Expansion and contraction of the IT labor force in MidWestern companies is nothing unusual. In America’s boom and bust capitalist economic system of recent decades, during booms, MidWestern companies expand their IT labor force in order to capitalize on automation efficiencies and work volume management through IT enablement. When the boom time is replaced with a bust or significant drop in demand for a company’s products or services, the need for IT automation, overhead spend, etc. follows suit. As some may know, I was recently unemployed. Due to the terms associated with leaving my previous employer, I am unable to share any further details.
Finding myself somewhat abruptly in the job market, I now had to make some choices. There are a number of Internet resources suggesting this new loss of employment state is a great opportunity to re-assess your life priorities and career path. Others have mountains of compelling evidence to jump right back in the job hunt before goofing off becomes your new employment default (such as “Nine Reasons Not To Delay Your Job Hunt” or “Clearview Counterpoint: Should Employees Downgrade Job & Salary Expectations For Next Few Years?”). For me, I had contiguous employment from 1991 through mid-2001 (victim of the dot-com IT employment burst, anyone remember the birth of Odd Todd and Laid Off Land?), then late-2001 till May 2010 (now victim of the Great Recession). Thus, for me, I had the benefit of going through this experience once before (although it seems a lifetime ago as I write this) that offered some guidance on what works and what doesn’t work for me when faced with unplanned unemployment. I thought I would share some of my experiences with shifting from the work routine and the familiar office scene to having that routine completely shut off.
Realization = Loss of Structure
Your proverbial 9 to 5 structure is suddenly replaced by a giant void. Nothing really forces you to get up early and jump into the shower. Yet if you are at all like me, you are pre-programmed to do so. Thus, you find yourself compelled to do it anyway. For some, this maybe a gift from the gods, but for folks like me who have had almost 20 years of 9 to 5 familiar work driven structure, it is a striking realization. The realization is that there is no compelling reason to get up and be productive because there is no demanding employer out there. This realization can indeed be a bit shocking.
Opportunity = Replace Old Structure with New Structure: The Schedule
I’ve found that creating a new structure worked for me. I got up relatively at the same time as when I was going to work. I completed the same morning routine. I did choose slightly more casual clothes than I normally would wear to work as a minor benefit. I then grabbed my really old, clunky laptop, jumped in the car and headed to “the office”. This familiarity of schedule helped me to keep focused on the future rather than dwell on the present or the past. I was used to getting to the office and jumping right into the work. Now, I just replaced the previous work with the new work of finding a new job.
Opportunity = Replace Old Structure with New Structure: “The Office”
I replaced “the office” with local coffee shops. And since I was planning on working, not catching up with an old buddy, I sought out coffee shops that met the following criteria (pretty much in the order of priority):
- Free (reliable) wireless Internet
- Tables for setting up a work space (not just chairs for lounging)
- Power outlets in easy reach
- Free coffee refills
- Enough noise so that it re-creates your office environment but not so much noise that you can’t focus
I also found having a few different destinations instead of just one helped break up the monotony.
I was surprised by the number of other people with laptops, notebooks, papers and cell phones buzzing around me that helped create that familiar office like environment. I tried local libraries which always offered free Internet and good desk setups, but the quiet was too non-office-like for me.
Every IT job imaginable that involves traipsing into an office comes with some degree of coworker banter. In addition, most if not all MidWestern IT jobs come with business/customer/client/management interaction. Once you are unemployed, that interaction ceases to exist. It is always amazing to me how much that professional and social interaction becomes an integral part of your work life. You might not realize how much a part until it is suddenly non-existent.
Opportunity = No Coworker Interaction: Replace with Social Networking
Remember all that career advice to build a professional network of people for times such as these? Now is the time to get some of the payback for your efforts in keeping in touch with people for which you crossed professional paths. You name the social media channel and I announced my availability in the job market. From Linked-In to Facebook to Twitter to even my personal web blog, I let everyone know I was back in the local job market. I also pulled out my list of professional email addresses collected over the recent years and sent everyone a brief personal note indicating my change in employment status and a brief indication of what type of work I was capable of doing. I chose the word “capable” strategically to cast the widest possible net of job options. Sure, I might not want to do X, but rather Y. Yet, if I could successfully do X and there is an opportunity to do X in the near term, why not engage in some hopeful dialog? You never know when a conversation about doing one thing can lead to something more to your preference. In my opinion, when looking for work, having as many proverbial doors open is best.
Results = Surprising
I was completely amazed by the number and immediacy of the responses from all the media channels. Almost instantly, people were responding with understanding and support. I also received a number of direct phone calls to chat about possible opportunities. There was even someone I last interacted with in grade school that volunteered to get my resume in front of a local software company’s head of HR due to his relationship with the HR head from his past.
I continued to share my updates via my social media sites. I didn’t post every five minute statuses “… I just posted to ABC Company, got umpteenth cup of coffee, now headed to the rest room…”, but I focused on periodic upbeat, positive news in reaction to my search progress. Again, the response was equally positive and upbeat. This contributed to maintaining some level of familiar coworker banter to keep oneself positive about future prospects.
Lastly, I’ve heard of people recently losing their jobs and then hiding the job loss from friends and even family. Being my second time around in the forced unemployed state, I completely looked past the possible shame, embarrassment and sense of loss and immediately refocused on letting the world know I have value to bring to a new employer. Also, more than 1 in 10 people are currently unemployed thus it is far from a shameful or embarrassed state to be in. Thus, the more people who know you are looking for a job, the more chances someone will know someone who needs the value you can provide.
Hopefully some of my experiences captured above will help spark others in the throes of finding employment in the Great Recession. There are probably a whole slew of other tidbits but these were the ones that jumped out at me initially:
- Consider a job search schedule that somewhat matches your recent work schedule.
- Reach out to everyone via every media channel you can image and let them know you are looking for a job and what you are capable of doing.
- Share your successes via those media channels in a reserved but on a frequent basis .
Anyone have any other tips to share?