How I’m Surviving & Thriving as a Tech Layoff Casualty (w/Real Life Money Coming in)
I became another tech layoff statistic last month on Feb. 6, laid off from my content marketing role at a medium-size tech company based in El Segundo, Calif.
Or, as I like to nakedly put it: I got canned.
It was both a feeling of immense release and a crushing blow. (I likened it to the satisfaction of popping a ginormous whitehead. The splat is fantastic! For all of three seconds.)
For the next couple of weeks, I flirted with denial (“This is great! I love being jobless!”) and intense anxiety. All the LinkedIn posts, of my recently jobless peers pep-talking themselves into feeling “great” about the “next chapter” only intensified my fears.
So I plugged away at applying for permanent jobs on LinkedIn and Indeed. In the first three weeks, I applied for over 100 jobs. And I networked with friends and friends of friends.
- 100 job applications (let’s round down, shall we?) netted three interviews, one second interview, and zero job offers.
- I reactivated an old Fiverr profile to pitch my services for the proverbial $5 and got no takers. (I offered to do epically short and easy stuff; do not offer me $5 to write for you or I will block you. And then I will un-block you so I can troll you and then block you again.) My Fiverr profile was, in hindsight, a way for me to get a better read of how bleak things might actually be. But still, no offers?!?
But I needed to find a job, so I hunkered down harder. More resumes were sent and more cover letters were written. Even some very funny, stand-out letters that got my foot wedged through the digital door for consideration. But no full-time offers materialized.
What’s the definition of doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results?
And looking for a job. More specifically, a permanent full-time job with good benefits (i.e., not just the kind mandated by law).
The traditional job application process was not working and my competition was steadily increasing with each passing news story.
So I decided to keep writing things and putting the things I liked on display — while leaning into my relationships: old coworkers, friends, neighbors.
I spent approximately 20% of my energy applying for jobs (not including writing cover letters), 10% my time “putting myself out there” to make or rekindle contacts, and 70% of my time working: writing and publishing content.
Friends in BD (biz dev!) or the agency world are clutch. They are ultra well-connected.
And if, like me, you’re socially awkward AF, find someone in your Rolodex who isn’t, and hop on! Ride their coattails to social respectability.
And, I reckon, if you are really good at what you do, people can forgive a lot in terms of Emily Post shortcomings.
My irreverent approach and its results
To take a different approach, here’s what I’ve done:
- Written unorthodox cover letters — and shared some of the more outrageous ones on Medium and LinkedIn. A handful of writing projects were won as a result, including a childhood friend who read my “Bigfoot is real” cover letter and hired me on the spot.
- Asked mom group friends and acquaintances (in online groups) to hire me for $5 to $25 projects.
- Read those Facebook job posts! Every day! Gigs and otherwise.
- Reconnected with old friends, including one who has a fashion brand now ramping up. Don’t ever assume anyone has written you off. If there’s no restraining order — or hard block on social — they’re fair game.
- Leaned into ALL of a former co-worker’s business connections in the SEO content world. (Which netted me 2 ongoing writing gigs, 2 normal rejections, and 1 painful rejection.) Networking is not unusual, except their contacts were initially lukewarm about me so…
- I. Kept. Writing. Good. Shit. Or what I thought was reasonable content in my estimation. You don’t have to have a paying job to show people that you’re good at your job. Let people see what they’re going to “buy.” I realize this can’t work for all career fields, but for writers, marketers and designers it absolutely does. Find ways to keep showcasing what you do.
- Internalized that any paying job in my field is a good job. I’ve applied for (and been turned down for) positions labeled entry-level or part-time and made broader connections in the process. I am richer for those lost opportunities.
- Talked to awesome neighbors who work in my career field. This is luck. But I was prepared for it. (If your neighbor is an NBA scout and you wanna be a professional basketball player but you can’t run or jump how is that even helpful?— except it probably means you’re totally loaded anyway and live in a mansion, or that your NBA coach neighbor lives next door to you in a rambler, in which case they are really a not-good, very bad coach and not useful at all to you in your professional basketball prospects.)
