'I kept a job pursuit log … it wound up being a 70 page Word doc'

I was jobless for two years, from December 2008 to December 2010. I knew my number was up because in my job I was assigned 2 accounts (customers) and both of them went away. My company had been on a several year run of RIFs [reductions in force] and we all knew there was another one imminent. It was not a good time to lose customers, with managers walking the halls looking for people to lay off. I suppose there was karma at work—while in management positions within this same company I had to lay off half-a-dozen people myself.

For me the hardest part of the layoff was the loss of self-esteem. Most of us define ourselves (mistakenly!) by what we do. You go to a party and meet someone, and what’s the first thing they ask?  “So, what do you do for a living?”  Saying I’m an unemployed IT manager sure sucks the life out of a conversation!! 

As you lose self-esteem you lose your ambition. Like others have reported, over time I experienced the change in sleep habits. Imagine lying in bed in the morning and saying to yourself, “What’s the point of getting up today? I won’t be any more successful with my job search today than yesterday.” It was very hard to not be discouraged to the point of giving up, and I felt that way a lot. But I kept at it. People who are close to me comment on my perseverance and persistence, and were especially impressed with my resilience in the face of so much rejection.

I kept abreast of all the current thinking on resumes and job searches, and edited my resume to take out all hints of age (I was 54-56 during my job search). Though my resume talked about a lot of varied experience, it had no dates other than my last 10 years of employment. That created a funny situation—I’m in the lobby of a major cell phone manufacturer, waiting for the hiring manager to come retrieve me for an interview. She came out, I was the only one in the lobby. I have a bit (okay, a lot) of gray hair. I look my age. She expected someone in his 30’s, I guess. She tentatively called out my name and when I stood up, she was literally dumbfounded and speechless. To her credit she did at least continue on with the interview, and the rejection came via email weeks later. And that was when I started coloring my hair.

In phone interviews I was asked quite often what I’d done during my time off. Many people seemed to be sympathetic because the IT industry is notorious for layoffs. I was being interviewed by a 4-person panel on the phone once and when I had to explain the resume gap, one of the interviewers did a quick poll and everyone on the call had been laid off before. Several interviewers wanted to know if I had used some of my time to improve myself. It did help that I could tell these people I studied for and gained ITIL certification. I often mentioned that I’d become an adult literacy tutor, showing that while I was in a jobless state I was at least trying to give back. Yet one interviewer said something like “well, that’s great, but did that help you keep technically current?”

I was very fortunate that having anticipated the layoff my wife and I could prepare financially. We put our large house on the market and during my layoff period sold it and moved into a smaller rental. We completely eliminated any debt, and of course, we had my wife’s salary.  My job loss reduced our household income by 70 percent, but the unemployment benefits and the lack of debt helped.  We still had to hit savings some, but much less than we would have otherwise. Due to my filing date and some eligibility gaps, I did not get the full 99 weeks—maybe more like about 90. But what a huge help that money was!

I truly felt that there was age discrimination at work, but it was insidious, not obvious.  As my jobless period got longer and longer, I was beginning to see that unemployed bias, as if employers were saying “You’ve not found a job in 18 months?  You must not be worth hiring…”.  That was never stated, just always below the surface.

Ultimately I did get a job in December of 2010. It pays less than my last job, but fortunately only about 10% less. It’s not a bad job, but it’s a hugely stressful job and my manager is really a big jerk. I don’t plan to work at this new company forever, and I believe having a job makes finding a new job easier. Age will still be a concern for me, though.

In terms of practical advice and tips, what you hear is true—networking is the way. I so hoped I’d find a job on Indeed.com (my favorite employment site) and be able to say “I don’t need no stinkin’ network” but it was my connections that got those initial doors opened.  And I’m using those same network contacts to develop my next opportunity.

I kept a job pursuit log, that was half statement of fact (company name/location, job title, where I learned about job, status) and half diary.  I believe it wound up being a 70 page Word doc.

Finally, I tell my still-unemployed friends not to give up, and be willing to think and act outside the box.  My wife and I moved from Florida to the Pacific Northwest for my job—we spent $10K out of pocket to do the move.  Who would ever have thought we’d wind up in the opposite corner of the country?  But I’m convinced this job will give me another opportunity to get back closer to where I want to be.

David M., via email

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