Notes from the Void

Thoughts on moving forward after a job loss

When we come to the end of something that has occupied a piece of our lives, whether it be from a death, the end of a relationship, or graduation from school, a void remains where that thing used to be. The same is true of the end of a job, and the longer you served in that job, the bigger and more profound the void is, especially if the end of that job was not voluntary.

A little over two months ago, like millions of other Americans who lost employment, I learned that my 14-year PR and communications job at a local university was coming to an end. The culprit was dire enrollment projections due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the pandemic, I was working from home at the time and learned of this by video conference at 3 p.m. on a random Friday afternoon. 

After the call, I returned to the deadline email distribution project I was working on beforehand. It had to be done, and I wasn’t sure what else to do. I’ve been working since I was 17, and this was the first time I’ve lost a job. 

In the ensuing three weeks, I finished up some big projects I’d been working on and came to campus, where I accessed my empty and echoing office building and collected my belongings, mementos from a long tenure at the university. I was grateful for the solitude as I went about this task, glad that I did not have to do it with my colleagues nearby. 

I also began the process of trying to figure out the next step—updated the resume, enrolled in several job sites, notified my contacts of my availability, etc… 

Since then, I’ve assembled some thoughts on navigating the void that have helped me, though I still have my days when catastrophic thoughts take over my psyche. 

–Just like at the end of a relationship, the first impulse is to replace that job as quickly as possible with anything. I’ve applied for dozens of positions, but I would consider only a handful of them to be really good fits for me. We have to make money, which is where the urgency comes from, but try to focus your search on positions that you could easily picture yourself in. 

–This process is rejection-intensive. I used to tell my Applied Mass Comm—PR students that it is important not to take it personally when you don’t get an interview or when you do land an interview and they don’t select you. (I’ve had to remind myself of this one a lot.) I have hired enough people to know that the decisions on whom to interview and hire come down to some very minute factors. They are usually looking at large numbers of applicants, and I’ve told many people who would be perfect for a job that they did not get it. 

–All the rejection and the loss of your job have nothing to do with your value. 

–When applying, take the time to do it right. Write a cover letter specifically for that position, rather than repurposing the same one over and over. Truthfully, explain why you are applying and provide specific examples of how your background and skills address the duties and competencies outlined in the job description. If you are having trouble explaining why you are right for the job, you might not be. 

–This is even more true in an interview. Do your homework beforehand. The first question I would ask applicants is, “What can you tell me about this organization?” It was shocking how many people fumbled this question, sometimes even internal candidates. Even if they don’t ask that, going into the interview with a body of knowledge about the employer can only help you. After your interview, send a thank-you note and make sure they know you are interested in the job. 

–I’ve applied for dozens of jobs in the last 2 ½ months and have done six interviews. In between have been long stretches of maddening quiet, and this is when the doubts creep in. You can easily spend as much time looking for and applying for jobs as you did working in your old job. Of course, this is important, but also take some time to work on some things you want to do. Focus on yourself and the people that are close to you. 

–There is nothing wrong with taking a “bridge job” to get by in the interim. We do what we have to do to pay the bills. As you go, it does not hurt to touch base with your contacts so they know you’re still available.

I am reasonably confident, most of the time, that I will eventually wind up in a job that works for me. We will get through this, and it helps to know that virtually everyone you know is pulling for you. 

In the meantime, remember, there is life beyond the void. 

Published by Chris Duggan

I am a seasoned communications professional, father, runner, and old-timey baseball player.

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