7/05/2011

Adventures in Unemployment

PROLOGUE
2011 has been a challenging year for me. Challenging = being laid off from my job and all the things that come with it. My job search has also been tough. Before I get into the details let me give you the disclaimer- "Names have been changed to protect me from being accused of defamatory statements, to protect the innocent where applicable and to spice up this post with some humor". January 10 of this year was my eleventh anniversary of being in the IT industry. Two days later, I was laid off from my job at CrapCo after four and a half years. I knew it was bound to happen eventually because there were a lot of signs- two  acquisitions, offshoring, new technology, lots of big changes, and budget cuts- but instead it happened suddenly without warning. I was planning on leaving CrapCo this year anyway after two acquisitions, low team moral and reaching my burnout point. I wanted to go out on my own timetable and on my own terms, but it was not meant to be. The new year was a great line of demarcation. I could start my exit strategy. I had discussed the idea with my supervisor so he wouldn't be blindsided. He knew I wasn't happy and neither was he. The first step was my resume. I thought one of the best things I could do to improve my chances of getting a job in this economy was to have a rock solid resume, so I had it professionally drafted. Ironically, I finalized my resume the night before I was laid off. Good timing!


CHAPTER 1
The lay off went like this - around 1:30pm on January 12, the new CTO sent me an instant message asking if I would call into his conference line. I had never talked to the guy, so I didn't know what to expect. When I called in, HR was also on the call. That's not a good sign. He told me my "position had been eliminated". The first and only conversation I had with him and he lays me off. Pretty shitty right? I pinged my supervisor and he told me he was told the night before that there would be lay offs, but he didn't know who. He gave me the rest of the day off. My new full time job became finding a new job. Dejected, I unwillingly entered the world of the unemployed.


CHAPTER 2
Due to my paid grade and tenure at CrapCo, I was entitled to 12 weeks of severance pay and three months of subsidized COBRA medical insurance. I thought three months would be more than enough time to find a new job. I started my job search immediately. A fellow laid off co-worker, Turtle, and I registered for a job fair sponsored by the Washington Post. It was mainly focused on those with a security clearance, which neither of us had had for a long time. The fair was smaller than we imagined, so it was slim pickings. Not a good start to my job search. Ironically, we ran into an ex-coworker of ours at one of the booths. Small world. His company, Cup of Joe, provided 6 weeks of free training in the Java programming language, then found you a job. Here's the catch-you had to sign a two year contract! The ex-coworker had left our company on bad terms and he wasn't a very good developer. So we didn't think much of a company that would hire him. Although learning an in demand programming language was appealing, I didn't want a contract job. They are finite and don't come with benefits which doesn't work for someone who has a family to provide for. Turtle and I made small talk with him, put our names on the Cup of Joe contact list to be nice, then quickly moved onto another booth. I talked to all the companies that had web development opportunities. I thought one or two of them had potential. I just had to wait to see if they felt the same way and would contact me for an interview.

CHAPTER 3
The first website I posted my resume was the Washington Post Jobs website. A recruiter from a small government contractor, White Rock, saw my resume and contacted me regarding a web developer opportunity in DC. I was brought in for a face-to-face interview. It went well and for all intents and purposes I had the job except for one major detail - White Rock was the subcontractor and the prime contractor had to approve it. Meanwhile, it only took Turtle around two weeks to find a new job. He got a job with a different small government contractor in downtown DC. Turns out that company was the prime contractor to the White Rock position and instead of allowing White Rock to fill the slot with me, the prime went ahead and filled the spot with one of the candidates for Turtle's position. There was nothing White Rock could do. I got screwed by my friend's company! What a small world. I would have been working with Turtle but instead the prime contractor pulled the rug out from under me.

