My Monday, March 4th, started off like pretty much every other Monday. I had flown into Miami the night before to meet with one of my largest clients. I was proposing an additional $460,000 of annual spend, which would have made them my second-largest client overall, so I had spent the entire morning reviewing the proposal with my local sales and management team. We felt very good about the prospects of the deal, so I dialed into my weekly team meeting at 12:30 PM with a rather genial mindset.
Until I saw who was on the call, that is. In addition to my boss and my colleagues, my boss’ boss and the VP of HR were dialed in. Text messages started flying immediately between all of us.
“Something’s going down.”
Unfortunately, we were right. Moments after the call started, my boss’ boss gave us the words every upper-middle class worker dreads:
“We’re going to have to let you go.”
I literally fell out of my chair. The woman seated across the aisle from my desk gasped and rushed over to help me, but I waved her away. The VP of HR came on next to explain what the terms of our severance would be, our COBRA benefits, etc., but I don’t think I heard any of it. My heart felt like it was beating in my throat.
I had spent the previous three years building a business from nothing—literally nothing. I created a brand name, hired a team, and went from billing about $100k a month to almost $2M. I had brought on some of the largest dealerships in the country—the number one exotics dealer in America, the number one Chevrolet dealer, the number two CDJR dealer, and the largest dealer group in Kentucky. We were profitable a year before anybody expected us to be, and so far in 2019, we were at over 130% to budget.
Unfortunately, none of that mattered. The company, which had once been a founder of Cars.com, decided that they no longer wanted to be in the automotive space. The existing customers would be handed over to our strategic team, which handles larger, non-automotive accounts, and anybody whose job title had the word “automotive” in it, including mine (Director of Automotive Development), was eliminated, effective March 15th.
As the call ended, I sat there in our Miami office, a dead man at a desk. I had often heard that you can determine how long a job search would take by taking your annual salary and dividing it by ten thousand, and that’s how many months it will take you to replace your job. At that calculation, I was looking at well over a year of unemployment. That wasn’t going to work.
I did some math in my head, and the severance they were offering, plus outstanding commission payments I was owed, would last me about four months. But there was no way I was going to rest. I started making phone calls immediately.
My first call was to my original boss at this company. She had moved on about a year ago to one of our vendor partners, a small, digital boutique firm based in Canada. While she and I disagreed on, well, just about everything, we had a great mutual respect for each other and accomplished some fantastic things while working together. And even though she was a few years my junior, I had immense respect for her and learned a great deal while she had been my supervisor.
Unfortunately, I got her voicemail, so I went to work updating my resume. I even went so far as to create two—one for Kentucky, and one for Miami. Let’s be honest—six-figure jobs aren’t plentiful in the Bluegrass, so I was willing to consider any and all options, including a relocation.
I called everybody else I knew in the business. None of them had any current openings at my level, but a couple of them did have openings for other roles that were good fits for my employees and colleagues, so I sent them resumes for my team and asked them to set up interviews (I’m happy to say that two of them actually did, and job offers are pending).
As I was updating my resume and my LinkedIn page, it occurred to me that I don’t actually own a computer. I’ve had a laptop through my various jobs ever since 2003, so I’ve never needed to buy one. I started to panic a little bit, realizing that I would have to spend a significant of that precious severance money on a new laptop in order to be able to apply for jobs.
The rest of that day, I sat at my desk, applying for anything and everything that looked like it could possibly align with my experience and skill set, no matter where it was in the country. For all the talk of how unemployment is so low, there didn’t seem to be many jobs in my desired salary range that weren’t “UNCAPPED COMMISSION! OWN YOUR OWN BUSINESS!” insurance sales jobs.
I finally decided around 4 PM that I couldn’t bear to be in the office anymore, so I left and went to my hotel. Luckily, it wasn’t much after that when my old boss called.
“Tell me what happened.”
After I related the sordid details, I asked the uncomfortable question I had to ask. “Are you hiring?”
“…well, yes, I am.”
She told me all about the position that she had available. It wasn’t in automotive, but it was working in digital advertising, selling white-label CRM tools and digital platforms to agencies, broadcast media companies, listing directories, and others. The pay was nearly dollar-for-dollar what I had made in 2018. Small company. 300 employees. I wouldn’t have any direct reports. Company was based in Canada, so the benefits were kinda wonky. 401k wasn’t really a thing.
“I’m definitely, definitely interested,” I said. “Tell me what I need to do.”
