It’s been almost 18 weeks now. Severance is depleted.
Here’s the current count:
Resumes sent: 350
Networking conversations: 60
Conversations granted: 15
Interviews received: 8
Upfront apologies about the long delay — quite a bit going on, a lot to explain.
My wife is a recruiter. She told me early on in the process that I should be getting about a 5% success rates on reach outs. For a job search process, I define “conversations granted” as a fairly good measure of success. These are conversations with the sole purpose of discussing my prospects of working for that particular firm. At 4.3%, I think I got close enough. I’d attest that this is a good benchmark for others — try to stick close to 5.0%. If you’re not getting there, adjust your approach. Read, study and speak to others, then adjust your approach.
Summing up my job search from mid-August through mid-November:
- Mid-August – end of August:
- General relief to be away from the elements of my last job that I hated.
- Excitement around the “blank white canvas” in front of me. For the first time in my life, I felt in complete control of my future
- Eager to start reading more, especially about self-improvement. I began to read a Buffett partnership letter every day — this was a very good idea
- Some fear and anxiety crept in but, in general, I was getting along fine and just catching up on exercise and time with my family
- By month-end, a bit of denial crept in
- Labor day – end of September:
- Still felt pretty good about things
- Cleaned up everything around me — de-cluttered and got organized.
- Cut down fixed costs
- Hit the job search pretty hard beginning with the firms I would love to work for — had a general systematic approach — received some early interviews and got excited about the back and forth communications with one apparent “dream job” at a value fund leading to an interview
- Began to network quite a bit and reached out to others looking for support — didn’t really find as much as I thought I would, felt a bit empty and frustrated
- Towards the end of the month … depression and anxiety began creeping in — woke up consistently in the middle of the night — would wonder constantly “how I feel into this trap” — often times, out of nowhere, I felt like just weeping or I would feel anger — I began to mentally beat myself up a lot
- Constantly felt like texting a couple friends for support, (1) a former co-worker who has been unemployed for four years and (2) a long-time friend who is just a open and honest guy, very forgiving person with an open mind
- Began noticing people treating me different (more below)
- Drinking felt “too good” whenever I had a night out socializing / mainly networking over a beer — could escape the misery a bit and actually feel better …. soon found that the next mornings though, the depression and anxiety would just compound — wasn’t worth the previous night out
- Missing the elements of my job that I enjoyed
- At the beginning of October, I had to do a lecture at my undergrad university — same lecture I give at least once a year. In the past, I would usually leave this lecture day feeling good. This time however, I felt a bit down. I didn’t receive the same welcome that I normally received. The older professor who usually had long discussions with me acted differently. Not good, not bad, just differently. My nephew came with me for the visit as a prospective student. Before we headed back upstate, we stopped for a beer at an old campus tavern that keeps records of student memberships in their “mug club” — old tradition. Despite being alumni weekend, I asked for the books to find my old membership number. The people working there acted annoyed by the request and made some snub comment referring to my age. Just another occurrence that beat me down further. I began to constantly feel like I was doing things “men over 40 should never do”. For some reason, when in this position, you get nostalgic and try to grab hold of things from the past that brought you joy.
- My wife, son and I turned the trip to my undergrad into a 10 day inexpensive vacation. I needed the time with my folks and time away from New York. My wife and I were feeling cabin fever in our small apartment and just wanted to get away for awhile. The trip was good. It allowed my mind to rest a bit and my wife and I got off each others’ throats.
- Arriving back in NYC, depression and anxiety kicked in pretty bad – it was the worse episode of this by far. I had a few interviews at the end of October that I thought would hold some promise. The value fund interview referenced above seemed particularly promising. Long story short, two of the interviews ended minutes after they began. Just no fit, both ways. The value fund interview also did not go well. I spent two hours with the director of research. After the first hour, I knew that there was no connection. I spent the second hour trying to establish one but, at the end, it just felt like she was pushing me out the door. I sent a thank you afterwards and the HR person responded verbatim: “I enjoyed our meeting as well, as did [the DOR]. We’ll be in touch on next steps, but please be patient. We are seeing a lot of people! Thanks for taking the time.” That was 6 weeks ago now. I immediately assumed it was a rejection. The thing is, I really didn’t care. I just felt like I’d hate working under the DOR. It would just be another mistake. On paper she seemed impressive. In person though, she just seemed like another Wall Street poser – someone I would not invest my own money with, so why my career?
