Finding a Good Job in a Bad Economy: A Job Hunt Post-Mortem
This is a guest article by Revanche, a twenty-something west coast girl who writes about money at A Gai Shan Life.
You’ve all heard that line about not burning professional bridges, right? That goes double or even triple for job interviews. I started my job hunt 20 months ago — as soon as there were doubts that our company was going to remain in California. I was applying and interviewing for jobs for six months but nothing panned out; through the fall and winter of 2008 companies were too nervous, the market was too shaky. Then, just after a particularly grueling set of interviews with my top job choice, the market crashed.
A week shy of March, I got the call: I was their strongest candidate and had made a great impression but they couldn’t make an offer. The economy made them too nervous to take on any new hires, and they were looking to rework their entire organizational structure to avoid mass layoffs. On the one hand, it was terribly disappointing. On the other, it was for the best. I didn’t want to get laid off within months of starting a new job.
My last conversation with the hiring manager was civil, even pleasant. I thanked him for the opportunity, joked with him about his yanking my dream job out from under me, and we agreed to leave the door open for future opportunities. Sure, I was peeved that it took them weeks to get back to me, and peeved that after all that waiting, time and energy, the position never came to fruition. Job hunting’s a pain, and I wanted it over with. But that’s my problem. Aside from the single joke, I never mentioned it again.
My job ended last summer. I’ve been job hunting, networking, traveling, interviewing, and traveling while paying the bills with cobbled together income of unemployment, some freelance gigs, and savings. Although I’ve tried to enjoy as much of the freedom as possible, the shadow of unemployment and career stagnation hung heavy. Having my family to support weighed even more heavily on my mind. (One of the drawbacks of being a responsible personal finance blogger is that you can’t ever really hide from the reality that you’re bleeding money.)
At the end of January, I wandered through that company’s site again and saw they had posted job listings, one of which was almost perfect for me. “Almost” because I wondered deep down if the responsibilities were perhaps a little too great but I squashed that squirt of self doubt and emailed the former hiring manager asking if he was also the HM for this position. He responded quickly in the affirmative: he’d meant to forward the job listing to me and it’d slipped his mind.
Within a week of submitting a cover letter and revamped resume, he contacted me for a phone conversation, not an interview as he already knew my basic qualifications from the previous encounter, and asked me for my interview availability. We agreed on a mutually acceptable date, I had a phone interview with his boss, and then traveled to an in-person interview ten days later. It was around that time that I wrote this post. I had finally reached a Zen state of mind about the job search, and was composed, after the interviews, for whatever might come down the pipeline. On a Friday afternoon, just skirting the very end of the “you’ll hear from us this or next week, once we’ve met and made a decision” timeline, I got the call with an offer.
I’m sure you know it’s an employer’s market right now, and to make money matters worse, they’re a non-profit organization. I’ve seen their financials, they’re modest. He was surprisingly frank about the salary, the range for the position in terms of in-grade promotion possibilities, the fact that it wasn’t as high an offer as he’d previously mentioned, and reviewed the almost-robust benefits.
I sent out feelers to my corporate mentors in the field: their translation was, “The bastards in HR won’t let me pay what I thought I could offer initially,” or perhaps, “There’s not enough money right now.” I laid out a set of negotiating terms where I thought they could make the offer more palatable, and presented them to the manager over the phone.
The results of the negotiation were not favorable. They were able to meet one of my three requests (relocation assistance), wouldn’t guarantee the second but also would rule it out (6-month salary review instead of just an evaluation), and the third couldn’t be met because of internal equity issues (more money). While unhappy, I wasn’t surprised. I had taken the time, after sharing my proposed changes, to run the numbers and had decided the opportunity to get in the door was valuable and worth taking less money for a salary and a chance to prove myself. Though it wasn’t “enough” money, the offer wasn’t paltry: salary, full benefits, relocation assistance, growth opportunities, professional development classes. The other alternative, “coasting” on unemployment, hoping for an equally stimulating job in a relatively stable company before my benefits or money ran out, simply was no option at all.
I still have many challenges to face: moving out on my own for the first time, continuing to support my family from across the state, learning a whole new dimension of management, adding new layers to my personal financial management skills. It’s a relief to be through, at least for now, with this particular challenge of a job hunt during a recession.
Do your best to leave your contacts with a great impression of you even in rejection. They will remember you, even if they don’t at first.
Don’t accept an offer at face value. It’s entirely reasonable to thank them for their time, and let them know you’d like a chance to review the offer. I knew he was anxious to move to a resolution/acceptance when he gave me his home number and asked me to feel free to call or email anytime I was ready to talk.
Do have a good range of mentors, corporate and non-corporate, currently working and retired. Your mentors will push you to ask for a wide range of benefits and perks you might not have thought to request or consider, and should give you a eyes-on-the-ground opinion of what the market will bear or insight into company politics. Their perspectives are invaluable.
Don’t underestimate the power of a strong reference. I selected people I could explicitly trust, who were great communicators and kept me in the loop when the hiring manager reached out to them. They also wrote glowing recommendations.
Do be aware your interviewer’s got contacts too. Though I wasn’t aware of their career intersection, one of my recommendation letters was written by someone my hiring manager knew personally. This lent more credibility to my claims of achievement.
Do spend time helping others around you, it keeps your brain fresh, your attitude positive and your confidence high. Besides, it’s just the right thing to do.
Resources and food for thought:
- Ramit Sethi’s videos on negotiating
- Kathleen Reardon’s It’s All Politics
- Captain D. Michael Abrashoff’s It’s Your Ship
- Harvard Business Review’s Peter Bregman: When Your Voicemails and Emails Go Unanswered, What Should You Do?
- Harvard Business Review’s Rosabeth Moss Kanter: Four Ways to Attack the Castle — And Get a Job, Get Ahead, Make Change