So, you lost your job? Here’s how I handled my recent unemployment.
I recently lost my job after moving from California to Utah. It sucked, but I wanted to handle my unemployment differently. I wanted to be deliberate about how I handled my experience. I wanted it to be a period of fun personal development and reconnecting with my family and self.
Here are the steps that I took during my recent funemployment. The timeframe I spent on each one might differ than what you need. I also understand that some of these tactics aren’t applicable to everyone.
Step 1: Breathe and be alive
Just calm down for a minute and breathe and realize that there are a lot of logical reasons you lost your job. It isn’t necessarily a reflection of your ability and it’s certainly not an indication that you don’t have a future. I mean, hell…Oprah lost her job once and look at her now.
The initial reaction for a lot of people when they get laid off or fired is to go home and start the job search. I rejected that notion.
The first two things I did was call my best friend (before my wife because I wanted to be on-center when I talked to her) and then my wife. I reminded her of all the things we’ve overcome and made sure she knew this would be no different. I let her cry and told her the best thing she could do is not feel the need to be strong amidst uncertainty. I wanted us to both be authentic and bare during funemployment.
I had a weird situation where I was supposed to go to work for a few days after my layoff because we were notifying other people. I actually asked one of the designers at work to make me a shiny new resume, jokingly, but he did for me anyhow. (Thanks, Jayden Anderson.)
The key was that I didn’t go out there and start frantically applying to jobs.
I tried to laugh a bit. I stayed up too late, woke up too late, snacked a bit too much, but used that time to just let go of the rigidity that oftentimes follows me when employed. I went on hikes. I read more (I’ve read seven books in the last six weeks). I went and grabbed coffee with people I’d neglected because of work. I met new people for the hell of it. We even took an impromptu trip to Breckenridge.
Trust me. Do things that make you happy and feel alive. It’ll help.
You’ll want to repeat this step often during funemployment.
Step 2: Ask people that know you well to lend a hand
This step is REALLY important. Most good jobs out there are flooded with resumes. I didn’t want to apply to 100 places and only hear from 5 of them. I knew that that would be demoralizing and I needed to stay upbeat, enthusiastic, and confident. I didn’t want to go into an interview frail.
Referrals exponentially increase your likelihood to land an interview. Landing an interview exponentially increases your likelihood to land a job.
You can’t do this step on a whim. This step is only possible if you’ve made an investment in other people for several months or years prior. It’s relational and it’s a two-way street. When they need help, you NEED to be there for them. The focus of this investment can’t be “what can you help me with.” It needs to be “how can we build something meaningful together” long-term.
So, I emailed a few people that I knew could help– An investor at my previous company, an investor from a friend’s company, and a few entrepreneurs that I’ve built relationships with in recent months/years. Some of the people only knew me through Twitter, which is awesome. Thanks, Ev, Biz, and Jack.
I already had one interview set up when I got laid off, but that was mere happenstance. The rest of my upcoming chats were through introductions.
When my friends made the introductions, I replied promptly, personably, and with all the information needed to want me to come in– resume, Linkedin, references, and a few examples of projects I’ve worked on.
Thus began the pipeline of selling myself. But, if not for the next couple of steps, I knew I’d be selling myself short.
Step 3: Extend Your Runway
I recently listened to an episode of This American Life where this beautifully melancholic British guy talked about how most people make the wrong marital and career decisions because they make them too quickly.
Having just been laid off, I didn’t want to make the wrong decision AGAIN with my new workplace, so I had to figure out how to extend my runway. Rather than having four weeks to make a decision, I wanted to figure out how I could have four months to make it if I needed.
I was lucky. Someone had already reached out with an offer to consult with his company. All it took was us sitting down over breakfast later to come to an agreement (and extend my runway).
It might not be that easy for you, but here are some things you can try:
- Email companies you’ve worked with in the past to see if they have any contracting needs
- List your spare bedroom on Airbnb (Maybe your landlord finds it and gets pissed and asks you to stop, sure. It’d still be better than missing rent)
- Drive for Uber/Lyft
- Sign up for Upwork
It doesn’t really matter (unless you’re committing felonies) how you extend your runway. It’s temporary.
Your goal with this step is to make time an ally, not an enemy and the only way to do that is to make sure you have enough money to survive while job-hunting.
The key is to make sure that extending your runway still affords you a substantial amount of time for interviews and the other rigors of the job-hunt. By the end of my second week, I had three consulting offers. I only accepted one.
Step 4: Get Introspective
I waited to get introspective until after these others things took place because I didn’t want my introspective thoughts to lead me down negative tunnels. I wanted to make sure I had the time and flexibility needed to search my soul.
I didn’t want it to feel rushed. This is my soul we’re talking about here!
This introspection period isn’t just about work. We need to stop that dichotomy. Success at work and home are connected. Your questions need to focus on all areas of your life.
- Why do I wake up and go to work every day?
- What do I want in a company?
- What motivates me to do my best work?
- How do I work best?
- What are the things that are big red flags to me?
- Where do I want to see myself in years to come?
The most important thing about introspection is that you find out a lot about yourself which will serve you a lot longer than this job likely will.
Here are a few of the answers I came up with during my own introspection:
- I wake up every day because I want to provide a healthy, sustainable life for my wife, son, and I.