- I spent the rest of October pushing the search hard with lots of networking. I learned more about networking — which I’ll discuss below.
- One top tier headhunter that I met through an alumni event took mercy on me and brought me in to sit down with herself and another investment management recruiter to brainstorm ideas for me. It seemed productive. I left their offices a couple hours later with about four promising leads. They actually followed up and pushed me through as a candidate to a few places. Then … crickets…. This whole situation particularly bothered me because it just proved that people were evaluating me and still turning me down.
- I “reduced my price a bit” and tested the broader market by applying to a handful of jobs at lower levels and at firms I really wouldn’t want to work for … crickets
- A sell-side analyst called and excitedly told me that he spent 15 minutes pitching me to one of the hedge funds that is heavily invested in housing stocks. He told him that I was one of the best home building analysts that he had ever met. He said they would be calling … that was almost two months ago now … crickets
- Early November – Mid-November:
- Basically all my early conversations from September and October seemed to turn to crickets by mid-November. I felt I was putting in too much effort for absolutely no results
- My focus began to shift to entrepreneurship more — I began having a hard time searching for jobs — just seemed too unproductive and the more I did it, the worse the depression and anxiety became
- Texting activity with two aforementioned friends dramatically slowed. I realized that the texts with my chronically unemployed friend were sometimes helpful but overall, we seemed to just be making each other more miserable. Additionally, the more he text with me, the more I realized he may be unemployed forever. He just refused to bring down his asking price to find the market. For some reason, he keeps hanging around the hoop from our old group who fired him, thinking they will eventually ask him to rejoin — some strange type of Stockholm syndrome or something. My other friend seemed to just get enough of me. Like everyone else, I began to get the sense that he lost respect for me and he began to loose interest in texting. His later texts morphed into subtle put-downs. Just made me want to isolate myself further.
- Friction with my wife heated back up as I told her that I couldn’t just go on with a job search with these abysmal results. She tried helping by pushing her network – didn’t help much but it did show her how little “bid” there is out there for my skills. She began to be visibly disappointed in me. I had to have the discussion with her about her going back to work. Her business has not brought in any money in 18 months — just was not working. We’d need to switch rolls since she is probably a lot more marketable than I am
- Severance and healthcare began to get close to running out. Healthcare alone killed a couple full days to figure out. In the end, we’re stuck paying $2,200 a month for cobra. Insanity.
- Then in mid-November, as things were quickly going from bad to even worse …. the following happened:
Out of nowhere, a close friend and career mentor called me. He brought up that his neighbor was general counsel of a large building products company in Chicago that was about to close down their tiny windows division (~$10M of annual sales). It was too small a deal for him and most other investment banks to consider but he wanted to bring it to my attention. I told him that I would be able to run a sales process for this unit. He had me send my credentials to his contact.
A few days later I had a call with the company. They confirmed that they would like to run a quick sales process and they were having difficulty finding anyone to do it. I spoke about my credentials and told them how I would do it. I also told them that I could work from their Chicago offices directly with them. They seemed to like my pitch and they hired me. I receive a nice monthly fee and could receive a generous success fee if I sell the business. It will be a difficult sale to execute, but what the heck.
Since November 15th, I’ve been working night and day on this assignment. Its been fun and interesting albeit a bit stressful. There are 130 jobs associated with this division that I feel accountable for saving. Going through the misery first hand of losing my job has made me sensitive to trying to preserve the jobs of these workers. To make matters worse, over half of the jobs are in a remote rural town of 4,000 people in north central Wisconsin. Not too many other options for these people.
This deal breathed new life into me. I am getting a nice preview of what it would be like to be an entrepreneur. So far, I like it a lot. I like being my own boss and doing things my way. I’ve never felt so particular about my work product. I’m trying my hardest to get this deal to work. If I could pull it off, it would invariably be the biggest success of my career.
I’m not sure how long this assignment will last and what the outcome will be. I’m not counting on a success fee in any way but each month that I get paid equals about 1.5 months of my old trading job. In many ways, this project was a godsend. It has helped my confidence, has provided income and has given me a sneak preview of becoming an entrepreneur. Importantly, it also pulled me from the worsening depression that both I and my wife were feeling in late October and November.
