Searching for the Bell

I got a job that feels like home and such a great fit, which I know is not as interesting a story as losing a job. It’s worth sharing though, if only to update the kind folks who helped and offered to help.

How humans before the internet found jobs with anywhere near efficient allocation of talent is beyond me. Gen Z probably feels the same way about dating, so I suppose you don’t know what you don’t know.

We millennials do know though. I remember applying for my first newspaper job out of college by sending my fledgling portfolio in those manila envelopes with a clasp that folds through a hole at the top. I used a paper cutter to splice articles from internships and The Daily Northwestern and photocopied them in black and white onto 8.5×11 paper.

College kids these days wouldn’t know what to do with a Xerox machine. It probably looks to them like a tanning bed for their uncalloused hands. Yes I am fully aware I’ve become the miserly middle-ager in cargo pants shaking his fist at the next generation, but I make no apologies for it because a) cargo pants are just so practical for the rigors of parenthood and b) these kids will never know how easy and hard they have it.

I posted on LinkedIn a few hours after getting laid off and ended up with over 35,000 impressions. Certainly those weren’t all unique or actual reads, but even a fraction would be more productive than posting a résumé on circa 2006.

An old coworker I hadn’t traded even one electronic word with in seven years immediately sent me an opening at his company and offered a referral. A complete stranger at a big tech company reached out to do the same. I had Zooms and calls with friends I hadn’t seen as far back as those manila envelope days 17 years ago.

I interviewed with that first company and felt it was a lock. I got rejected. Fortunately I had another shot the following week at what seemed like a dream gig, thanks to a referral from another former colleague. But I bombed the last part of a poorly designed live test over Zoom, ironic because this was billed as the system design portion of the interview. Lest you suspect sore loser-ship, I crept on LinkedIn to see if anyone has been hired yet. Nope.

Those two rejections hurt, yet it was still all good because before that live test another company had asked me to interview. I considered it a backup at the time, but now I needed to bring the heat. I rocked their SAT-like cognitive assessment, bonded with the hiring manager over studying abroad in Prague, and figured I scored bonus points by scheduling a 12:30 a.m. interview with a team member in India to give her a break from after-dinner meetings with North America.

I got rejected from that one too. This was the nadir for me. I started to wonder if job openings were being flooded with applications due to layoffs, and it might be a while before I land something.

With one wife, two young children and zero home equity, I had just put down a deposit a month earlier to build a beautiful house in a neighborhood we felt lucky to squeeze into given the market. There was still plenty of time to get a job to be able to close the loan, but the thought — along with an email sitting in my inbox from the lender asking for pay stubs — provided some low-grade anxiety background noise.

That night my dad picked up the ultimate pick-me-up, a heavy bucket of KFC, saying he pitied us because I couldn’t get a job and my wife couldn’t get on a plane. (Her seat was given away on an overbooked flight in San Francisco.) He declared every time I got rejected he would bring home a consolation dinner, and next up was Taco Bell.

It felt a bit tone-deaf for motivational support, and plus we’d likely order through the app linked to my credit card. Nonetheless I liked the vibe, and it might have helped limit the wallowing over that surprising third rejection to about 45 minutes.

Then I pumped myself up, and it was game on. Those referrals had inflated my confidence in getting a job easily. I failed at that, and I was floundering as a trophy husband with my Spock-like Great Clips haircut and increasingly vulgar, always rebuffed advances toward my wife between her conference calls.

I hadn’t really started an actual, professional job search. Once I set my OCD mind to something, it’s hard for me to think about anything else. I could be the greatest dad if there were objective metrics to track against.

After ramping to a few dozen applications, I had almost more interviews than I could handle — 10 in play or already offered when it came time to decide. It probably was more tiring than actually working. I prepped comprehensively for every round and channeled all the energy I could through the webcam to mask my introversion.

Every morning I bobbed my head to Eminem’s “Till I Collapse”, an uncanny anthem for the unemployed. My kids, ages 3 and 1, have been conditioned to shake their wrists in an endearing version of rap hands during the haunting instrumental intro.

’Cause sometimes you just feel tired, feel weak
And when you feel weak, you feel like you wanna just give up
But you got to search within you, and try to find that inner strength
And just pull that *stuff out of you
And get that motivation to not give up, and not be a quitter
No matter how bad you wanna just fall flat on your face and collapse

We never made it to the Cheesy Gordita Crunch. I signed the offer letter two months to the day I got canned. Severance and fully paid COBRA benefits covered the whole family through March, so the timing was perfect. I don’t want to deal with health insurance.

This company I joined, a public benefit corporation, challenges the fee-for-service model that almost by definition screws our health care system. Doctors and hospitals are paid by quantity of treatment, completely divorced from the health of the patient. As one medical resident put it, they get paid more to cut off a person’s foot from diabetes than prevent diabetes.

Chasing big mission statements isn’t as important to me at this point in my life as stability and the opportunity to build my career and craft in Salesforce. I get the whole package in this new position, from a technical architect in house to managing a user base five times my previous org’s.

Plus health care generally is more insulated from recession and interest rates than tech. You never know though. If I need to be on the hunt again, I know I can turn to Marshall Mathers, Yum! Brands, people who help, people who give you a chance, and an obvious reminder… to paraphrase another millennial reference by the name of Chumbawamba, the absolute best part of getting knocked down is getting back up.

Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one post per month until I die or you unsubscribe. You can also reply to that email and I will reply back, thereby making us pen pals. Thank you!