CHAPTER 4
After losing out on the White Rock job I posted my resume on Dice.com because things were moving slow including networking with my friends in IT. I should have posted my resume immediately after getting laid off, not a month later. But once it was posted, the calls from recruiters started pouring in. I got a few phone interviews but mostly I sent my resume out to never be contacted again. But I know the game, that's how it works. Meanwhile Cup of Joe sent me an email inviting me to their next orientation. I had a couple of good job opportunities in progress but decided since I didn't have anything definite, there was no harm in going to the orientation. The least I could do was listen to their dog and pony show and get a free lunch. About a dozen people attended the orientation. Ironically I was the only developer in the group. Everybody else had IT related jobs but knew nothing about object-oriented programming. But that wasn't really a deterrent to getting accepted into the training program. I just had an advantage coming from a programming/web development background. Later that afternoon I had a face-to-face interview for a consulting job with one of the Big 3 accounting firm's government services division. I was really excited about this opportunity because the company had exceptional benefits, paid well, had good training and development, and it would be a good move for my career. It also started with a group orientation and included 3 separate one-on-one interviews with people from different components of the business. I felt I did well in those interviews.

CHAPTER 5
A few days after the Cup of Joe orientation I was contacted and told I was accepted in the training program. I hadn't heard back yet from Big 3 and didn't want to pass up the training opportunity, so I accepted. I negotiated terms of the contract, increasing my hourly rate and reducing the duration to a year and half. I also figured if it wasn't for me I would keep myself on the job market. During the first week of training I had a phone interview during my lunch break with a telecommunications company that started dabbling in government contracting. I went down to the vacant basement of the building to get some privacy. The job was  six month contract-to-hire and paid lower than my salary requirements but the recruiter said the job was in Fairfax just a few minutes from my house so I decided to pursue the opportunity to have a very short commute in exchange for less pay. During the interview I learned the job was not in Fairfax but in Bailey's Crossroads which is not accessible by public transportation. I'd have to buy a car which I didn't want to do. The recruiter called me the next morning and said the TelCo company liked me and wanted me in for a face-to-face interview. I told him I didn't want to pursue the opportunity because it didn't provide me the work/life balance I was seeking. I figured one or both of my other opportunities would pan out.

CHAPTER 6
On Wednesday the president of Cup of Joe called me into his office. He told me someone from his staff had overheard me on the phone interview. I don't know how that happened since I was in the empty basement of the building. I guess they had spies or something. I vaguely remember someone getting off the basement elevator during my interview. I guess that was one of the spies. He told me that he didn't want me looking for other jobs while I was in the training. He wants all students/employees to be dedicated to his program. He didn't want people taking the training then not working for them since the training is free and the company invests a lot of time and money into it. There was a financial penalty if a student left the training after the first week. I was still in the first week of training. I was pissed about them eavesdropping on my personal call and being all up in my business, but I didn't say anything about it. I told him I always have a contingency plan. I have a family to provide for and they couldn't guarantee me a job after the training, even though they say they have a 100% placement rate. That's just my typical paranoia. He gave me an ultimatum - stop looking for other jobs and stick with the training or leave the program. He wanted an answer tomorrow. Later that day, Big 3 called and said they lined up a final interview on Monday. That's just what I needed to hear! It made the ultimatum decision easy. The next day I told Cup of Joe that I was leaving the program.

CHAPTER 7
On Friday I was back at home having quit the training program. I went out to lunch with the other members of my training class to update them on my situation and say goodbye. They wished me well and asked to keep in touch. Later that afternoon the Big 3 recruiter called to tell me that the final interview was canceled because the job they were going to assign me to didn't have any open spots. If that was the case, then why did they even schedule me for a final interview? The recruiter could have found that out prior to scheduling the final interview. This royally screwed things up. That was it for the opportunity at Big 3, I had quit the Cup of Joe program for the Big 3 job and I discontinued my pursuit of the TelCo opportunity. First thing I did was contact Cup of Joe and asked if I could come back into the program. I assured them I would be focused and dedicated solely on their program, but they declined. They didn't give a reason. I figure they felt scorned. I had hurt their feelings. I had to move onto Plan C. Despite my misgivings I swallowed my pride and called the TelCo recruiter back and told him I would like to be reconsidered for the job. I was desperate. I'd been job hunting for a month and a half and had suffered three major setbacks in my job search so I went back to what I felt was a sure thing. I was only a few days out from the TelCo phone interview, which went well, so the recruiter was happy to put me back in consideration.

