career, economy, job search

Career change stories: One of my own

Hello–hope everyone had a great weekend. Mine was very busy and very hot (it edged up on 90 degrees here in Seattle on Sunday, totally violating the “Summer doesn’t begin until July 5th” standing rule we have here). It’s reported that less than 3% of single family homes in the Pacific NW have whole house A/C. Most of the year it’s a non-issue, but nights like last night–where your (old) house has been baking in the sun for a couple of days and the overnight temp doesn’t drop much below about 70–it can make for some uncomfortable sleeping (or not sleeping). I expect there may be more people with a case of the Mondays than usual today.

Anyhow, onto our topic. In 2002, I was working for a contingent staffing firm that had many large corporate clients in the Puget Sound region including Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks, and Amazon. Combine this with the silly amounts of money being thrown around in the first dotcom boom and there was more than enough placements to be made. Many of my co-workers were recruited by startups with cash signing bonuses and big stock option grants; it seemed like such an obvious thing to do that even my (fairly career-conservative) father asked me why I wasn’t taking that path. My answer at the time was I was still learning in my current job; I still had things I wanted to accomplish; and I didn’t think the boom was going to last.

Unfortunately, I was right. The boom went bust starting in late 2001 and into 2002. I managed to hold on until July 2002, when the company’s stock price plummeted $6/share in one day. The next day, myself and a number of others got ‘the call’. It wasn’t unexpected–we’d seen many co-workers laid off over the past few months–but it’s still an ugly moment.

I liken being laid off to being pushed out of an airplane where you’re a paid passenger. You think that there is an understood arrangement between you and the airline–you do what is expected of you, they keep the plane on a set course. But then in a moment, everything changes; you’re being shoved out of the plane in midair, and you have to figure out how–and where–you make a safe landing.

Dunno if that resonates with anyone else (I’ve been told my analogies stink), but at the time it sure felt like it to me. I knew it was coming, and had called friends who were employment law experts to ask their advice about how to manage the layoff conversation, but once the adrenaline wore off there was the, “oh @#!$–now what?” thought running through my head. I’d imagine THAT resonates with anyone that’s been laid off without their next gig already lined up.

I was re-entering a job market that was abysmal for recruiters as the recession had hit the Seattle market full force. After a couple of months of serious networking and job search, I realized that avenue was effectively closed for the near term.

That was a difficult realization. I wanted to continue my (still fairly new) career in recruiting, and unfortunately unless I was willing to relocate myself cross country there wasn’t much opportunity.

I spent some time assessing my skills & experience. In my prior role, I’d spent a good deal of time holding workshops for students at community and technical colleges around the Puget Sound region on topics like resume writing and job search. I’d also volunteered on a number of employer advisory boards where I’d built a strong professional network of higher ed professionals. These colleges were receiving large amounts of federal and state funding for worker retraining due to large numbers of layoffs at employers like Boeing. I realized there might be opportunities in that area, so I started connecting with people in that part of my network.

A short while later, the director of workforce education at a community college reached out to me. They had a performance-based grant funded program focused on placing students in employment–and had just terminated the person working with the program for non-performance. At first she asked if I would come help get the program back on course in a part-time capacity. Figuring that any work was better than no work, I agreed. In short order, I was leveraging my professional network on behalf of the students to forge relationships with employers; could use my former training experience with a new audience; and in effect, was still acting like a recruiter–‘selling’ employers on why they should consider a student for their position–just from a different context.

The part-time role quickly became full-time. Then it became a permanent position. And a year later I ended up managing a much larger part of the workforce ed program. I ended up deciding that the culture of higher ed (very bureaucratic, hierarchical, and political) wasn’t for me; but although it was a difficult transition at first, it was the right choice at the time. Additionally, it provided me valuable insight in my next role (campus recruiting for an F100 financial services company).

I’d love to hear more of your career change success stories; please feel free to send me a message if you’d like to share one.



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