentic. However, it did serve as a self-discovery exercise, bringing to light a couple of key priorities. For me, I realized that I wanted to make things, to develop a product, and I wanted that product to have something to do with the alternative energy. I was struggling with whether I should pursue a job in testing services (think vibration and thermal testing) for which I was being recruited and this focus helped me accept that it wasn’t a good fit. Expanding my search beyond the narrow field of batteries also invigorated me.
With a bit of bounce in my step, I dove in and began to immerse myself in the community I wanted to join. This morphed into the elusive implementation phase that bedevils us as we move from where we are to where we want to be. Beyond obvious stuff like tailoring my resume and cover letter, I began forcing myself to take small, but deliberate action towards finding a job everyday.
- I subscribed to newsletters and actually read every article. This gave me context for how the industry functioned, what was in flux, and how I could be involved.
- I started using Twitter again so I could follow influential people. I even started tweeting, not because I was influential myself, but because it forced me to pinpoint my interests with salience.
- Every time I came across an interesting company, I would check their careers page and try to set up a call or coffee meeting with someone via LinkedIn. Usually, people would accept my connection request but would not follow up with a meeting. For those who did, I gained invaluable insight into their company and viewpoint and usually left with a couple of suggestions for new companies to consider.
- I refined my story and told it to everyone. Be it a more formal conversation like a coffee meeting or a quick intro at a party, I became prepared to give my elevator pitch. I literally practiced this in the shower, responding to imaginary questions to make sure I didn’t waste an opportunity to make an impression. I even put this story to use on paper, using it as a foundation for more engaging cover letters and intro emails.
- I stalked conferences. I found a couple of relevant conferences, made a spreadsheet of the exhibitors and presenters and catalogued what they did and who I should talk to. I then used LinkedIn to coordinate coffee meetings with people outside the conference. I paid $124 for a one-day trip to Vegas and essentially had three job interviews. Grueling, but worthwhile.
- I started writing. I already had a personal/professional website, but I needed content to keep it fresh. Writing provided a way for me to refine my image and my trajectory while developing and projecting expertise within the industry. It also gave me something to post on LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. to stay relevant.
- I went to loads of events. I attended our local Startup Week, industry-related meet-ups and even webinars. These are great as both networking and learning opportunities.
- I took every meeting and every interview. Aside from the obvious networking potential, you will learn about yourself and what you like in a company. For example, in an interview for a director-level position, my potential boss forgot our original appointment and was fifteen minutes late for our rescheduled appointment. The company had a great mission statement, but it was a red flag for me about their culture.
After several weeks of what felt like endless churning, my buckshot approach began to catalyze into opportunity. A coffee meeting with someone I found through LinkedIn turned into an interview after his co-worker saw me in the audience at a panel discussion. Someone I met at a conference commented on an article I wrote, which led to a fast-track recommendation within his company. Ultimately, a conversation with an old friend turned into an interview, during which my newly gained industry knowledge led the company to shift personnel internally so they could hire me into an even better role. A few weeks later, I started a product position at an energy efficiency company, meeting both of the criteria I defined once I became serious about my search.
To be sure, I did not enjoy looking for a job. I had tied up a lot of my self-image in my job and found it challenging to unravel my ego from my priorities. However, I have come out the other side not only with gainful employment, but a sense of ease that I am where I want to be. I am now endeavoring to continue exploration and charting the territories for wherever my career takes me next.