CHAPTER 8
I had a face-to-face interview with the TelCo company on Friday March 11, almost two months to the day when I was laid off. I asked one of the interviewers who lived in Fairfax how long it took him to get to work. He said about 45 minutes in the morning and around 1.5 hours in the evening. I worked for a large government contractor for 5 plus years to start my career, so I knew the environment well. I knew I wouldn't be working over 40 hours every week, so the commute would be during rush hour. DC metro traffic sucks so I know that most days it would be a terrible commute especially since I would have to drive it. I was right about the opportunity being a sure thing. A couple days after the interview the recruiter called and offered me the position. I accepted-despite my concerns-knowing that it would take three to six weeks to get my security clearance; time in which I could continue looking for a job that would provide me a better work/life balance and meet my salary requirements. I ended up buying a car and mentally preparing to work a government contracting job again meanwhile continuing my job search.

CHAPTER 9
It took almost six weeks for my security clearance to be processed. I was scheduled to start the TelCo job on  Monday, May 2. During that six week period I had a few more interviews. Most notably was an interview with a large defense contractor (I'll refer to as DefenseCon). The timing came down to the wire as the interview was scheduled on the Friday before the Monday I was start at TelCo. DefenseCon offered me the job later that day. This job paid much better, the job location was accessible by public transportation, it was a three month contract-to-hire, and the benefits were better. So I had to accept it right? It had been almost four months since I was laid off and my severance was about to run out. Unemployment is chump change and we wouldn't be able to live off of it. I had started doing field inspections part time, but it was time consuming and not very lucrative. I used part of my emergency fund to buy the car, so we only had enough savings to last at most a month and a half. I would have to wait for another security clearance but there was nothing I do about that. That's just the cost of working for a government contractor. I accepted the job. Now I just had to break the bad news to TelCo. I didn't want to have that conversation over the phone so I drafted a simple email.

CHAPTER 10
I sent the email around 3 pm on Friday. I had gotten the job offer only a hour or so earlier and it took some time to figure out what I wanted to say and how to say it. I got a call from the recruiter very shortly after sending it. He was cool about it. He asked what happened and I told him that my original concerns about the job didn't go away just because I wanted to be reconsidered for and ultimately accept the job. But I made the choice that was best for my family. I felt it was better to quit before I started then go in on Monday and quit on my first day. It was just weird timing that the DefenseCon job offer came when it did. A few minutes after talking with the recruiter his boss, the client representative, who I had only spoken to once previously, called me up and chewed me out. He told me how unprofessional I was. He told me he the DC job market is "small" and that he held a lot of weight in the local recruiting community and that I would never find a job in the area again. He asked me what he was supposed to tell the client. I answered "that's not up to me." He told me how much the client spent on the security clearance process. My retort was that I spent the same amount buying a car to commute to that job. I told him I had to do what was best for my family. I think then he hung up on me or we conveniently got disconnected. He called right back but I didn't answer. That was the end of that.

EPILOGUE
Although I had the job I wanted, I still had to wait. It took three weeks to process the DefenseCon security clearance. It was processed on my birthday, which was a great present. However it took another three weeks for the client, Snail Mail, to determine my start date! I didn't start working until June 15. We were on the brink of running out of money. Everyday I waited I got more depressed. I didn't want my family to see me like that, so I did my best to disguise my grief. I cried when I finally got the call from the recruiter telling me my start date. I've had other tough situations in my adult life, like being physically assaulted in a bar in 2001 and getting divorced in 2005, but neither affected my family directly. The missteps I took and mishaps I suffered during my job search can all be chalked up to bad timing.

I made constructive use of my down time. I digitized our entire CD collection and uploaded it to the cloud. I tried my hand at the field services industry but found that it wasn't for me. I took an investment class. I planned on reading a few books but that never came to fruition. :(

After all is said and done, it feels great to be a working class stiff again.
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