On the downside, I’m not sure at all when this assignment will last. Top management keeps threatening to “pull the plug” on the unit. They are taking resources off of it. Also, I am having difficulty finding interest in the marketplace. The state of the housing industry and the holidays are not helping at all. I assume I can push this assignment another month (mid Jan) then I’ll be back to where I was in early November — trying to figure things out. I’ve been trying to spend some time on planning next steps, however, this deal and family are taking up 80% of my capacity. The job search is taking up the other 20%. I feel stretched. Also, since this project does not have a high probability of success, I’ll likely be close to six months unemployed and not making any money once it ends.
Lessons Learned So Far in Unemployment
Despite this project, technically I am still unemployed. I’d say, since my last blog post, things that stand out as particularly worth mentioning are:
- Networking is key — you just never know where the conversations will lead to. I received this opportunity because of networking. Its good to get the word out about what you are looking for so that people think about you. However, its important to think strategically about networking. I have found that conversations where I have little to offer the other person have been awkward and unproductive for both me and for the other person. The better conversations are those where I offer something in exchange — thoughts around the housing markets, investment ideas, etc.
- The longer I’m unemployed, the harder things are getting: You’re probably thinking “duh”. But, it is true. Time slips away when you are unemployed. As the weeks go by, you find that the prospects go from very low to pretty much nothing. Your on a raft that is just floating further and further out. Also, you find you’re savings get eaten into pretty quickly as well. Its stressful because you just don’t know how big the ultimate bite will be.
- Getting a job is really really hard: You quickly realize that every opportunity is crowded with applicants. You have to do everything to get around this crowd. Any postings that public have a lot more resumes pouring to them than you would ever imagine. Applying over 40 years old shrinks odds. Applying without a current job further shirks odds. Applying after getting fired even further shrinks odds. Applying after months of unemployment … you get the point.
- *** After getting fired, others think I’m damaged goods: *** This has been perhaps the biggest cause of depression for me. For years, I have worked my arse off. I’ve hardly watched television. I don’t play video games. I spend about one hour a year in aggregate on social media. Instead, I try focusing all this time and energy on learning, excising and self improvement. Over the past few years, I felt that all this learning compounded to a point where I had a pretty good opinion on a nice array of subjects. People seemed to listen to my thoughts. I generally felt informed. After I was fired, almost everyone immediately dismisses my thoughts. It feels like, from an outward perspective, everything I built burnt down overnight the day I got fired. I lost complete credibility on every subject. People have no interest in my opinions. Many people do not hide that they think I’m now a loser (even with my project work). You’re probably not going to read this on any “just get back up and get going” published articles about losing your job. However, its the cold nature of this situation. Most people believe that if you are good, you’ll never get fired. Therefore, you are not good at what you did. And, if you were not good at your profession, you’re probably not good at anything else. So, why would I listen to you? Now, people don’t outwardly say this, but they do show it. For the most part, they pay little attention to you. If you try pressing your point, they cut you off and try to get away from you. When first unemployed, you think to yourself “hmmm, they are acting strange”. Then you realize its not just one or two people, almost everyone is treating you different. After four months, I’ve now come to expect it. Its part of the process of humbling you out. I’m at a stage now that I have to consciously tell myself to just shut up and listen to other people – no one really cares about my thoughts. Even family members have no patience for it. In speaking with those who have spent a long period unemployed, I often detect this same attribute to their personality. I notice how much more they listen and how hesitant some of them are in expressing their opinions, or at least to the extent that they did back in the past . The two good things about this are (1) you learn to be a better listener and (2) you learn to thicken your skin in terms of what other people think about you, or at least to a certain extent.
- I think a lot about the 7 deadly sins:
- Pride / vanity — out the window — doesn’t need much more explanation. Get fired with no job prospects and pride turns into humility pretty damn quick.
- Gluttony — This is another one that getting fired with no prospects changes pretty quickly. I get disgusted by the unnecessary shit I bought through the years I didn’t need and didn’t get much value out of. Almost everyone I’ve spoken to that have gone through this say that they came out of the experience very money conscious. You think about your savings constantly.
- Lust — this pretty much fades away also. Its hard to love the person you see in the mirror every morning when you get rejected on a constant basis.
