The author, Carlos Barksdale.
“So, what have you been doing since you got laid off?”
Whenever you’re between jobs, you can bet on prospective employers asking you this question. Your answer is sure to affect the hiring manager’s perception of you. When I was caught in a round of layoffs last year, I learned to face this question head on.
After working two-and-a-half years performing business development, strategy, marketing, and sales at early-to-mid-stage startups, I decided to look for a more corporate role, both for the job security and the opportunity for a new experience. While bouncing back from a layoff and making a career transition can be tough, I learned early on in my search that what I did during my time between jobs mattered greatly. I’ve since landed a job in management consulting. I applied online and was fortunate enough to receive a call (and, ultimately, an offer). Having my story prepared was crucial, because I could easily show why I wanted the job and how I could be an ideal fit, including all the work I had put in between my layoff and that interview. While I don’t wish layoffs on anyone, I do recommend using the time off to position yourself to land a great new opportunity. Here are a few tricks I picked up along the way.
The people you connect with in school, at work, or at social gatherings all have value and you shouldn’t be afraid to reach out. I got laid off on a Thursday morning. By noon that day, I was in a colleague’s office talking next steps. It’s crucial to have people in your corner, because they will go to bat for you and make introductions, give referrals, and prep you for interviews. In fact, 80 percent of the conversations and interviews I had were the result of a connection. Your network is your biggest asset!
Don’t underestimate the power of your online profiles on sites like Jopwell, LinkedIn, and Indeed. Employers and recruiters scour these sites looking for top talent. A lot of leads for positions came to me because they felt that my profile stood out. Before I began applying, I made sure my information was updated, grammatically correct, and uniform across all platforms. I also updated my headshot and got recommendations on LinkedIn from previous managers. If there’s anything you can do to make yourself look better online, do it.
I cannot stress how important your story is. I didn’t realize this at the beginning of my search, and it was a roadblock for me. Be able to talk about where you’ve been, where you are, and why you want to go in the direction that you’re pursuing. Your resume can only do so much. Once an employer gets you in the office or on the phone, your story can drastically outshine your resume. At the end of the day, you’re going to be talking to another person who wants to hear a logical flow of events that landed you in front of them. If you’re asked why you’re interested in an open position and your answer begins with, “Because I like...” then you’re probably headed in the wrong direction. You want to present clear objectives, show real passion, and be able to display a track record of interest (through a previous role, volunteer work, or continuing education classes).
After I was laid off, I took a course in financial modeling and valuation through the Investment Banking Institute. I did this for two reasons: 1. I was initially interested in pivoting from startups into the finance industry and wanted to be more marketable, and 2. I wanted to put my off-time to good use. Just because I no longer had a job, didn’t mean I had to stop learning and developing. I think this showed employers that I’m not complacent, but rather, a proactive learner who is willing to put in the extra work to achieve my goals.
Whenever I saw an opening that interested me, I made it a habit to identify the appropriate influential person or the decision-maker at that company on LinkedIn, usually this was the department director or team manager. If you get that person on your side, then they are the perfect advocate for you. Don’t be naive here. I’m not saying one great meeting with the director means you’re in. However, getting to him or her first could be the difference between radio silence and a second interview. At the end of the day, the objective is to get a “yes” from the decision-maker. If you make a positive impression on them early on, then you’ve made your job a lot easier. Hack the system.
So, how do you reach the decision-maker? An intro from a mutual connection is best, but that’s not always an option. I tend to prefer cold emails over LinkedIn messages because you never know how often someone checks their LinkedIn inbox. However, both can be effective. Make sure your subject line grabs their attention and try to mention something you have in common, whether it’s a mutual contact, academic connection, a hometown, or a specific interest.
Balancing follow-ups can be hard, but don’t drop the ball. Persistence pays. Always send a thank you email by the morning after an interview or conversation. In the case I don’t get a timely response, I’ll send an additional follow-up two days after the initial email and a second follow-up five to seven days after that. If I decide to follow-up again, I wait at least another week. If you feel awkward about follow-ups then just ask when you should follow up during your interview. The objective is to gain a better understanding of the timeline and the status of your candidacy.
Even though I was looking for a full time work, I took a job as an assistant coach for an afterschool youth sports program. I spent afternoons teaching kids baseball and flag football in Central Park. It was a great way to relieve stress during the job-hunting process and have some fun. Plus, I knew it would be a great talking point when conversing with employers. People love kids. People love sports. And if they don’t like either, then at least I could show them that I wasn’t stagnant between jobs. Plus, I was able to keep my mornings free for meetings and interviews, while making enough to pay my rent.
That said, I did wait a few weeks before hunting for a part-time job. Having that free time allowed for the ultimate flexibility because I was able to meet at any time of the day. It really expedited some connections and processes. If you can swing it, take a couple of weeks and just grind to get your foot in the door at as many companies as possible.
It can be hard to stay motivated while you’re between jobs. You have no control over who calls you back or when they choose to do so. First, I prayed and talked to my spiritual leaders a lot. That was my source of hope. I also reminded myself of one of my own mantras: Live through the good times and the bad times. The key word being live. I love to play basketball and hang out with friends, but initially, I began to cut out both things because I felt that time spent doing anything other than job hunting was a waste. Not true. It wasn’t good for my mental health or my mood. Companies don’t want to hire low-energy, stressed people! I needed to continue doing the things that brought me joy, and once I brought those things back everything started to fall into place.
Images courtesy of Marcus Hawkins-Dungey.