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Feb 26, 2010

A Job Hunt Story

Lecturer Ian Parsons files this report after approximately 7 months out of work

About a year and a half ago, I felt burned out on my long commute and the corporate climate at [integration systems company] Oracle so I was hoping to find a start-up or other company closer to home where I could have a bigger impact on the company's success.  I had been doing a passive job search while I was still at Oracle which began about a year before I was laid off.

Earlier last year I had thought I had another job lined up (2 months before I was laid off) where the company wanted to hire someone new by around late September. Unfortunately, the VP of Sales who was set to hire me was laid off himself and this put me back at the end of the line when a consulting team came in to hire new reps. In spite of that passive search in the works, I didn't really get searching full tilt until about October (2+ months after I was laid off). 

Initially, I made sure I was signed up with updated resumes on every job website that I could find, but also linked up with as many recruiters (in my field) as I could. What I found was that the job boards like Careerbuilder, Monster, DICE, etc. were useless. Most posted jobs were not really available, but were placeholders for companies who wanted to collect resumes. It was my 3-4 recruiters who came up with actual IT sales prospects. I came to rely almost exclusively on recruiters and I would recommend the same for ANYONE looking for a new position.

I was surprised by just how competitive it really is with these job opportunities. Where I was sure that I aced all stages of an interview process and the employer even checked my references, I would lose out to someone with a tiny bit more specific experience than I had (even though I knew they REALLY liked me culturally, etc.). Coming from a huge company like Oracle (one of the toughest companies to succeed at and to stay at) actually hurt me with some of the smaller companies who were more looking for small company experience in spite of Oracle's reputation for lots of training, etc.

The base salaries with some of these companies was lower than what the recruiters and I  expected. Companies are taking the chances that candidates will accept less because the economy has been so bad. And this turned out to be true,  People with more experience were willing to take a job they were overqualified for at a huge pay cut. I quickly learned that I would probably have to take a large pay cut too --  of between $5K-$10K less per year if I hoped to get past the phone interview stage (OR to even have my recruiter introduce me to the employer).

During my last job search (2006) I was actively working and doing really well. I loved the company I worked for but wanted to make more money and to get more experience in the software space (I was selling IT hardware). At that time, Oracle (among others) was eager to find new talent to hire. I had no problem getting in for interviews and the process moved along pretty well for a huge corporation. Basically, I didn't need to find a job, but I wanted to and I was able to do so even though I was already working.

As this new job search began, I made a lot of the same must-have rules. I was initially NOT going to give into a lower base salary (simply because my family couldn't live on less than I was earning at Oracle), we could NOT relocate because of the value of our house given the bad housing market, and I was NOT going to commute more than 75 miles to any job.

I made it to the on site interview stage with 7 companies in 7 months, and made it past the first on-site interview with 4 of those companies. One of the prospective employers put me through FOUR interview stages including THREE on-site meetings with every executive in the company. The whole process went really well...the CEO even listened to my music online and liked it a lot...  Although all of my interviews were completed by before the New Year, they kept telling me that I would need to be patient because it was the first time they were hiring for this position from the outside. I followed up regularly and yet they were still interviewing other candidates. They told me they hoped to have someone hired by the 2nd week of January; however, as of TODAY (February 26th) they still haven't made anyone an offer. I was even approached about the same job by two different recruiters after I'd already completed 4 stages of interviews. This job was at the top of my list from a salary and commute perspective and the waiting was awful. I even had a mutual friend of the CEO talk to him about me one day and he confirmed that I was in strong consideration for the position when they spoke in mid-late January.

The fact that my family needed me to get a job ASAP, and the dedication of my recruiters to find me new opportunities is sometimes all that kept me going. But there were other bright spots too.  One of the VP of Sales who didn't hire me even referred me to his good friend with a company that was too far away for me to commute to.   I was touched that someone who narrowed his search down to just me and another candidate still took the time to try helping me find a job elsewhere. It was dedication like that which helped me to keep pushing. One recruiter even shared an opportunity that they wouldn't be paid on while others still coached me on opportunities that I had been sent by other recruiters.

We exhausted our 401K plans just to scrape by and pay our mortgage. It was tough to do, but we had no choice.

We were close to cutting out many of our 'creature' comforts, but also to file for bankruptcy due to our huge debt (the result of a bad economy plus not enough commissions from my job at Oracle). We met with a Credit Counseling professional and our budget was way off. Our expenses were more than twice what my unemployment income was.  Our session with CCC was a huge help, so we will be trying to budget our money more carefully and hopefully to enjoy the new benefits of this new job where I can coach my kids in T-ball, etc. and we will have more vacation time to work with as well. I learned from this experience the value of quality time with my family.

You have to enjoy your time off as much as possible; it's better to be relaxed when searching for jobs. One of my recruiters cheered me on withevery opportunity including those she didn't place me with.

The position I was finally offered turned out to be BETTER than anything I was aiming for. It was very far off from what I expected to find. There is no commute and the base salary is  $11K better than my previous job!  We expect to have more flexibility than we had previously.

Some things about the Job Search game have certainly changed.  But most of what you know is still true.  You have to be yourself and be confident. You have to ask LOTS of questions to show that you're thinking a lot about the company (and they need to be creative questions like "What makes you lose sleep at night in your role?"). Companies are looking for a cultural fit as much as they are experience because they can afford to be that picky. You have to learn about the company and their competition to show that you have more than surface knowledge of the company you're trying to get into.

A  VP of Sales at one company (where I was one of two finalists) took the time to debrief with me for 40 minutes and volunteered to stay in touch with me for counsel on other possible jobs since he knows the IT start up marketplace very well. Even though he didn't choose me for his one position, he cared enough to keep helping me because he would have liked to hire me if there were two positions available.

I was asked what I would say to someone I am close to if they were to lose their job. I would want them to immediately post their resumes online (because sometimes that will lead to finding recruiters), to research recruiters and to find as many as possible to help their search.  I would encourage them to place realistic expectations on the job options they're willing to take. The important thing is to just get back to work...7 months is far too long to go without a job and even if you have to take a stopgap job until you find the best opportunity, it's better than the anxiety of having nothing because you set your expectations too high. But, the main thing I would say is find RECRUITERS, RECRUITERS, RECRUITERS!!!

Our own Wicked Recruiter also comments frequently on the current job market.
To share your unemployment stories, contact the editorial staff through our comments space.  The Finishing School is an advertising partner of Monster.com. 

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