Results of this industrious hustle
All combined, I’ve now sent out 9 invoices and been paid for 7 of them. And I have 5 projects I’m working on now, and 3 more in the pipeline.
Here’s the motley array of projects I’ve done or am working on now:
- Wrote a “Dear John” letter. — 5 hours of amusement + 0.5 hours of labor.
- Proofread a law school essay. — 2 hours.
- Edited a cover letter (making possibly unhelpful suggestions for that particular job role). — 1.75 hours.
- News story writer for two national finance publications (ongoing freelance gig every month until those papers go bust?) — 30+ hours a week ongoing.
- Wrote a brief artist biography (for gallery displays and website). — 0.75 hours
- Penned a not-so-fun email someone didn’t want to write. — 0.63 hours.
- Web copy (some 4,200 words) for an e-commerce site. — 6 hours.
- 3-month project for a ridiculously large and awesome international company. — 30 hours a week ongoing.
- 1-hour paid consultation for content strategy.
Two weeks ago, I billed and got paid $40.
Last week that figure was $340.
This week, I will bill and receive 4 figures with a steady upward trajectory thereafter.
I want to keep hustling for myself — indefinitely. No one wants to permanently hire a full-time, side hustle-SEO-listicle writer it seems?
But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that present success does not guarantee future performance. I know that everything could crumble tomorrow.
That’s why I want lots of eggs in lots of baskets — and mixing bowls and serving platters, too. The weirder the assortment, the better.
And, I want to keep leaning into these recognitions as to why things have been working out for me:
- Mediocrity. I cannot win in the game of superlatives. I am not the best worker from the most prestigious tech company with the best Ivy League degree. I need to embrace, and market, my mediocrity (in wry, humorous ways) to find work.
- Schmooze. I have to schmooze even if it’s painful and uncomfortable and soul-prickling.
- Everyone’s got contacts. My most useful connections (for finding project work) have been other tech layoff connections. Not everyone is competing with me for the same types of jobs.
- I am a content writer. Periodt. Paid or unpaid, I will keep producing. I need to make myself an undeniable force.
- Drown out the noise. I can’t control the sh*tstorm of layoffs that keep pounding down.
- I should have been nicer (not surly) to the nice ladies from career center and unemployment office. I think I was having an off moment (being jobless will do that to you) and then I got their calls that began with a reproachful, “I called you earlier today and you did not answer.” Which, at the time, sounded a whole hell of a lot like, “Why weren’t you staring at your phone all day waiting for my call from ME ?— because you’ll never find a fulfilling $12 an hour career without my expert guiding hand.”
As of today, I’ve been laid-off for 41 days. (I just did the math — yikes! I thought it had been longer.)
If I were you and unemployed, I’d be annoyed AF reading this uppity cheerleader drivel. Especially if I’d been jobless for several months or more.
Every situation is different, I get it.
It’s just that amid all the bad-news headlines and gut-punch blog posts about people giving up on their career, I wanted to change the story’s arc.
I’m a laid-off tech worker who’s emerged much better off than before. I see that so clearly now: I feel a sense of purpose and focus and energy I didn’t know I was capable of.
I’ve booked enough work for the next three months to keep me afloat for the next 12, and I have several more work projects percolating.
I’m not a FT permanent worker for a company paying me twice monthly.
I work — for me. I bill clients and get paid at irregular intervals. I don’t have a “regular FT job” and in this tech market, I don’t know if I could get one IF I wanted to.
But I do have an office away from home — a creative hub with coffee and climbing walls and coworkers. And a sense of relief and of resolution.
Every narrative is different. Obviously some laid-off tech workers will find new full-time jobs the old-fashion way: combing the want ads and uploading resumes, or smoking cigars over craft beers (plural) on dog-friendly patios.
Some already have.
But, I reckon, many laid-of tech workers will have to find unorthodox ways to market themselves — and make, at the very least, a cameo appearance in the world of hustle.