She set up an interview for me with her boss for that Friday, which seemed like an eternity away. My flight out of Miami wasn’t until Friday night, but there was no way in hell that I was going to go to the office any more that week.
So while I waited for my interview, I made searching for a job my full-time job. Every day, I started applying for jobs at 8:30 and didn’t stop until 5:30. I filled out dozens and dozens of applications on LinkedIn, ZipRecruiter, and everywhere else I could find a job posting. My phone never rang. My email never buzzed. It became clearer and clearer that most of my eggs were going to be in the basket of that Friday interview, at least if I didn’t want to be patient—which I didn’t.
Friday came. The interview was quick, light and easy. If there’s one great skill I have in life, it’s interviewing—I’ve never interviewed for a job I wanted and not walked out with an offer in hand, and luckily, this one was no different. “The offer will be between $XXXXXX and XXXXXX, and we’ll get it to you next week.”
“I’d prefer the higher number, sir,” I grinned on our video conference from my Miami balcony.
It took another whole week for the offer to come in, and I didn’t want to wait on it. I kept applying for jobs. The result was mostly the same, although I did have a couple of bites from companies in South Florida, but I wasn’t entirely interested in them. I spent much of my time calling and meeting with existing clients and informing them that I was no longer with the company, with reactions ranging from shocked to horrified. Some were okay, but most of them told me that they were no longer interested in doing business with my old employer if I wasn’t going to be there. I conservatively estimate that they’ll lose roughly $5-8M by laying me off.
On Friday night, at 6:00 PM, four hours after my exit interview and an hour after my employment had officially ended and my email account had been terminated, I got the call. My offer was coming via email, and my first day would be the 25th. I had a deep, cleansing exhale. I don’t think I fully realized just how much stress I had been under the previous two weeks. I hadn’t been eating or sleeping very much.
Yesterday, I had a full breakdown. I just sat in my bonus room and allowed myself to lose it for about an hour with the door closed. I walked out, bleary-eyed and exhausted, but ready to go. I looked at my phone, and of course the first notification I saw was an interview request from a company that I had applied to within an hour of being informed of my involuntary departure. I laughed, and swiped it into the virtual trash.
So, what should you do if this happens to you?
Stay strong. Remember, if you were good enough to get the job you have, you’re good enough to get another job just like it. This isn’t the Great Depression or even the crash of 2008-09. There ARE jobs out there, and you’ll get one.
Remember that you are not your job title. So much of our society defines us based on what we do to pay bills. That’s not who you are. When I called my dad to let him know that I had been laid off, he told me something that I’ll never forget. “You killed yourself for that company for three years, and they never cared about you for one day. They swept you aside and never thought twice. Remember that when you take your next job.” It literally is just a job. It shouldn’t be your entire life.
Clean up your social media. Everybody who gets a resume from you and has some interest in you as an employee is going to throw your name in the Google search bar. Make sure that what they see won’t cause them to exclude you. If your Facebook profile picture is of you shotgunning a Bud Light while shirtless, you might wanna change that up a bit. If you’re in a field where social media is valuable, make sure that yours looks the part. Otherwise, all it can really do is hurt you. Lock it down and make it private.
Always be looking for the next opportunity and don’t be naive. I had some sense that my job might be in danger, but I had ignored it and kept my head in the sand. Had I been proactive instead of reactive, I would have left this company months ago. When you see a job that interests you, either inside or outside your company, pursue it. This isn’t the old days—nobody is retiring with the gold watch after 50 years of service anymore. Your company has no loyalty to you.
Finding a job is your new job. I was really fortunate that I had a contact who had a job for me. But I still worked eight hours a day at finding something else, and I still had very little success. It will take hours and hours of filling out applications, writing cover letters, refining your resume, updating your LinkedIn—all of it.
Don’t get discouraged. You’re going to file dozens, maybe even hundreds of applications, and you won’t get a response from 90 percent of them. That’s okay. Don’t stop filling them out, not even for a second. Do your very best with each application—customize your resume if you have to, write a new cover letter for each one.
Be Patient. Remember, even though finding a job is your top priority, it’s not necessarily the top priority of the hiring manager. He or she is doing his or her normal, regular, everyday job and trying to get you hired. If they say you’ll have an answer Friday, and you don’t get one…don’t panic. It’s probably coming on Monday. In the meantime, try to breathe and relax.
After all that, I’m happy to say that I’m looking forward to starting a new job in a kinda new industry. Plus, I’ll finally be able to post some of the things that I’ve had to keep secret for the last seven years that I’ve been in the biz. Send your Ask Barks to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll publish them somewhere.