- Greed — this is a tricky one. I feel greedy every time I have a networking call with the context of getting me a job. That is one of the reasons why having something to offer in return is so important. When unemployed, you are forced to focus on yourself quite a bit which is greedy behavior. You feel that things are getting taken from you and you are in protection mode constantly. Its hard to be a giver. Hopefully, once life normalize, I can give back more.
- Sloth — until this assignment, I constantly felt like a sloth. The days just slipped away and I didn’t have much to account for. In my head, I kept beating myself up with the statement “if you have all day and can’t get anything done, why would anyone pay you money? No wonder your in this predicament”
- Anger — pretty obvious. I definitely went through a period where I felt like punching through a wall constantly.
- Envy — this is the worse of them all. You feel like hiding in the middle of Wyoming with no one for miles around. You live in fear of others’ success … it just makes you feel further and further behind. Unemployment is an extremely cruel world because you want to hide from everyone and just figure out your life but at the same time, you have to reach out to others to get the best result. In reaching out to others, you naturally hear about everyones’ successes. Then you think about how far you are falling so quickly. Then you think about how the other people are thinking about how quickly you are falling behind. Its a horrible circular feeling. Therefore you try overcompensating and trying to prove to yourself and others that you are still valuable. Small victories help for yourself but disappointments really get disproportionate inner attention. From an external perspective, pushing “how smart I really am” or “I still have quite a bit of money / prospects / earnings power” etc. just falls on deaf ears and receives eye rolls and dismissals. This leads to more depression and isolation. And, unfortunately, the only way out is to reach back out and network and again hear about others victories set upon the background of your continued defeats. The one good thing is that, after a lot of outreach, pretty much everyone finds out you got fired. The shame and disappointment pass through one-by-one. A few weeks later, its old news for both them and you internally. You stop caring as much. In a strange way, its almost nice to know peoples’ expectations of you are flushed. You don’t have much to live up to. With this said, the feeling of getting left behind never leaves.
- The self-beatings just don’t stop: This project has been great because it occupies my mind. I do find though that anytime I make the slightest mistake, I beat myself up pretty bad for it. I’m very weary of my decision making ability. You’ll often hear people who hit long downturns in life say “they questioned all their decisions”. There is a lot packed into this statement. I never really understood what the meant until now. After getting fired, I really began to think about all my decisions in life. I tend to now micro analyze each one. The ones that led to failure have gotten stuck in my mind. That’s the problem with unemployment + nostalgia. I seek happiness everywhere and go backwards in time to find it. However, on this trip back, I come across past decisions that I wish I had not made. Once they resurface, the beatings from my mind have new material to use.
- It seems that everyone goes through similar stages of grief: For some reason, I find comfort from reading about others’ accounts going through this same struggle. I look for different thoughts to help the pain. After awhile, most of these articles seem to just say the same thing. I’ve learned that most people go through similar phases of grief in unemployment: relief, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I found this article pretty much spot-on with what I have been going through. If you read all my blog entries since getting fired, you’d probably be able to detect the different stages pretty clearly. I believe I’m now at the beginning of the acceptance stage with a little bit of depression which will probably linger for awhile. I believe I reached the acceptance stage due to a conversation from just the other day. An old friend asked why I no longer worked as a trader and I just shrugged and responded: “I lost passion for the job, I felt burnt out and I began doing dumb things that got me fired. I’ve learned some tough lessons, had a lot of time to think and I’m just focused on making better decisions with my career from this point on.” We went on to talk about “what’s next” the rest of the time. Thinking back, usually this same person would delve in to find out more detail about what happened. However, they didn’t. They just accepted my answer in a genuine way. They knew I was telling the truth. I knew I was finally telling the truth. and… time to move on. Shit happens.
Going back to references from my favorite movies, this brilliantly acted scene in “Dead Poet’s Society” parallels the inner battle of a person whose been displaced. Our minds default to that of the socially awkward Todd Anderson’s. We feel ashamed. We just want to hide from life. However, deep down, there is an inner spirit, the John Keating within us that keeps pushing us to carpe diem or cease the day.
Ok, back to my project. This unemployed guy has a job to do. I need to save a bunch of others peoples’ jobs.
Will be back soon to let you know how its going.