300 Days

Shortly after the pandemic adjusted our collective work situation to one being remote and at home, I lost my job. While I will never know the full scope of why my role of eleven months — the first person to occupy said role — was entirely eliminated from the organization. I suspect it was due to COVID-19 negative impacts to revenue and a pre-existing plan for large scale re-organization. 

To say I was dismayed would be an understatement. But, like millions of others, I made an effort to forge onward and look ahead. At first, I was not overly concerned as I had been in this position before and survived. The first time I lost a job in NYC, I was without employment for 3 days. The second time I was without work for 5 days. 

This time has been entirely different, in so many ways.  And it’s been a truly humbling experience. One in which I have learned about myself, my colleagues and friends as well as companies. 

After 300 days I still have not found full-time employment. But remain confident the right opportunity will find me. Fingers-crossed! (I began writing this post leading up to the 300 day mark. However, on day 297 I accepted an offer for a design leadership role).

There have been many positive moments during the last 300 days which I wouldn’t change. For instance, my wife and I have been able to enjoy many meals together. Or being able to spend a LOT of time with our rescue dogs. Or riding my motorcycle nearly every other day in the hills of Hudson Valley. Or just going for a walk knowing I don’t need to hurry back for a video call. And former colleagues (current friends) working so hard to help me find something, anything. Including contract-based roles in their organizations. Without them (Ben, Dan and Jeff), I’m not sure how we would have financial survived. 

And in the last 300 days I’ve had professional opportunities arise, too. I’ve self-taught myself an entirely new piece of software which I can now say I’m quite comfortable with (dare I say an expert!). I’ve facilitated not one but two product re-launches in a design leadership role. I was invited to speak at two virtual engagements. I’ve created a clean and packaged document in lieu of a website (even though I did update my website as well). I’ve rewritten my resume multiple times. And expanded my professional network significantly.

It also provided an opportunity to evaluate the hiring process. (You did know I’m a designer right!?)

The digital ecosystem connecting candidates to hiring managers and recruiters was never designed to manage the force and magnitude of the unemployed we collectively witnessed. If some thought the system was breaking before, the pandemic certainly broke it. Now, I could easily use this post to share the numerous stories I’ve read or heard on frustrating hiring experiences. They are shared from all involved in the process. From candidates being ghosted to hiring managers receiving over 500 qualified candidates (I still don’t know how you can manage this volume and feel confident in your selection). Due to enormity of those impacted, it was natural that channels like #hire-me and #job-search-vent started to pop up on Slack. People were frustrated. And they were talking to each other about it.

They were socializing the problems with the ecosystem which failed. 

The problems were as diverse as the people experiencing them. But I started noting one which was becoming more and more common. And wanted to try and understand why it was happening. It wasn’t a fault due to technology. Nor one due to company culture or industry. It was a human failure. And one which I attributed to both candidates and hiring managers and recruiters. And it’s one that designers will echo ad nauseum (an entire other topic worthy of discussion). 

Be empathetic (in this case, to those under enormous stress).

During the last 300 days I have witnessed significant increased levels of empathy. But also, those which are deeply concerning and damaging. 

As an individual who is currently a potential candidate, it’s important to understand the machine of application-review-interview-hire is operated by people. Possibly even operating under the moniker of Human Resources (both a horrible and optimistic title). And those people are also experiencing their lives upended. They may have children remotely learning. Or they are a caregiver for an elderly person. Or they’ve lost a loved one due to the pandemic. Or they had to move a family member across country during a pandemic amid high health risks. They may reside in an area impacted by weather never before seen! They are working from home. Or are they living where they work? It’s not an ideal circumstance for anyone. And also, to manage the hundreds of emotions of other potential co-workers. It’s an enormous set of tasks. 

I regularly remind myself before following up with a potential manager or recruiter that it’s a person on the end of the phone or email. And to treat them as such. Try to be as patient and calm as I can, while also trying to communicate my continued genuine interest to get started in a manner that doesn’t become overbearing or off-putting. And know it’s even ok to ask how they are doing and get to know them beyond their role.

And to the hiring managers or recruiters, I recommend trying to understand the unique position of the candidates. They are now collectively the unemployed as described by the media. This group has also had their life upended. Some now collecting unemployment insurance to stay afloat. They are creating new debt or deferring existing debt. They’ve reinvented themselves more than once in the last year. And for better or worse, they’e talking to each other about their experiences — group therapy if you will.  And any negative experience they receive from your company during the process, those experiences can impact how future candidates perceive you and your business. Even the smallest of interactions can go a long way. E.g., Hey there! No change since we last spoke. Just keeping you updated. (Yes, I understand sending that to hundreds of people can be exhaustive but what failure led to having too many candidates to begin with?)

Through no official form of research or fact-finding, my closing thought is this both parties know it’s not ideal. And that’s ok. What is not ok is pretending the system is operating as normal and expecting both parties to feel good about it. Acknowledge your lateness. Acknowledge your repeated follow-ups. Acknowledge we’re all people trying to literally survive a pandemic and either find work or a person to work with. Be kind and rewind.

Another beautiful sunset…

Sunset in Bangall, New York
Bangall, New York

It’s been 45 days since I lost my job. In the weeks since, I’ve had good and bad days. Mostly good, but the days I’m down are not enjoyable and it’s difficult to not be swept up in them. Leaving the house to try and be creative has let me defocus on being unemployed and the limited prospects of re-entering the workforce. Distractions can sometimes be a good thing.