- I want to build a product that makes earth seem more like heaven than hell. A product that gives a voice to the voiceless or empowers people to escape the margins of society.
- I want to work with a team that is motivated by not knowing the answer. The problem urks them so much they will fight to no end in solving it. I want them to have a high-level of trust and autonomy. I want them to take work seriously, but not themselves.
- Money is not a motivator for me beyond my basic needs. Most importantly, I won’t take a job that puts me in a situation where my salary would marginalize others around me. I want to be an equal not an outlier.
- I’m motivated by having slightly more asked of me than my current ability. Learning is in my DNA. If the role doesn’t require me to stretch, I won’t sprint for the company.
- I want a job that allows me to get to know Sallie and Jebediah more every day. That understand that my family is far more important than the bottom line.
This step was the most important for me because it turned something chaotic into something that helped me regroup, recharge, and get focused on the right things in life.
Step 5: Blitz-interview
I didn’t want my interview process scattered over a wide-ranging period of time. That’d leave me with FOMO that I received an offer from one place, but haven’t received one from that other place yet and all of those existential questions.
So, what I did was try to coordinate all of my interviews. I asked how many steps there we in the process for most companies so I could coordinate second chats around the same time. This increased my likelihood to receive offers from several companies at once (if that situation arose).
Because I had runway, I knew I didn’t have to accept of the jobs I was currently interviewing for if they weren’t the right fit, but I still wanted to optimize for not having any fear of missing out. I knew that would skew my decision-making.
There were days that I was doing three or four interviews and driving 75 miles back and forth, but it was nice because things culminated around the same time.
It is tiring and, frankly, boring as hell. You end up having the same conversation several times a day. You’re worn out by the time you get home.
Most of the steps thus far are about FLEXIBILITY. This step is no different. You’re more likely to make the right decision about your job if you have flexibility due to more runway, multiple offers around the same timeframe, and a clear true-north about what’s important for you.
But, that next step…that’s where the magic happens.
Step 6- Get data-informed about your offers
I researched most of the companies I talked to before our interviews but took it to another level once I received my offers. I asked for five to seven days to consider my options. Most were happy to comply. If they weren’t, I was ready to tell them that I decline their offer.
A company rushing you to make a decision is likely a red flag that they won’t support your process once you work there.
Further research the companies you’ve talked with. Talk to people you know there, people that have quit there. Look on Glassdoor. Etc. Don’t just focus on the companies themselves, focus on the problem that the company is solving, and more.
One of the most important things I did was reach out to a few people that have been in similar situations as me. I knew that one acquaintance had gone from a smaller company (like me) to a larger company (like one of my offers) and I wanted to see how he handled it and how it transformed him. I knew that two friends outside the tech industry would have a totally different perspective about it. I knew that my wife would make me think about it in a totally different problem. I spoke daily with Bart Elison who was also going through joblessness to make sure my thinking (and his) was on the right track.
You have people in your corner. Don’t forget that.
I’m a Christian (despite all the cussing, tattoos, and alcohol), so I also spent time praying about it. I spent time meditating on the introspection from a few weeks earlier. Who am I? Why am I here in Utah? How can I contribute meaningfully to the things I care about most and what in the hell are those things anyway? I prayed for clarity. I sat in silence. It worked.
I had several offers at the end of my three weeks of interviews. Two were in the “oh my gosh, how could I turn this money down range” which I knew would likely skew my decision-making.
I needed to make sure money wasn’t my primary focus. A friend at church told me to go and donate some money to a nonprofit I care about THAT DAY to recalibrate my thinking about finances– to remind myself that money is not happiness or an ends, but a means of making this earth look more like heaven than hell for some people with intense need.
My wife and I didn’t mention money when we were sitting down to have our final discussions.
We focused on the learnings from our introspection. We came up with a list of concerns we had about each company. The next day, I reached out to each company with my concerns to allow them the time to address them. I didn’t want to make a decision based on a story I was writing in my head.
Step 7- Accept the job that makes your heart sing
Don’t worry about the money (unless it can’t make ends meet). Don’t worry about the how it’ll impact your resume. Worry about the song in your heart. The older you get the quieter and shorter that song will be.
Think about whether the job fits your needs, will make you a better person, and will provide for you in the way you need it to. Think about the introspection.
And if you’ve found the place that makes your heart sing, tell them as soon as it’s clear to you. Share your song with them. Don’t wait. Belt it out.
As for the places that didn’t make your heart sing, inform them of your decision promptly too. They invested time in you over the last few weeks and you owe it to them to be up front about your decision and why you made it. If they extended an offer to you, they took a leap of faith. That should be humbling even if you don’t accept. Make sure they know that you feel that way. You never know where things may take you in the future and you want to make sure that even though you aren’t working together today, it won’t be weird if you’re working together tomorrow.
Now, as for me and my decision, I found a place that makes my heart sing. You’ll find out about it someday soon. This isn’t one of those “Personal News” Medium posts ;)
- Breathe and laugh.
- Ask for help.
- Buy some time.
- Get introspective.
- Interview like your life depends on it (because it kind of does).
- Get data-informed about your choices.
- Accept the job that makes your heart sing.
If you or someone you know is currently looking for work, let me know. I’d love to help out in any way possible. I’m in your corner.
Also, if you’ve taken a different approach with joblessness before, I’d love you to share your method.